ABA Comments on draft NDRC IPR Abuse Guidelines

Attached is the package submitted by the ABA Sections of Antitrust Law, IP Law, and International Law, commenting on the draft IP Misuse Antitrust Guidelines of the National Development and Reform Commission.

The comments of the Global Antitrust Institute of George Mason University were previously discussed here.

 

SAIC Announces Its Latest Draft of IP Abuse Guidelines

“[T]he word transparency [is] the ‘most opaque in the trade policy lexicon.’” Sylvia Ostry

On Feb. 4, 2016, SAIC published for public comment its draft Guidelines On Anti-Trust Enforcement Against IP Abuse, dated February 2, 2016,  <关于滥用知识产权的反垄断执法指南(国家工商总局第七稿>公开征求意见的公告> .  SAIC advises that this is their seventh draft. The deadline for SAIC’s receiving comments is February 23, 2016.   The draft is also accompanied by an explanation, which briefly reviews the earlier drafts and notes that the numbers of comments received throughout the commenting process, which was first initiated in 2009.

This guideline draft is in addition to the IP abuse rules that SAIC promulgated in 2015, with an effective date of August 1, 2015.  Unlike the guidelines, which will be adopted under the auspices of the Antimonopoly Commission of the State Council, the rules were adopted pursuant to SAIC’s own legislative authority.  It will be interesting to compare the guidelines with the rules.  If both rules and guidelines ultimately co-exist, and there are differences in wording and policy, there will inevitably be concerns over how these differences will be enforced.

I have previously discussed NDRC’s drafting process here, and on a non-public SAIC draft here.  In fact, my comments on the SAIC fifth draft go back nearly to the time this blog was established, in 2012. As noted in the book I co-authored with Steve Harris and others, Anti-Monopoly Law and Practice in China (2011), SAIC’s engagement on IP abuse dates back to 2004 – before the AML was itself enacted — when it published a paper “The Competition Restricting Measures of Multinational Companies in China and Counter Measures.”

SIPO is also reportedly involved in drafting or commenting on IP abuse guidelines.  As with SAIC, SIPO’s involvement goes way back.  SIPO’s 2009 IPR Action Plan specifically contemplated that it would “step up research on abuse of IP rights, and strengthen communication and negotiation with relevant foreign government authorities on this issue.”

When I wrote the chapter on IP for my book, in fact there were various copies of the IP Abuse Guidelines of SAIC circulating, but none had been made available for public comment.   Much has changed since then.  In recent years, many laws and regulations have been subject to multiple opportunities for commenting at different stages of legislative drafting. Along with copyright law amendments, these guidelines have been very long in the making with many such commenting opportunities.  As with the copyright law amendments, I also believe that comments on these IP abuse guidelines are not only intended to enhance the quality of the subject legislation, but also intended to show support for legislation that may be subject to claims of different agencies.

 The current AML policy environment is also suggestive of the type of IP environment that Martin Dimitrov outlined in his book Piracy and the State: The Politics of Intellectual Property Rights in China, where he attributed China’s inconsistent enforcement to campaign based, redundant approaches, responsive to external pressures, and unduly complex.  I previously blogged that one important step might be for the State Council to take a more active role in this area, consistent with current plans to reform China’s legislative process.  Another, small positive first step might be for the AML-related agencies to publish an annual report which outlines their policy and enforcement mechanisms, much as is currently done for other areas, such as intellectual property, and which forces a degree of coordination.

I hope to post comments from others on this draft later on this blog.

Another positive note: SAIC has also made it site available in large type and with audio accompaniment for those who have visual impairments.

Updated: 2/8/2016

 

 

Of NDA’s and Smoking Guns: China’s Evolving Landscape of Trade Secret Protection

A recent class at Fordham law school with seasoned IP lawyer Benjamin Bai, of Allen & Overy’s Shanghai office, brought home to me some of the differences in substantive technological secret protection between the US and China.  The SI cases in particular, where technical trade secrets were litigated in both the United States and China suggested that some major differences between the US and China are that US IP practices tends to emphasize access over similarity of technology, while Chinese practice tends to focus on similarity.  In this sense, Chinese courts may appear to be “misappropriator friendly,”  although a more accurate assessment may be that the courts are friendly to the party acquiring or developing proprietary technology.

