China legal basics

One of the most common calls our China lawyers get is the one from someone saying they want to “start a business in China.” The first thing we do with that sort of caller is to seek to ascertain whether a China business is actually necessary. Forming and then operating a business entity in China is not fast, easy, or cheap. So whenever possible, we seek to determine whether there is some way the caller can conduct business with China and achieve what it is seeking to do with China, while not having a business in China at all.  For potential alternatives to forming a China business, check out the following:

But if forming a China business does make sense, the next issue is what kind of business makes sense. On this, you typically have three choices: a Wholly Foreign Owned Entity (WFOE), a Joint Venture (JV), or a Representative Office.  These days, the overwhelming majority of foreign companies seeking to do business in China go in as a WFOE, but there are definitely still instances when a Joint Venture or a Representative Office make sense.  or more on the differences between these three sorts of entities and on what it takes to form each of them, check out the following:

If you are going to have a China business entity, you are going to have employees (indirectly in the case of a Rep Office). That means you are going to need written employee contracts (these must be in both Chinese and in English or whatever additional language you choose) and a written employee manual/employee handbook (again, in Chinese and in English). You probably will want your employee agreements to speak to issues like trade secrets and non-competes (which are limited in China) and overtime.  For more on employee contracts and employee handbooks, check out the following:

The last thing you need to focus on if you are going to be doing business with China, particularly if you are going to be doing business in China, is protecting your intellectual property. This almost always means registering your brand name as a trademark in China and oftentimes your logo or slogan as well. This also means registering your patents or copyrights in China as well. For more on registering your trademarks in China and protecting your IP there, check out the following:

The above are the four main issues confronting foreign companies seeking to do business in China:

1. Determine if a China company is necessary.

2. If a China entity is necessary, form the right one.

3. If you are going to have a Chinese company, you should have the proper employment contracts and employee manual.

4. If you are going to be doing business in China, you are going to need to take certain steps to protect your IP.

That was easy, wasn’t it? Now go forth and prosper.

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Photo of Dan Harris Dan Harris

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network. 

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network.  His work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

He was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), is rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (also its highest rating), and is a recognized SuperLawyer.

Dan is a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and constantly travels between the United States and Asia. He most commonly speaks on China law issues and is the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog. Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed Dan regarding various aspects of his international law practice.

Dan is licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at his firm, Dan focuses on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.