Trade fairs in China: steps to protect your IPR
Trade fairs are an excellent opportunity for a business to showcase new products and scout business partners for manufacturing, promotion, and distribution.
Unfortunately, in China, these exhibitions are a common prowling grounds for intellectual property rights infringers, so it is important to ensure necessary precautions are taken.
It is not sufficient to merely gain intellectual property rights for a company’s assets – steps should be taken before, during, and after a trade fair to ensure maximum protection.
Before the trade fair: fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Determine your strategy in advance of the trade fair. Do you want to take enforcement action at the fair, or only use the fair as an opportunity to gather evidence?
If you are not certain about securing all necessary evidence and paperwork to carry out an action at the fair, gathering evidence there first may be a better strategy.
You will need to prepare the required documents, some of which may need to be notarised and legalised which can take up to two months. These include:
- Certificates of IP right ownership (notarisation and legalisation strongly recommended, and in the case of some Chinese authorities, required) of patents, trademarks and copyrights (if registered)
- Photographic evidence of alleged infringing products (where available), which are displayed at the trade fair
- Notarised and legalised Power of Attorney (POA) in favour of the person seeking to enforce the IP rights
- A catalogue of basic information regarding suspected infringers who may be present at the trade fair, including company name, information about the alleged infringing products, and their contact details
Visit the trade fair’s website, or contact the organiser, to gain information on any complaint centre that there may be at the trade fair and if there is any IP protection information available to you.
If there is no complaint centre, check whether the local IP authorities are authorised to enter the trade fair to enforce IP rights. Furthermore, take steps to research if there are any ‘suspicious’ organisations (i.e. those you know or suspect to be handling infringing items) expected to attend. The organiser should be able to provide a list of exhibitors, with stall numbers, before the event.
Carefully read the exhibitor contract. Are there measures in place if counterfeit products are identified? Will it be possible to expel exhibitors or clear stalls?
If this is unclear in the contract, take steps to clarify the arrangements with the organiser. If there are no such provisions, you or your SME Association should consider lobbying the organisers to secure appropriate sanctions.
You should always use experienced agents or lawyers and obtain any necessary entry passes for them. At some trade fairs in China, only foreigners are permitted to enter. For example, the Guangzhou Export Commodities Fair (Canton Fair) restricts admittance of Chinese nationals who do not have stated business at the fair.
At the trade fair: be pro-active, not reactive
Where possible, visit the trade fair during the set-up phase and visit known, past, or suspected infringers. They may be selling to customers outside of the fair even if they are not openly displaying infringing goods, so it is wise to collect business cards, brochures, and other information from any suspicious individuals.
While infringers may appear in various guises with different company names, they usually provide the same mobile phone number.
It is important to know where the relevant IP authorities are located and to make yourself known to them before any potential issues arise and consult them on specific issues at a particular event.
If you decide to file a complaint at the IP office of a trade fair, the alleged infringer is usually given a certain amount of time to respond, so it is important to file any complaints as early as possible.
Remember, displaying products at trade fairs can (but not in all circumstances) constitute ‘publication’ which may affect their novelty value.
For example, if you display a new product at a trade fair in such a way that its innovative elements are clearly visible and have been documented in some manner then you could be prevented at a later stage from obtaining a patent for that product.
Current patent law provides a grace period, meaning that an invention or creation does not lose its novelty if a patent application is filed within six months of when it is first exhibited at a trade fair recognised by the Chinese Government.
it is a good idea to carry a digital camera or camera phone to secure evidence but be aware that, while such devices are not prohibited, some exhibitors (particularly if they know they are infringing IP rights) may object to pictures being taken. Consider having a notary public accompany you, because in most circumstances only notarised evidence will meet formal evidentiary requirements in China. Without a notary, there is scope to argue that the evidence is not genuine.
If you do not take any enforcement action, ensure that you record the details of suspected infringers and obtain as much evidence as possible which can be used for potential enforcement later.
After the trade fair: act on the information you have gathered
- Follow up on evidence gathered or actions taken at the trade fair
- If action was taken at the fair, follow up with the authorities and conduct follow-up investigations to check if the infringer has halted the activities
- Send cease and desist (C&D) letters to known infringers before the next trade fair
It may be more prudent to wait instead of taking immediate enforcement action. Pursuing networks of manufacturers, traders and overseas customers often leads to the discovery of common links, makes priority targets clear and makes progress easier to measure.
For example, the exhibitor may not be the main target (they may be a small reseller or trading company), so it might make sense to obtain evidence at the trade fair and investigate the exhibitor afterwards so that more substantial targets, a manufacturer or even infringing networks can be disclosed or pursued.
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 email (question [at] china-iprhelpdesk.eu ( )) and gain access to a panel of experts, in order to receive free and confidential first-line advice within 3 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/.