Action Plan for Further Implementation of the National IP Strategy (2014-2020) Approved

According to a Chinese Government website, on  December 29, the State Council reviewed and approved the Action Plan for Further Implementation of the National IP Strategy (2014-2020) (Action Plan). The Outline of the National IP Strategy (NIPS) had been implemented for 6 years.  Premier Li Keqiang, and SIPO Commissioner Shen are quoted in the this brief summary.

Chinese authorities have pointed to three key aspects of the NIPS Action Plan:

A.  First, to “Strive to Build A Strong IPR Country”  (努力建设知识产权强国).

B.  To improve IP utilization and protection (知识产权运用和保护).

C.  Practical new steps are to be announced, including plans to promote the development of IP intensive industries (知识产权密集型产业发展).  This  includes greater coordination amongst various branches of national and local government.  Interestingly, and perhaps of greater concern, it also includes “strengthening patent pilot projects,  joint utilization of patents and collective management of patents… to strengthen the competitive advantages of industries.” (强化专利导航、专利协同运用、专利集群管理等工作…增强产业竞争优势).

Here is how I read the tea leaves on this announcement:

First, the references to China becoming an IP “strong country” , and not merely an IP “big country” is a new concept in the NIPS, and likely reflects the observations and approaches of former Commissioner Tian Lipu.  In fact, many observers believe that too much patenting, particularly patenting of a low quality, can be harmful to innovation. I have often noted in this blog that patent quality is a continuing negative side effect of China’s metric-driven approaches to innovation.  In addition, innovation is largely a local phenomenon – China’s efforts to become a strong innovative country this time will also include programs to make strong IP provinces and cities in China.

Second, the reference to IP utilization directly quotes the negotiated language of the Third Plenum and its commitment to “Strengthen the Utilization and Protection of IP” (加 强知识产权的运用和保护).  This was also something that former Commissioner Tian discussed as a positive outcome of that meeting.

Third, the reference to IP intensive industries is new to China’s strategic planning, and, as noted by Commissioner Shen, reflects the influence of the influential US government  2012 report on Intellectual Property and the US Economy.   Reference is also made by Commissioner Shen to IP intensive industries being low on resource demands and low polluting.

The legislative basis for the National IP Strategy is the China Science and Technology Promotion Law (Dec 2007).  Article 7 of that law provides that China will establish a NIPS, in order to promote innovation, encourage indigenous innovation (激励自主创新), and raise the utilization protection and management of IP.  This 2007 law was famous for codifying the concept of indigenous innovation, which elicited considerable concern at the time over potential discrimination against the foreign technology community.  This Action Plan introduces several new and useful concepts which, if implemented fairly, will benefit foreign and domestic investors alike.

 

 

Changing Times in China’s Hundred Acre Wood

The Walt Disney Company continues to zealously protect its various brands, including Winnie the Pooh.   China Daily reported last month that Disney won a law suit against an apparent trademark squatter.    The mark was reportedly for Winnie the Pooh 威尼熊., registered on garments by Lingxiu Hongri Knitting Garment Factory in Shishi City, Fujian Province.  The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court sustained the revocation of the disputed mark by the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board, which viewed this mark as similar to Disney’s “WINNIE THE POOH”.

Disney and Winnie have had a tough time in China over the years. At the same time by protecting its many valuable rights in a variety of media, Disney has also helped advance the law in many areas, including by bringing cases that have helped pioneer many aspects of copyright and entertainment law.

As Disney gets ready to open a theme park in Shanghai, Disney’s family-oriented brands become even more important.  Imagine if some of the early counterfeiting and piracy had gone unchecked?  One example: for the past decade I used an apparently unauthorized picture of Winnie holding a beer mug in an advertisement for a pub in Beijing to show how harmful counterfeiting can be to a family oriented brand such as Disney.  I am glad to see in Winnie being property protected.