According to Mr. Bai, Chinese courts may tend to analyze each claim of trade secret protection (in a manner similar to a patent litigation) and be less inclined to accept arguments from plaintiff that a given technology, overall, is similar to the technology claimed by a plaintiff.   In Benjamin’s estimation, the Chinese courts in the SI group cases may have been correct in noticing that small differences in the subject technology have significant implications.   China’s trade secret law specifically provides, in a judicial interpretation, that reverse engineering is a defense to a claim of trade secret misappropriation.  This “similarity” approach goes a step further by providing a non-infringement defense based on modifying misappropriated technology.

The notion of whether a technology is “similar” is evocative of the “doctrine of equivalents” (“DOE”) in patent infringement matters.  However, patent law cases generally do not accept notions of reverse engineering as a defense to infringement claims.    The DOE also acts as an incentive to early disclosure of a patented invention by insuring that a given technology receives an adequate breadth of protection.  Trade secret cases do not share similar policy motivations.  Trade secret law is intended to protect instead against unfair misappropriation.   An undue focus on similarity can obscure the unfairness of the underlying  misappropriation.  Indeed, one of the few cases in China that determined that similarity by itself was not a defense Chongqing Long Life Xinxieli Chemical Company Ltd vs. Hu Xiantang et al. (重庆长寿新协力化工有限公司等诉胡宪堂等侵犯商业秘密纠纷案) was based in part on the original fraudulent acquisition of the technology. The court noted in that case that “the illegal obtaining of trade secrets and its subsequent modification still is a trade secret infringement.” (本院认为,首先,被告东荣公司通过非法手段获取了涉案商业秘密,不管其是直接实施还是略加改进后再实施,其行为的侵权本质并未改变。即非法获取并实施商业秘密是侵权行为,对非法获取的商业秘密进行改进同样是侵权行为。) (2010)渝一中法民初字第00055号).

Evolving trade secret jurisprudence in China suggests that a plaintiff is more likely to succeed while the “gun still smokes” and before the technology has actually been applied.  The Shanghai Eli Lilly case  involved a preliminary injunction while there was still a smoking gun, with no need to consider “similarity.”   This “early stage” access case  is also reflected in the dispositions of Chinese and US law enforcement.  One Shanghai police official told the press in 2012 “Only [trade secret] cases in which there are no reported perpetrators tend to be complicated.”   A recent criminal conviction in the United States involving theft of Dupont/Monsanto seed suggests is another example of early stage / smoking gun misappropriation.

US companies when they become obligees under non-disclosure agreements may find themselves in a difficult position in an access-oriented jurisdiction, as their NDA’s can easily become smoking guns for claims of trade secret theft if a court has an access-oriented approach.  A recent example of such a case was the recent decision involving Caterpillar’s “Bug Coupler” technology, which involved disclosure of technical secrets from a supplier pursuant to an NDA, and a court’s determination that Caterpillar continued to benefit from such disclosure in its subsequent product development.  Caterpillar was ordered to pay damages of $73.6 million, the largest in Illinois history for a trade secret claim.

As US lawyers use increasingly stronger non-disclosure, non-use and non-circumvention type agreements in China, the risks exists that they will also be subject to similar agreements from Chinese companies seeking to co-develop technology or products.  In such instances, a US company may wish to ensure application of Chinese law, which might give it the benefit of a less access-oriented approach to technology development.

