In today’s global economy we can be exposed to new products and service providers on a daily basis who may originate from anywhere in the world.  Many of these businesses have originated in countries where the written language is based on something other than the roman alphabet and therefore their trade-marks will likely have at least an element in foreign characters.

The same challenges face brand owner with roman alphabet trade-marks expanding into jurisdictions that do not operate within that system.  In each case, businesses must decide whether their mark will have the desired impact abroad, knowing that the average consumer is unlikely to be able to read and understand the trade-mark if it is not in their home language.

When it is determined that a new mark must be created to appeal to local customers, the first question to be asked is whether the original mark will be translated into the new language, or transliterated.  The following highlight some pros and cons of each option.

Translations

One key benefit of translations is the consistency of the message of the mark across all languages. For some brand owners this is of primary concern.  However, when trade-marks are coined word, or otherwise distinctive of a specific jurisdiction, it may simply not be possible to come up with a direct translation of a mark in all desired jurisdictions.  Further, there is always the chance that the translation in certain languages has a negative connotation or otherwise undesirable meaning either in the abstract or specifically in association with the goods and services of the business.

In addition to the benefit of the consistency of the meaning of a trade-mark, translations may be a more economical choice over transliterations since creating a transliteration usually involves the creation of 10 or more options that can be considered.  With direct translations one would typically expect only 1 or 2 options to shoes from.  With less options to choose from it may also be easier and faster for the stakeholders in a business to come to a consensus on which foreign language mark to select.

Finally, in some cases, particularly in the cases of slogan trade-marks, the foreign translation may simply be too long and cumbersome.  For example, in the Chinese language the recommended length of a trade-mark is 3-5 characters.  If the translation exceeds this length the brand may not have the desired appeal to consumers and, in such cases, a shorter transliteration may be preferred.

Transliterations

Taking the transliteration route provides brand owners with the opportunity to create a new “message” or meaning to be imparted by their marks, one which may better speak to the local consumer base and local customs.  However, what may be lost is the consistency of the message associated with the brand.

When creating a transliteration, the main starting point is to create a mark that has the same sound as the original mark while also, ideally, keeping some of the core meaning of the mark.  In some cases though it may be quite difficult to create a similar sounding mark as not all languages have the same/similar sounds in their vocabulary. 

 Further, transliterations may be subject to “subjective” interpretations, meaning that consumers from the same jurisdiction may actually interpret the same mark differently since the marks are typically created to have a similar sound to the original mark but not the same meaning.  For example, different dialects of a language may result in a transliteration having completely different sounds and/or meanings even within one language.