 

Standards and IP – December Updates

cellphones

Nearly every week there is a new development somewhere in the world on IP and standards.  China has been no exception.  I already blogged about several of them of them, including EIPC MIIT’s recent program in Beijing, EIPC MIIT’s Template for IP Policies in Industry Standards Organizations,. and most recently the JCCT in Chicago.   The JCCT covered many standards-related issues, including licensing, antimonopoly law, and judicial practices in IP.  The fact sheet for the JCCT described the specific bilateral commitment on standards and IPR as follows:

China and the United States recognize that standards setting can promote innovation, competition and consumer welfare.  They also reaffirm that IPR protection and enforcement is critical to promote innovation, including when companies voluntarily agree to incorporate patents protecting technologies into a standard.  Both sides recognize that specific concerns may exist relating to the licensing of standard essential patents that are subject to licensing agreements.  China and the United States commit to continue engaging in discussion of these issues.

We might expect continuing interest by MofCOM on these important topics of standards and IP, as Dr. ZHANG Xiangchen, who currently serves as Assistant Minister and principal negotiating partner on the JCCT with DOC and USTR, also played an active role in the debates over standards and IP when he was Director General in charge of WTO affairs in Geneva. Those debates date back to at least as early as 2005, when China proposed that the WTO TBT Committee look at the issues posed by IP in standardization.

What else is new?

On December 15, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation released a report: The Middle Kingdom Galapagos Island Syndrome: The Cul-De-Sac of Chinese Technology Standards, by Stephen J. Ezell and Robert D. Atkinson. This document is the latest in several reports over the years that have highlighted China’s “techno-nationalist” approach to standards and IP. The central thesis of this report is that China’s focus on the development of indigenous technology standards, particularly for ICT products, risks engendering a “Galapagos Island” effect, isolating its ICT technologies and markets from global norms and creating a recipe for failure. Taking a page from similar Japanese efforts and recent Chinese failures in the ICT sector (p. 15), the report argues that even the size of China’s domestic market by itself will not achieve the economies of global scale that are necessary to survive in today’s integrated global ICT economy. This report also identifies the important linkage of these policies with China’s IP plans. As the report notes, “a core component of China’s strategy is to remove or change key portions of international standards for the purpose of creating China-unique standards. Why does China do this? … The answer in many cases is that China is essentially trying to strip others intellectual property from these standards in order to avoid paying royalties.” (p. 14).

Meanwhile on December 15, China’s Caixin published a revealing article on the waste incurred by these “galapagos standards.”  The article, “China Mobile’s Dead End on the 3G Highway,” describes a wasted effort involving about 2 billion RMB to develop TD-SCDMA.
In the continuing SEP litigation wars, China’s Xiaomi in December was reportedly banned from selling its smart phones in India after a court issued an injunction in favor of Ericcson by reason of Xiaomi’s unwillingness to take a license for Ericsson’s standards essential patents.   Ericcson’s spokesperson described this as a classic patent hold out situation:

It is unfair for Xiaomi to benefit from our substantial R&D investment without paying a reasonable licensee fee for our technology. After more than 3 years of attempts to engage in a licensing conversation in good faith, for products compliant with the GSM, EDGE, and UMTS/WCDMA standards Xiaomi continues to refuse to respond in any way regarding a fair license to Ericsson’s intellectual property on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. Ericsson, as a last resort, had to take legal action”

Of course there are also other battles brewing. Most notably, NDRC’s investigation of Qualcomm, according to various press reports, appears to be continuing.

It will certainly be a busy 2015 in this important area.

galapagos island

Update: For an update on Xiaomi’s patent portfolio in 2016, see this  article from December 9, 2016 in IP Analytics.