The differences in approach of China and the United States also may reflect differences in legal culture in both countries.  As trade secret cases are adjudicated by IP judges, these same judges may be unduly informed by patent notions of prior art (or public availability of trade secret information), as well as the doctrine of equivalents (in looking at similarity).   US federal and state judges are likely to have less specialized backgrounds.  Moreover, state judges and federal appellate judges other than the Federal Circuit, do not adjudicate patent matters at all and may therefore be less inclined to make these comparisons.  China’s employee-friendly labor laws also view non-compete agreements with some skepticism, including not utilizing doctrines such as “inevitable disclosure” with as much frequency as US courts.

My hope is that as the bilateral technology transfer environment develops, there is greater harmonization  in our trade secret regimes. smokinggun

 

 

US-China Legal Exchange to Highlight IP Issues in Palo Alto and Washington DC

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The 20th annual US-China Legal Exchange will occur February 29 and March 2, 2016 n Palo Alto, California and at the USPTO in Alexandria, Virginia (near Washington, DC).  Registration and additional information are available here.  This year’s program focuses on Chinese intellectual property matters and will be a great opportunity to hear about the latest developments from leading Chinese IP officials as well as US government officials and practicing lawyers.

The program is co-chaired by the General Counsel of the Commerce Department Kelly Welsh and the Assistant Minister Tong of the Ministry of Commerce.  Topics to be covered include: recent developments in Chinese IPR Laws; patent and copyright law reform, judicial reform and IP courts, e-commerce and IPR and cross-border enforcement in the Internet environment (including extraterritoriality issues).   Scheduled speakers include representatives of MofCOM, the State Council Legislative Affairs Office, Supreme People’s Court, and Ministry of Public Security.

I am also scheduled to be speak in both venues.

There is no fee for attending.

Photo: USPTO – Madison Building atrium, looking down.  The Legal Exchange will occur on the second floor of this building in the Global Intellectual Property Academy.

Slouching Towards Innovation – A Survey of the Surveys on China’s IP Environment

Here is a summary of the business surveys on IP protection in China, drawn from the European Chamber of Commerce in China, Business Confidence Survey 2015 (June, 2015), the US China Business Councils’ 2015 USCBC China Business Environment Member Survey (Sept. 2015), the American Chamber of Commerce 2016 Business Climate Survey (“Amcham China” Report, Jan. 2016), and Amcham Shanghai’s 2016 China Business Report (“Amcham Shanghai” Report, Jan. 2016), and others.

IP Issues a Core Concern

While IP issues are less dominant than in recent years, businesses report that IP is still critical to them. When Amcham China respondents in all sectors addressed what they considered their competitive advantage versus Chinese domestic entities, three of their top four perceived advantages were IP-related: Brands (74%), Technology & IP (63%), and Development and Innovation (59%). USCBC respondents listed IP concerns in a number four priority slot, having dropped from number 2 in 2014. However IP issues have averaged as a number 4.5 priority over the past ten years, so the drop is not that significant. According to Amcham Shanghai’s survey, 49% of respondents believed that lack of IPR protection and enforcement constrains their investment in innovation and R&D in China.

Still different IP concerns vary in their impact on different businesses. For example, tech companies in the USCBC survey noted the following IP-related issues in their top 10 challenges: Innovation policies (number 2), IPR enforcement (number 5), cybersecurity (number 6), government procurement policies (number 7), standards and conformity assessment (number 8) and antitrust/antimonopoly law (number 10).

IPR Enforcement is Improving

On the brighter side, 91% of respondents of the Amcham survey indicated that IPR enforcement had improved over the past five years, a view that was generally shared by USCBC respondents (38% reported some improvement over the past year).

USCBC’s survey addressed the most viable options for IP enforcement: administrative enforcement had a slight edge in terms of viability in some or most cases (78%), followed by civil cases (70%) and criminal courts (57%).

The data also suggests that trade secrets will be of continuing concern. Amcham China respondents were least satisfied with trade secrets legislation and enforcement (45/40%).  Amcham China respondents were most satisfied with patent legislation and patent enforcement (66%/54%), followed by trademarks (62%/51%) and copyrights (57%/48%). USCBC respondents similarly rated trade secrets as their top area of concern (32%) followed by trademarks (28%), patents (22%), and copyright (9%).

