Beware the Far East’s trademark pitfalls

The Far East is Scotland’s fastest growing export market. Just last week Edrington joined a host of other whisky and food brands in reporting significant success in the region.

Beijing. There is a common misconception that trademarks registered in the UK and Europe extend to the Far East. Picture: Getty

But while chasing the yuan offers serious reward, companies looking to follow suit must proceed with caution – there are a number of potential pitfalls and scams that need to be avoided.

There is a common misconception that trademarks registered in the UK and Europe extend to the Far East. The first step is to check to see if the trademark has already been registered in the country. There are many horror stories of UK companies entering the Far Eastern market to find someone already has their trademark.

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Running a “freedom to operate” search will clear this up – the next step is to apply to register your trademark. Crucially, this should be done in your own name, not that of your distributors. The Chinese authorities are quick to help foreign businesses should their trademarks be infringed, making this all the more important.

Registering the Chinese character of your brand is another important aspect of exporting to the region. Getting help from a Mandarin translator is essential, a service Marks & Clerk in Beijing offers free of charge.

Businesses must be careful here, as the Chinese character closest to your brand name may not translate well. If so, the next step is to come up with a new character that reflects the brand identity.

When trying to forge partnerships, businesses should also be aware of the recent anti-corruption drive in China.

This has prohibited the gifting of expensive items, which has long been part of the political culture, and slowed down the process of breaking into the market. Potential partners must also be checked out and references studied – there are many expensive scamsters on the lookout for naive marketing teams.

Companies can follow in the footsteps of Edrington but if they want to reap the rewards, they must ensure their intellectual property is secure.

Taking the time to seek advice on trademark protection before entering these markets is crucial, and can result in greater long-term gains.

• Campbell Newell is Edinburgh office managing partner at Marks & Clerk