JCCT 2014 Winds Up – Joint Fact Sheets Now Released

JCCT2014

The 2014 JCCT was hosted by the US government in Chicago, Illinois this year. Here is a link to the updated English  fact sheet (released Dec. 29) (Chinese:第25届中美商贸联委会联合成果清单)  that is now a joint fact sheet.    Here is a summary of the IP accomplishments of this year’s JCCT according to the joint fact sheet:

One significant outcome involved “technology localization” which is the practice whereby China grants tax preferences based on where IP is owned or R&D is undertaken.  Here is what the fact sheet says about the outcome in this area:

The United States and China commit to ensure that both countries treat intellectual property rights owned or developed in other countries the same as domestically owned or developed intellectual property rights.  ..Both China and the United States confirm that the government is entitled to take measures to encourage enterprises to engage in research and development and the creation and protection of intellectual property rights. 

In my personal estimation, the significance of this outcome is that China committed to not discriminating in awarding tax preferences based on where IP is owned.  To a degree this reflects footnote 3 of the TRIPS Agreement, which prohibits discrimination in “protection” of IP, which includes “matters affecting the use of intellectual property.”

Regarding service invention compensation, which has been important to readers of this blog, the JCCT commitment reflected the accomplishments of the 2014 Innovation Dialogue regarding freedom of contract:

The United States and China commit to protect the legal rights of inventors in respect of their inventions and creations, in accordance with their respective domestic laws and regulations, and in line with their domestic laws, commit to respect the legitimate rules and regulations developed by employers and legitimate contracts between employers and inventors concerning inventor remuneration and awards.

Another JCCT outcome involved protection of trade secrets in government regulatory proceedings:

The United States and China confirm that trade secrets submitted to the government in administrative or regulatory proceedings are to be protected from improper disclosure to the public and only disclosed to government officials in connection with their official duties in accordance with law…

The rather “hot” issue of geographical indications was also the subject of an “outcome” involving not extending GI’s to generic terms and establishing procedures to object to and cancel the registration of the GI.

There were also a number of cooperative commitments which will likely be a focus of various bilateral discussions and programs, including on technology licensing, bad faith trademark registrations, judicial best practices, data supplementation for pharmaceutical patents, IP in standards setting, sale of IP-intensive goods and services, and addressing on-line infringement.

The revised joint fact sheet also includes a joint commitment on abusive litigation:

Patent Protection and Bad Faith Litigations

  • The U.S. and China remain committed to promoting a robust intellectual property system that will incentivize future innovation and economic growth in both countries. Both parties are to strengthen cooperation to protect innovators from bad faith litigations, including to hold a joint seminar on IP licensing, so as to create positive conditions for innovation.

 

 

There were also outcomes that weren’t focused on IP but have significant IP implications.  One involved medical device and pharmaceutical market access, where China committed to accelerate approval procedures, which has long been hampered by inadequate resources at China’s Food and Drug Administration.  Another involved clarifying standards for antimonopoly law enforcement, including providing for greater due process and law firm access.  Still another commitment involved collaboration on law firm market access, which certainly affects foreign IP lawyers practicing in China.

In my personal experience, this 25th JCCT might equally be labeled JCCT v. 3.0.  The JCCT has changed to accommodate the growing complexity and importance of US-China trade.  In its first version (1983 to approximately 2001), the JCCT was as often a rather sleepy technical exchange mechanism.  I remember attending an early JCCT dealing with the enforcement of arbitration awards.  Another iteration (v 2.0) was under the leadership of Vice Premier Wu Yi after China’s WTO accession.  The JCCT then became a mechanism for negotiating trade issues with the Vice Premier chairing on the Chinese side and the Secretary of Commerce and US Trade Representative as formal co-chairs, but with an important added role for the Secretary of Agriculture.  Version 3.0 includes the same leadership structure, but with more involvement by industry and the host locality through various programs and symposia, joint fact sheets, and commitments to move negotiations changes in the negotiating calendar, including “a year of continuous work to address important issues facing our two nations.”

The above are my personal, non-official observations.