Of particular importance for trade secret protection are challenges noted in responses to surveys in attracting and retaining talent.   According to the Amcham survey, among the principal challenges in attracting the right talent were competition from local businesses (45%), and competition from other foreign businesses (34%). Data security and cybersecurity were also identified as concerns by many surveys.

China’s Efforts to Innovate Leads to More Foreign R&D in China

Innovating in China has clearly become a priority for the foreign business community. The EU Chamber notes that China R&D centers are increasingly achieving global levels of innovation, although a large percentage (42%) are primarily focused on product localization. According to USCBC, about 43% of large member companies had established an R&D center.

European companies viewed innovation as one of five most critical drivers needed to move the Chinese economy up the value chain. The USCBC report notes that more than 9 out of 10 US companies believe that innovation in China will be critical to their company’s future in China, with 40% of the companies reporting that that half their profits came from products designed, developed or tailored to local requirements (an increase from 32% last year). Companies prioritizing investment in R&D, according to the Amcham Shanghai survey, were in hardware, software and services (81%), automotive (65%), industrial manufacturing (55%) and health care (35%).

Continuing Concerns about Technology Transfer

USCBC reported that 59% of respondents expressed concern about transferring technology to China. Twenty three percent of USCBC respondents advised that their company had been asked to transfer technology to China and that central or local governments had requested the technology transfer 60% percent of the time. Concerns about technology transfer included maintaining protection of the proprietary information during certification/ approval (83%), protection of IP (75%), enforcing license agreements (51%) and the government dictating or influencing licensing negotiations (32%). Nonetheless, according to USCBC, technology transfer concerns fell out of the top twenty this year, to number 23 out of 30. However the USCBC noted that the companies impacted by this issue felt it “very acutely”.

Innovation Policies Not All Positive

Thirty two percent of technology and other R&D Intensive industries that responded to the Amcham China survey indicated that China’s increasing capability for innovation presented an important opportunity for their business. However, as the preceding data suggests, not all of China’s innovation and IP policies have been perceived to be positive by foreign industry. Fifty-five percent of USCBC tech companies stated that China’s innovation promotion policies had a significant negative impact on sales to date, or had a significant negative impact on sales or operation. Also of note was that 75% of USCBC respondents indicated that they limited the products that they introduced into China because of IPR concerns. In addition, 37% of USCBC respondents indicated that China’s level of IPR enforcement limited R&D activities in China, as well as limited products co-manufactured or licensed in China. The Amcham China survey also noted that 83% of technology R&D intensive companies feel less welcome than before.

Aggressive Antimonopoly Enforcement of Concern to Foreign Companies

Eighty percent of USCBC respondents were concerned about antimonopoly law enforcement in China. Among the key substantive issues were: (a) lack of transparency in AML cases (55%), excessive focus on foreign companies (50%), lack of clarity on key criteria and definitions (49%), lack of due process (29%), and inability to have legal counsel (26%).

Rule of Law: Another Overarching Concern

One common thread amongst antimonopoly and IP concerns was rule of law. The EU Chamber Report contains the most information on desires of foreign companies for the Chinese government to improve the rule of law, with 39% of European businesses rating the Chinese government’s efforts in 2015 as “below expectations”, and rule of law perceived as the main driver of future economic growth by 78% of respondents. For Amcham China, 57% of respondents believed that inconsistent regulatory interpretation and unclear laws were their top business challenge in China. Legal reforms were identified as the top reform priority by Amcham Shanghai members.  USCBC respondents rated uneven enforcement of Chinese laws, as their number nine challenge, however companies reported that the problems are persistent and worsened in the last year.

