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Special> China International Fair For Investment & Trade> Beijing Review Exclusive> Legal-Ease
UPDATED: February 13, 2009 NO. 2 FEB. 19, 2009
Protecting Your IPR at Chinese Trade Fairs and Exhibitions I

Around 4,000 trade fairs take place on the Chinese mainland every year with Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou being the most important locations, followed by Dalian, Shenzhen and Zhuhai. One of the main concerns many foreign investors have when approaching the Chinese trade fair circuit is how to protect their intellectual property while at a fair.

The norms aimed at enforcing intellectual property rights (IPRs) during exhibitions are relatively new. This special set of administrative norms was promulgated by the Ministry of Commerce and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce on January 10, 2006 and entered into force on March 1, 2006.

If a trade fair lasts three days or longer, trade fair organizers are obliged to establish a complaint center for IPR-related issues. In all other cases, the local IPR authorities are encouraged to step up their efforts to offer consulting and monitoring services.


Foreign companies attending exhibitions or trade fairs in China should do their homework in order to make sure that their IPRs are protected and can be enforced in case of infringements. Trade fairs often serve as a monitoring tool where illegal copies of a product can be detected.

Before participating in a trade fair, a company needs to check whether its products are registered in China in the form of patents, utility models, design patents or trademarks. Copies of the relevant documents should be available on the spot.

In case the exhibiting company has a local lawyer in China, it is advisable to inform them in advance of participation in the trade fair. The lawyer should be provided with the necessary documents and be available during the time of the exhibition.

As mentioned above, trade fair organizers are obliged to set up a complaint center for IPR issues if the fair lasts at least three days. It is useful to establish contact with this complaint center before the trade fair starts and figure out what legal means they have in case of infringements, e.g. whether they have the right to clear stands or to expel an infringer.

If the trade fair lasts only one or two days and the organizers do not provide a complaint center, the exhibiting company can check whether local enforcement authorities such as the administration for industry and commerce, the public security bureau or the technical supervision bureau will be present at the trade fair. If not, they may at least provide a contact person who can be addressed in case of infringements. If authorities show little ambition to be supportive, it might be useful to cooperate with other firms attending the trade fair or contact a national chamber of commerce in order to increase the pressure on the authorities.

Questions that should be addressed when talking to the complaint center or the local enforcement authorities are: How will they react to a case of infringement; what evidence and in what form is necessary to document a case of infringement; what are the possibilities of forcing an infringer to stop exhibiting an infringing product; what are the time frames for the infringer to react to a complaint; what are the chances to use the means of a preliminary injunction; what amount of down payment would be required in the case of a preliminary injunction.

China exhibition organizers usually provide exhibitor information on their websites. Checking the websites of competitors in advance might reveal potential infringements and allows more time to prepare adequate enforcement action. An exhibiting company might also know some "usual suspects" that have infringed its products in the past; so it would be advisable to check whether these will be represented at the trade fair as well.

As part of the preparation, a company should also spend some time considering what information it makes available to the public in the form of brochures or samples. Everything that is given away could serve as an inspiration or instruction manual for potential illegal copies.

Dealing with infringements

Trade fairs and exhibitions provide a good opportunity to detect potential infringers. The "set-up" day of the trade fair, therefore, can be well used also to walk around the stands and search for infringing products. It is also useful to pay a visit to the booth of the complaint center or the local enforcement authority.

In cases where a potential infringing product is detected, it is important to obtain as much information as possible about the exhibitor and the product. A digital camera or a camera-phone might be useful to secure evidence. Brochures, business cards and other types of literature are all helpful to support enforcement action.

After detecting a potential infringer, the rights-holder has to decide whether to take action. If action is taken, the company has to decide which legal means can and should be used to fight the infringer according to the information it receives from the local enforcement authorities and its own local lawyer. If action is taken at an exhibition, it might be necessary to follow up with the authorities to ensure that appropriate prosecutions take place.

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