The Council submitted a proposal to the Hong Kong SAR Government in January 2011, suggesting a region-wide trademark mutual recognition and reconciliation mechanism to be established in the Greater China under the concerted efforts of the related authorities.
The epicenter of the world economy and international trade is shifting towards the east in recent years. For externally-oriented economies like Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, there has been a trend that companies from these Greater China regions are also moving the focus of their business to East Asia, given that the traditional export markets notably the US and the EU are stuck in doldrums due to slow economic recovery. At the same time, more and more multinational companies are eyeing the huge untapped potential of the Greater China especially the booming Mainland market.
Currently, companies operating in the Greater China have to apply for trademark registration separately to the respective authority in each territory. Since the reviewing standards are different for the four areas, the costs and time spent on trademark registration could be considerable. Indeed, if a cross-region mutual recognition system for trademark registration could be set up under the joint efforts of the governments of Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, business operations in the regions would be greatly facilitated; and moreover, this would not only encourages local companies to develop their own brands and enhance their position in the value chain, but also improve the regulatory environment of Greater China, providing an incentive to lure foreign corporations especially international brands to the region.
There have been overseas precedents for such multilateral trademark registration systems, such as the Madrid System Trademark and the Community Trademark in European Union. On the other hand, Mainland China signed the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) with Hong Kong and Macau respectively in 2003, and the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (ECFA) between two sides of the Taiwan Strait was forged in 2010. All these bilateral free trade treaties have taken into consideration the possibility of strengthening co-operation in regard to trademark and intellectual property, and establishing a trademark recognition mechanism for Greater China is beyond doubt a viable way to take forward such cooperative initiatives.
The BDC suggests that the trademark registration authorities of the four regions could consider setting up an organization, namely the “Greater China Trademark Alliance”, which will be responsible for matters relating to cooperation on trademark registration and protection among Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao. In the beginning, the Alliance may act as a platform to strength the exchange of information among intellectual property authorities of the four regions, and it may also assists members to provide trademark registration services in each other’s territory, either through setting up offices or service centers or through acting as agency for the counterparts. Besides, the Alliance may proceed with the preparatory work for “Well-known Trademarks of Greater China” certification, whereby brands or trademarks nominated by individual governments or designated organizations and then endorsed by the Alliance upon assessment, will be entitled to the status of “Well-known Trademark” and enjoy special protection in the four regions simultaneously.
At a later stage, the Alliance could offer an integrated registration service, which means one single registration will be valid for the four regions. Although the application of trademark registration would be verified by the authority of each region independently according to their respective laws and regulations, the Alliance can still take lead in unifying the application procedures, service fee structure, processing time, as well as the service pledge, trademark valid period and protection scope etc. It can also establish a uniform appeal and review process to facilitate trademark registration and management in the four regions.
Hong Kong plays a crucial role as an intermediary for the Cross-Strait economic exchange, and it is the gateway for overseas corporations to enter Mainland china, whiling serving as the bridgehead for Mainland enterprises to “go international”. With sound intellectual property system and abundant supply of legal and related professionals, Hong Kong is posed to be the headquarter of the Great China Trademark Alliance as well as the intellectual property service center for the regions.