Putting China in Context: Not All That Patents Is Innovative

There are other reports that have been released have recently been released that also place China in a comparative perspective. The Information Technology & Innovation Forum, for example, recently issued a report Contributors and Detractors: Ranking Countries’ Impact on Global Innovation, which ranked 56 nations on how much they contribute or detract from global innovation. China ranked 44, and was classified as an “innovation mercantilist” that “significantly balkanize[s] both global production and consumption markets” and has “generally weaker protection” for intellectual property than the global norm. However, China does perform better than “innovation follower” countries in contributing to the global innovation ecosystem, largely due to investments in STEM fields and high numbers of graduates in those areas. China ranked twenty eight out of fifty six in terms of contributions, and was among the top five detractors from global innovation, according to this report (behind Thailand but ahead of India, Argentina and Russia).

Thomson Reuters in its China’s IQ (Innovation Quotient) Report (December 2015) analyzed China patent filings. The IQ Report noted that citations of Chinese patents had increased. In data processing patents, China had forward citation data of 1.17 This was much less than the United States (6.72), but comparable to Japan (1.82), and Europe (1.31), and better than South Korea (.78). Interestingly, another Thomson Reuters report on the top 100 innovators (2015), declined to include a single Chinese company. Huawei did appear as a top innovator in 2014. Its antitrust adversary, InterDigital, was considered a top innovator in 2015.

Policy Outcomes

The USCBC’s Board of Directors recently outlined its priorities for the year, which included: strengthening IP enforcement, including deterrent civil and criminal remedies; improving enforcement against online infringements; strengthening trade secret protections; harmonize patent examination practices; reforming China’s system of innovation incentives (HNTE incentives/service inventions). Other USCBC recommendations in transparency, antimonopoly law, and ecommerce also have IP-related implications.

Summary

There may be a number of reasons for the repetition in these reports, including a common core of concerns, a focus on issues in the media and bilateral relations, and common membership among the organizations. The location and membership of each organization can still result in different perceptions. Moreover, certain rights, such as copyrights, tend to be of core concern to fewer industries some of which, such as the entertainment sector, may be less extensively invested in China. As such, the surveys reflect concerns and priorities, and may not necessarily represent researched approaches to resolving specific problems of concern to all American industries. The surveys may also not align well with China’s own surveys such as on software piracy, where China has offered a counter-survey that counts other incidences of piracy, or on satisfaction with China’s IP system. As for satisfaction at least, it is all subjective. In some cases, the survey data likely aligns well with other factual or empirical data, such as licensing revenues, damages in antimonopoly law cases, IP enforcement activity, etc.

Here’s what this survey of the surveys suggests to me:

  1. China’s IP laws are generally good and its enforcement is improving but still problematic.
  2. China has become deeply interested in patents and innovation, which will present important strategic opportunities over time.
  3. There remains a low level of confidence in trade secret protection in China, which can be a significant impediment to China’s innovative ecosystem.
  4. China’s innovation environment has become increasingly complex and nationalistic, leaving many foreign tech companies with a sense that they are less welcome.
  5. Reforms in the legal system and antitrust enforcement are a high priority.

The US Chamber will be issuing its latest International IP Index February 10 in Washington, DC. Let’s see how China stacks up there…

Any corrections or comments? Something I have missed? Please write us!

 

How The Blog Did Last Year…

Last year was another great year for the blog.  Our subscribers doubled, and our direct hits and page views increased by about 10% to over 55,000.  The proportion of non-United States readers increased to over 50%, with about 20% of the readers coming from Hong Kong and mainland China.  As with our sister blog, the Supreme People’s Court Monitor, we saw the development of an increasingly diverse audience, including officials, lawyers, and business people. We also saw increasing impact of the blog through tweets, re-blogging (please ask for permission, first!), and social media.  We also saw many new people willing to contribute to the blog, and increasing interest in publishing translations of the blog.

 Finally, we were honored last year to be recognized as one of the top IP blogs in the world (www.sinapseblog.com).

 I am thankful to all of you for your interest and support!