A Quick Report on the EIPC MIIT Conference Including SAIC’s IP Abuse Rules, Patent Law Amendments, EIPC MIIT Standardization Policies, Standards and IP Abuse…

EIPC MIIT’s Conference on Intellectual Property Standards and Anti-Monopoly Law convened on December 10 and 11 in Beijing.  The conference brought together about 150 international and Chinese experts, including lawyers, judges, academics, diplomats, and other professionals to the Wanshou Hotel in the Haidian District, Beijing.  There were over over 30 speakers. The initial speakers set the tone for the conference by concentrating on one theme:  China’s anti-monopoly regime had entered a new phase from theory to enforcement.  Further, this transition period is characterized by the need to balance anti-monopoly law and IP rights, regulation and innovation.

One example of the struggle for balance is the debate over the prevalence and importance of holdouts, or the practice of standards implementers engaging in conduct intended to drive royalties down royalties for Standards Essential Patent (SEP) holders to lower than F/RAND levels.  Dina Kallay, Director of Intellectual Property and Competition at Ericsson Ltd.  argued the problem of hold outs was real.  David Wang, Director of Standards and IPR Strategy, Intellectual Property Rights Department of Huawei Technologies Co., argued that that there is no evidence of real life hold outs.  His opinion comes in light of Huawei’s recent litigation with IDC, in which a court ruled that IDC should compensate Huawei for excessive pricing and tying practices.

Many speakers addressed current and future reforms.  Yang Jie, Director of the Anti-Monopoly and Anti-Unfair Competition Enforcement Bureau at SAIC, explained new revisions to its forthcoming rules on abuse of dominance and exclusionary relief (presumably, SAIC’s IP Abuse guidelines or rules). Since August, SAIC has modified seven articles. First, Yang Jie said that SAIC has maintained the “essential facilities” doctrine in the new version, however with some modifications. The doctrine will apply when an intellectual property right cannot be easily substituted in the relevant market, other players want to be part of the market, a refusal to deal would restrict competition or innovation in the relevant market, it harms the public interest, and the licensing of the patent would not negatively or unreasonably harm the interests of the patentee.

Yang Jie also explained that SAIC has adopted a narrow interpretation of refusal to deal for players in a dominant position.  It will only apply when the intellectual property right constitutes an essential element for production.  Moreover, a violation only occurs when the behavior limits competition. Additionally, in abuse of dominance, “abuse” must be considered parallel to other elements and the behavior must harm the public interest or consumer behavior.

Concerning guidelines for the standard setting process, Yang Jie explained that the rules do not include a special provision for horizontal agreements in the standard setting process, because this is covered under the provision for anti-monopoly agreements.  Furthermore, Yang Jie divided monopolistic behavior in the standard setting into standard setting procedures – for instance if a firm fails to say something in a patent application – and standard implementation, which would include violations of F/RAND commitments.  Yang Jie said that the standards clarify the “what should have been known” standard for the standard setting process.  For standard implementation, the guidelines add the requirement of restricting or limiting competition.  Additionally, the new guidelines will treat intellectual property rights the same as other property rights. In other words, SEP holders are not automatically deemed to have market dominant positions. Instead, a case specific analysis must show that a firm is “dominant” within the meaning of relevant provisions of the Anitmonopoly Law.

Lastly, the guidelines no longer include a specific provision targeting copyright collecting societies for abuse of dominance or restricting competition. Yang Jie explained that the provision was cut because there was no real evidence of copyright organizations abusing their position. That being said, enforcement agencies can still pursue copyright organizations as they are not otherwise exempt from the law.

Yang Jie also said that the official version has not yet been promulgated. The regulations have been submitted to relevant bodies within the State Council for review (note from Mark Cohen: it is unclear to me if this is registration with the State Council, or review by the Antimonpoly Enforcement Agencies, or another process.  If this document is an SAIC rule, then review by the State Council should be limited).

