The rise of Chinese filers

The previous sections of this report have focused on two individuals who have single-handedly been responsible for thousands of applications at registries across the globe. This final section examines a different type of mass filer: the nation filer – specifically, what happens when one country drives up application numbers around the world.

One of the most notable trademark trends of 2020 was the continued upswing in filings from Chinese applicants at major national registries. At the EUIPO, Chinese entities accounted for 19% of filings last year, leapfrogging Germany to become the most important source of applications. Meanwhile, in October 2020 came the news that Chinese applicants had surpassed US businesses to become the largest source of US trademark applications at the USPTO.

It is important to state that high levels of trademark activity are not themselves problematic – a large number of these applications are legitimate and merely indicate that Chinese brands are expanding internationally. However, there is concern over the legitimacy of some filings and the impact that these are having on national registers. This is a particular worry in the United States, which has a use in commerce requirement.

In January 2021 the USPTO went so far as to publish the report “Trademarks and Patents in China: The Impact of Non-Market Factors on Filing Trends and IP Systems”, claiming that many applications originating from China “lack value and clutter the trademark register”.

There are various reasons cited for the notable rise in filings from China. These include a desire to access and sell on the brand protection offerings of major e-commerce platforms (which often require a trademark registration), as well as non-market factors, such as subsidies from the Chinese government for those seeking to register IP rights overseas.

Whatever the motivation, the challenges of a cluttered register remain, and this has a knock-on effect for rights holders seeking to clear new product names and avoid conflicts. This section tracks the trend in the United States, considers the issues that have arisen from suspicious specimens of use, explores the USPTO’s response and, crucially, discusses what more can be done. (The data collected by CompuMark for this section is up to 31 December 2020 unless otherwise specified.)

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