In China, apps now dominate many markets. Their symbols (icons), which should be protected as intellectual property, are becoming correspondingly important. The icon positions an app as a digital service brand and stands for a special value proposition in the virtual space.
Under China’s Trademark Law, app icons can be registered as a trademark as long as they do not violate the provisions of the Trademark Law and are distinctive. To establish distinctiveness, companies should avoid using elements that are too simple, abstract or merely descriptive of services when designing app icons.
For example, if the icon of a music app only uses notes, it will not stand out from competitors. Initials, which represent a company’s brand name, are also not suitable for app icons in China. The Trademark Office does not consider individual letters to be distinctive. We recommend using distinctive colors, brand logos or graphics as app icons.
According to the Chinese list of similar goods and services, app icons can be registered, for example, in Class 0901 for electronic computers and their external devices and in Class 42 for software development services, etc. As each app provides certain services such as financial services or video entertainment services, the symbols can also be registered in the respective trademark or service category.
However, simply registering the icon as a trademark in certain classes does not prevent others from registering the same or similar icon as a trademark in other classes. Therefore, we recommend that companies also register the icon’s copyright with the National Copyright Administration or Copyright Protection Center of China before or at the same time as registering an icon as a trademark. They should also consider defensive trademark applications in other classes.