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Justice Tao Kaiyuan and the Role of the Judiciary

MadameTaoMichelleLee

Justice Tao Kaiyuan of the Supreme People’s Court, who had been to the United States in 2015 delivering important speeches on rule of law, has recently published an article on “Giving Full Play to the Leading Role of Judicial Protection of IP Rights“ 充分发挥司法保护知识产权的主导作用”(Dec. 31, 2015).  The article is receiving considerable attention in China, as it was published by Qiu Shi, 求是(“Seeking Truth”), a bimonthly political theory published by the Central Party School and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.  The publication of the article appears to be timed with the release of the recent draft of the Patent Law Amendments, comments for which were due the day after publication (January 1).  The proposed patent amendments would strengthen the role of administrative agencies in IP enforcement, to the possible detriment of the judiciary.

The author of the article is no less important than its contents.  Madame Tao knows patents.  She was the former Director General of the Guangdong Patent Office and therefor once had “vertical” reporting responsibility to SIPO (see picture above taken by me of Madame Tao [on the right] with USPTO Director Michelle Lee taken in 2015).  Although the article was authored in her name, many in China were speculating that the article was approved by higher authorities – perhaps Zhou Qiang, the President of the Supreme People’s Court, with Madame Tao serving as an appropriate messenger.

The concerns about this draft on patent law enforcement are not that different from those in the earlier (2012) draft when I blogged in “Why the Proposed Amendments to the Patent Law Really Matter … and Maybe Not Just For Patents” that “the changes strike me as a rather sudden about face in China’s march towards better civil protection of IP.” Madame Tao takes this several steps further.

Madame Tao’s article is divided into three parts: (1) The important meaning of giving full play to the leading role of the judicial protection of IP rights; (2) The key factors that constrain the leading use role of judicial protection of IP; and (3) Key measures in giving full play to the leading role of judicial protection of IP rights.   Here are some of the points she makes:

Madame Tao refers back to the National IP Strategy and related documents, such as the Third Plenum, the NPC’s decision to establish IP courts, and the Action Plan for the National IP Strategy to underscore the well-established, leading role of the courts in enforcing IP.

Her article compares certain key elements of judicial protection versus administrative protection.  In her view, judicial enforcement can curtail abuses of administrative enforcement.  It also has other advantages.  It has clear rules.  It is transparent.  It can help establish guidance for businesses by establishing clear standards for similar disputes (a possible nod to efforts at developing case law/guiding cases).  Moreover, civil enforcement comports with notions of private ownership and the development of markets and creation of a fair competitive environment in China.  Madame Tao especially underscores the role of the courts in supervising administrative agencies.  As I have noted, this is also an important part of the foreign IP docket in China.  Madame Tao states that the judiciary should also actively guide administrative law enforcement in investigation and review of evidence, and determination of infringements.

Madame Tao also calls for greater coordination in administrative and judicial roles in IP protection, noting that administrative enforcement played an important leading role in the beginning of China’s IP enforcement environment.  Administrative enforcement has “in a short time met the need for building effective IP protection.”  However, the “growing maturity” of the judicial system has caused increasing problems in the coordination process.

Madame Tao also calls for specific policy initiatives, many of which are already underway.  She calls for greater deterrent civil damages, including by revising patent, copyright and unfair competition laws based on experience of the trademark law revisions.   She also suggests that a discovery system should be considered.  Civil and criminal divisions in IP should be unified.  She suggests that a specialized national IP court should be researched and promoted, and she calls for the unification of technical appellate cases, perhaps like the CAFC.  She also notes that the division between infringement and validity determinations in the courts in patents and trademarks should be addressed, and calls for improvements in the availability of provisional measures.

She calls for greater improvements in judicial protective measures, including in obtaining evidence and the convenience and effectiveness of remedies.  Among other specific judicial reforms, she also suggests exploring intellectual property case law, improving judicial accountability and developing judicial professionalism.  Finally, Madame Tao also calls for expanding international awareness by IP judges to better protect national interests and to increase China’s IP influence.

Altogether, a tour de force.

Here’s what her speech looks like in a machine-translated wordcloud:taowordcloud