I am not a big fan of filing Madrid Protocol applications for China. In certain situations, they can work well, but when they don’t work (which is fairly often) the trademark registration process takes longer and costs more than just filing a national application. See China Trademarks. Register Them In China Not Madrid.
Filing a priority application in China is another matter. As part of the IP modernization begun under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership, China acceded to the Paris Convention in 1984. Under the Convention, if you file a trademark application in one Paris Convention country, and then file an application on a priority basis in another Paris Convention country within six months of the date of the original application, you can claim the first filing date as the date for your subsequent applications as well. For example, if you filed a trademark application in the United States on May 1, 2017, you would have until November 1, 2017 to file a trademark application for the same goods/services in China and still be able to claim the May 1, 2017 filing date for your China trademark application.
The vast majority of countries in the world are signatories to the Paris Convention, so the convention has wide-ranging effect. Priority filing is particularly important in first-to-file countries – most notably China – where there often truly is a race to the trademark office between legitimate IP owners and unsavory trademark squatters.
Priority filing can be a useful tool for China trademark protection, but there are a couple common misconceptions about it. First, priority filing will not improve your odds of registration. The only thing priority filing does in China is establish an earlier filing date. An application filed on a priority basis is considered a national application, and once it is submitted it goes through the same examination process as any other national application. In other words, if you have priority filing for a brand name or a logo that has already been registered as a trademark in China by someone else, you will not succeed in getting your brand name or your logo registered in China.
Second, priority filing is not the only option for filing in China. Sometimes clients will contact our international IP lawyers in a frantic rush after getting notice they have only a few days before the priority filing window closes on their trademark and believing that once that window closes they will not be able to file a trademark application in China at all. This though is not the case. The only effect of the priority window closing is that you cannot claim an earlier filing date. Going back to the earlier example, if you filed a trademark application in the United States on May 1, 2017, and then filed an application in China for the same goods/services after November 1, 2017, the deemed filing date in China would be the actual filing date for China. Priority filing changes the deemed filing date, nothing else.
Another important point regarding priority filing is that priority filings are limited to the same goods/services as in the original application. In this way, priority filing is similar to Madrid Protocol filing, and often not well suited to filing in China. But if the application only covers a narrow range of clearly stated goods/services, and those are the only goods/services you care about protecting in China, it will work just fine. Priority filing cannot be used for the “Starbucks strategy” of covering all goods/services. But if you use it to establish a beachhead and cover the most important goods/services, it will usually dissuade the first wave of squatters.
Because the description of goods and services for trademarks in the United States (and for many other countries as well) is often quite different than the description of goods and services for China trademarks, I generally recommend filing concurrent applications without regard to priority for companies interested in trademarks in both countries. But for clients who first file in the United States (or some other country) and then realize belatedly they should protect their IP in China as well, a priority filing can be ideal. More than once, a priority application has meant the difference between securing a China trademark registration and having to deal with a trademark squatter with superior rights.