Foreign companies can register their China trademarks. But you need a Chinese trademark that sounds great and translates nicely.
When it comes to properly registering a foreign trademark in China, what happened with Ralph Lauren is something that comes up as a cautionary tale. This story emphasizes how crucial it is to make sure you get the right Chinese name for your company if you plan on doing business in China.
The thing is, Ralph Lauren didn’t register a Chinese trademark. As a result, the Chinese consumers eventually came up with their own name for the brand. They called it “San Jiao Ma”, and it translates to “3-legged horse”.
Obviously, this isn’t exactly an image that Ralph Lauren was planning on. But the name took hold, and it’s almost impossible to change once it’s been firmly established.
This just means you need to control your brand image properly, and that starts with the right Chinese name.
In some cases, you can just use the literal translation for your brand name. This works if your brand name uses standard words.
The Apple brand, for example, is called Pingguo in China. This just means apple in Chinese. It’s simple and direct.
The Microsoft brand follows a similar course, using Chinese words for micro and soft. That’s why its name in China is Wei Ruan.
This time, you use a Chinese name that sounds similar to your original brand name. That’s why Ferrari in China translates to Fa La Li while Rolls Royce is known as Lao Si Lai Si. These translations don’t have to mean anything. You just need to make sure that the phonetic translation doesn’t have a negative literal translation. You don’t want a Chinese phonetic translation that actual means something vulgar or obscene in the local language.
If you’re incredibly lucky, then you may even end up with a phonetic translation that also has a terrific literal translation. This is what happened to the Coca Cola brand, which is also called Ke Kou Ke Le in China. This may sound similar to “Coca Cola”, but the Chinese name also translates to “very tasty and happy”. That’s obviously great for the Coca Cola brand.
Your best bet is to work with a native speaker who has extensive advertising or PR experience to make sure you get your Chinese name right. That way, you can end up with a Chinese name that suits your brand image.
If you work with the right Chinese trademark agency, this is part of the service. You must use a Chinese trademark agency if you’re a non-resident or if you have a foreign company.
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