4 Things IP Professionals Need to Know About Douyin and TikTok

  • Brand Protection

The latest in our series on what IP professionals need to know about China continues with a focus on the video-creation and sharing app, TikTok. If you missed our previous article on Xiaohongshu, you can find it here. While many IP professionals and brand owners may be aware of TikTok as the host for user-created viral videos, there is much less awareness of the commercial side of the platform and its relation to IP.

TikTok, or as it’s known in China, Douyin, was developed by ByteDance in 2016. Douyin is a social media network that encourages the creation and sharing of short videos, typically of its users dancing and lip-syncing to songs. In 2017, ByteDance launched TikTok, a related app which provides the same service for users outside China.

What does TikTok mean for IP?

The runaway popularity of both Douyin and TikTok have important consequences for IP professionals for several reasons, chief among them is how far they represent a pivot to video over images and the written word. When it comes to informational and entertainment content, video has fast become key. According to one HubSpot Trends Survey from 2017, not only do consumers now prefer video as a format, they pay more attention to it and find it more memorable as a form of brand experience.

The push to video, combined with changes in EU trademark legislation in 2015, has signalled a potential rise in importance for non-traditional trademark applications including motion marks. Short, animated trademarks, such as Toshiba’s folding origami logo, are the kind of trademark filing which may become more popular and necessary with brands if the move to video continues.

Being able to keep pace with global clearance and protection for these new motion marks requires expert input, which is where Corsearch’s Screening, Watch, and Protection products can help. For more on how our expert researchers and analysts can assist you in advising clients on how to establish and protect their IP through the whole brand lifecycle please visit our What We Do page.

  • Douyin and TikTok are popular. Very popular

The global audience for both Douyin and TikTok is vast. ByteDance has one billion active monthly users for its apps, and the number of downloads for both platforms has exceeded the billion mark too. Douyin has 400 million daily users in China, while TikTok has been downloaded 100 million times in the U.S. and 250 million times in India. It is also available in 150 countries and 75 languages. TikTok is also the seventh most downloaded app of the ten years between 2010 and 2019.

  • IP usage and eCommerce are growing on Douyin

Currently, Douyin has more incidences of eCommerce, trademark usage, and brand infringement than TikTok, which remains primarily user-focused. How does this work? Some videos have embedded sales links that encourage buyers to purchase goods or services. Douyin also has a search function that allows the scanning of faces for additional content and the clicking of visual components. Some sellers also post videos demonstrating their products with off-app contact details included. These videos are typically found via keyword searches for brands. If you are advising clients on future marks and territorial registrations this may be a consideration.

  • Counterfeiting and brand infringement are common

From a brand protection perspective, Douyin and TikTok should be watched. Many users share videos selling counterfeit goods, while others have created content which shows potential buyers their processes for adding brand names and logos to homemade cosmetics and other products. Douyin has an older and wealthier audience than TikTok, so brands most at risk are manufacturers of cosmetics, luxury apparel, and timepieces.

  • IP enforcement is possible but difficult

Bytedance does not have a designated IP protection program like many of its competitors, nor does it have preventative anti-counterfeiting measures including keyword blocking or image regulation. Monitoring and enforcement are possible, but brands must rely on the platform or police it manually. The reporting of infringements takes place on user profiles and via email. As Douyin is in Chinese there may be a barrier for many brand holders.

Whether you’re assessing how the future of video may affect international trademark clearance or filing programs, or the possibility of brand enforcement is in China, our Screening, Search, Watch, and Protection solutions can assist in your decision making. Please contact us today for a discussion of how we can help.


*This is an informational opinion article of Stephen Connolly of Corsearch. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent official policy or position of Corsearch or its clients.

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