IP protection in the Chinese fashion industry

Submitted by Imogen Allan on 06 May 2021

The fashion industry encompasses the design, manufacturing, distribution, retailing, marketing and promotion of clothing, footwear, and accessories, and is worth billions of Euros every year.

While the fashion industry was initially developed in Europe and the United States, today fashion is an international and highly globalised sector.

China’s fashion industry, for instance, was set to become the world’s second largest by 2020, with sales expected to reach over 182 billion euros – roughly three times their current level. According to the Boston Consulting Group, China will account for 30% of the global fashion market’s growth over the next five years.

China therefore represents both opportunities as a manufacturing hub and a maturing consumer market, and also risks as a potential source of counterfeit merchandise. In order to avoid damaging losses, EU SMEs operating in the fashion industry should take important measures to protect their intellectual property rights (IPR) in China.

Trade marks

Trade marks associated with fashion and design brands are the most important type of intellectual property that EU SMEs should protect in this industry. A trade mark is a distinctive sign that identifies the goods of a producer or designer, allowing one item or brand to be distinguished from another.

Registering a trade mark in Chinese is important for several reasons. Firstly, because foreign brands or company names are often difficult to pronounce – or carry different meanings – in Chinese. If a company fails to provide its own Chinese name or trade mark, Chinese consumers will choose their own.

Secondly, in a country where each character holds its own distinctive meaning, the characters used in a foreign branded trade mark, along with the sound, tone and look of Chinese characters, can significantly impact a brand’s reputation.

Trade marks can generally be generated for around 500–€700.

Design patents

Design patent protection is also extremely relevant to the fashion and design industry. Design patents can be sought for:

  • The shape of a product;
  • The pattern of a product;
  • The shape and pattern of a product;
  • The shape and colour of a product;
  • The shape, pattern, and colour of a product.

The colour alone cannot constitute the design of a product unless the change of colour can be regarded as a pattern.


European SMEs can also protect their IP through copyright. Copyright can be used as a standalone right or an added layer of protection in addition to a design patent.

Copyright is an automatic right that arises the moment a work is created – this means that once a work is created, in most cases, the creator will be granted protection in 164 member countries of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, including all EU countries and China.

Tips and take-away messages

  • Register your intellectual property rights.
  • Be vigilant. Patrol trade fairs and surf various B2B and B2C websites (such as Alibaba and Taobao) on the lookout for infringing articles.
  • When you identify infringement, enforce your rights. If you build a reputation for being litigious, companies will be less likely to infringe your rights in future.
  • Build your case carefully. Ensure that you are taking action against the right company and in the right form. 

Read the full article and case study below.

The China IPR SME Helpdesk supports small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from European Union (EU) Member States to protect and enforce their Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in or relating to China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, through the provision of free information and services. The Helpdesk provides jargon-free, first-line, confidential advice on intellectual property and related issues, along with training events, materials and online resources. Individual SMEs and SME intermediaries can submit their IPR queries via e-mail (question [at] china-iprhelpdesk.eu ()) and gain access to a panel of experts, in order to receive free and confidential first-line advice within three working days.

The China IPR SME Helpdesk is an initiative by the European Union.

To learn more about the China IPR SME Helpdesk and any aspect of intellectual property rights in China, please visit our online portal at http://www.ipr-hub.eu/.

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