Midea Group: From Plastic Caps to a Global Technology Conglomerate

Machine Translation: English
  • Name: Midea Group
  • Country / Territory: China
  • IP right(s): Trademarks
  • Date of publication: March 9, 2022
  • Last update: March 9, 2022

In 1968, He Xiangjian led a team of 23 farmers from the Chinese city of Shunde to set up the "Beijie Office Plastic Production Group", a factory designed to produce glass bottles and plastic caps. This company was the predecessor of the present Midea Group, which formally entered into the home appliance industry in 1980 when it launched its house brand "美的", translated as "Midea".

Photo of Midea plastic products in the 1970s
Plastic products in the 1970s (Photo: Midea)
Photo of early Midea electric fans and brands in the 1980s
The fans and early brand in the 1980s (Photo: Midea)

After more than 50 years of development, Midea Group has become a global technology conglomerate covering five business sectors. These include Smart Home, Electromechanical, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air conditioning) & Building, Robotics & Automation, and Digital Innovation. Its main brand, Midea Home Appliances, specializes in air-treatment (commercial and residential air conditioning solutions), refrigeration, laundry, kitchen and cooking appliances, water appliances, floor care and lighting.

Midea has taken the lead in its own domestic market, and has expanded internationally in recent years. Since 2016, it has acquired overseas businesses and enterprises such as Toshiba Home Appliances (Japan), KUKA (Germany), Clivet (Italy) and Servotronix (Israel). At the same time, Midea has rapidly extended its own brands into foreign emerging markets, and increased its competitiveness in well-established markets, by relying on its production bases in different countries. Midea now provides products and services to nearly 400 million users in more than 200 countries and regions around the world.

Midea has some 200 subsidiaries, 28 R&D centers and 34 major production facilities, with over 150,000 employees all over the globe. Among them, 18 R&D centers and 17 production facilities are located outside of China, spreading across 10 countries and employing more than 30,000 people. Midea has emerged as a global enterprise, with a wide brand portfolio including Midea, Little Swan, COLMO, TOSHIBA, WAHIN, BUGU, CLIVET, Eureka, KUKA, GMCC and WELLING.

In 2016, Midea Group entered the Fortune Global 500 — the only Chinese home appliance company listed that year. It has since featured on the list every year, ranking 307th in 2020, with a revenue of USD 40.5 billion. It has also ranked 36th on the Fortune China 500 list, and 27th among the Top 100 Most Valuable Technology Brands. Midea has become a greatly valued brand not only in China but also around the world.

Building a strong IP portfolio to protect innovation and internationalization

Intellectual property (IP) rights have played both a protective and enabling role in the expansion of Midea's global operations. Midea has registered tens of thousands of patents and trademarks in China, and applied for a large number in major countries and regions around the world through WIPO's PCT System and Madrid System. Such IP rights are critical for protecting R&D innovation, ensuring market access and establishing a competitive advantage.

In recent years, Midea has applied for some 10,000 new patents annually. The number of patents granted has also been increasing steadily. By the end of 2019, Midea Group's portfolio exceeded 150 thousand patents and patent applications; more than 4,500 are PCT applications. In the past five years, Midea Group has continued to strengthen its overseas R&D capabilities and increased its PCT applications prominently, with more than 1,500 PCT applications filed in 2019.

How does WIPO's Madrid System help Midea Group protect their brands worldwide?

In the last years, Midea has started to explore different market segments in which to develop a multi-brand portfolio. As a result, it has built a portfolio that includes both mass market and high-end trademarks, all of which have established a high reputation among the public.

Midea Group's ventures with the Madrid System started in 2000 when it filed for international registration of its house mark "Midea". It has since registered numerous trademarks for its logo in various design and product categories. The group has also registered other brands through the Madrid System, including its major Original Brand Manufacturer (OBM) Comfee and the high-end brand COLMO, launched in 2018. So far, Midea Group has applied for over 50 Madrid registrations and acquired international trademark protection in over 110 countries.

Image showing a list of Midea international trademark registrations in WIPO's global brand database

Through just one application, Midea Group can obtain protection for its brands all over the world. This streamlined application process —completed in one language and using only one currency —makes the Madrid System an efficient and cost effective way to register trademarks.

Using the Madrid System, the Midea Group can also keep its portfolio up to date through simple maintenance procedures. This helps to reduce costs; there is no need to work with different law firms in every country, nor pay for costly translations and other extra fees. Overall, WIPO's Madrid System is a perfect and wide-reaching brand protection solution for expanding companies such as the Midea Group.

Midea Group and the WIPO Madrid System in practice

The Midea Group's trust in the Madrid System was fully demonstrated when it registered COLMO, the high-end AI technology appliance brand launched on its 50th anniversary. At the end of September 2018, Midea filed a single trademark registration through the Madrid System for COLMO International Registration number 1433809), designating more than 80 countries and regions including the United States of America, the European Union and the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI).

Photo of home appliances with the name COLMO superimposed
COLMO – high end brand for AI technology home appliances (Photo: Midea)

Thanks to that original application, and others filed since, COLMO is today protected in more than 100 countries, laying a solid foundation for brand expansion overseas.

A future led by innovation and international protection

In the years to come, Midea Group will continue to release new innovative products, along with more personalized brands to fit diverse global users. The Chinese brand will also further expand its digitalization projects, in order to achieve its purpose of "bringing great innovations to life" to the whole world.

To obtain protection for its brands and patents, Midea will continue to rely on the Madrid System and the PCT System, both of which have proven to be highly efficient and convenient for the development and management of Midea's wide IP portfolio.