Zhang Yonghua, Deputy Director of No. 1 Division of the Legal Affairs Department of the State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO), provided details regarding the latest draft of the proposed patent law amendments.  The new draft empowers judicial and administrative bodies with the right of investigation and evidence collection. It also allows administrative agencies to effectively settle infringement issues by compensation.  Furthermore, the draft provides for punitive damages for severe infringements, a concept already employed in China’s trademark law. Additionally, protection for industrial design is extended to 15 years. The new draft also introduces a burden of proof shifting scheme in which the burden of proof shifts once the patentee has satisfied certain of its evidentiary burdens.

Zheng Wen, Deputy Director General of the Anti-Monopoly Bureau, focused on the need for improvement in the merger review process of MofCOM.  Zheng Wen said that MOFCOM had received over 1000 cases since August 2008 and had finished over 900, imposing sanctions in only 3% of the cases.  Zheng suggested that there was a need to impose more sanctions and to crack down on parties that illegally skipped merger review.  Since November, MOFCOM has been publishing notices of sanctions on parties that did not report their proposed merger but should have.  Zheng Wen also expressed the desire to set up a long term cooperation mechanism with the E.U. and U.S., especially for large scale transnational mergers.

Huang Yong, Vice Chair of the Expert Advisory Committee under the State Council Anti-Monopoly Commission, stated that allowing agencies the rights of investigation and suggestion would be a step in the right direction.

Concerning the new Specialized IP Courts, Jin Kesheng, Deputy Chief Judge of the IPR Tribunal and senior Judge of the Supreme Court said that we could look forward to a judicial interpretation regarding the role of the court’s “technology investigator” position.  Additionally, Zhang Xiaojin, Chief Judge of the Second Tribunal in the Beijing Intellectual Property Court, expressed serious concern over the new court’s ability to handle their large caseload. For instance, the Beijing specialized IP court has 100 staff in total, only 22 of whom are judges and the court is expected to receive 15,000 cases annually.  He expressed further concern over their ability to carry out judicial reform while so severely understaffed.

Finally, Shi Shaohua of EIPC MIIT spoke about feedback to EIPC MIIT’s own Template for IP Policies in Industry Standards Organizations, (which I previously wrote about here). Two criticisms were that the structure was too complicated and that courts do not have sufficient expertise to adjudicate F/RAND issues; injunctions and unwilling licensors;  and reference factors for unreasonable licensing, including factors such as the smallest component or device, the total aggregate royalties of all potential SEPs, the influence of standards on patents, and the extra value that standards bring to a patent.  EIPC MIIT also received comments concerning reciprocity requirements, for instance what standard should be employed and whether adding restrictions to SEP licensing will influence cross-licensing, market access, and reciprocity.

The conference also included presentations on Legal Issues of Competition in Internet Industry” and “Internet Based Information Security and Intellectual Property Protection” which unfortunately we were not able to cover.

Prepared by Marc Epstein of Fordham Law School with edits by Mark Cohen.   A special thanks to EIPC MIIT and Shi Shaohua for allowing a Fordham student to attend this important conference!  Please provide us with any corrections, additions or comments!  As always, these comments are the authors’ own.

China’s Patent Domination?

Thomson Reuters just released a new report on China’s Innovation Quotient  (Trends in Patenting and China’s Trends in Global Innovation).  This is the fourth in a very useful multi-year series on Chinese patenting trends.

The report looks at Chinese domestic patent data to conclude that China has “risen in patent dominance” and, hence, innovation.  The report also notes that pharma is driving the patent boom.  China has nearly 80 percent of world share in patents for alkaloid/plant extracts, and around 60 percent of global share of pharmaceutical activity – general patents. However, the plant extract filings are held by thousands of individual inventors with a handful of patents each, rather than portfolios maintained by universities or corporate entities that would be seen stateside.  Many of these patents may also involve traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).  Low service invention rates, such as may be reflected in these patents,  may also reveal problems in patent quality.  A deeper analysis would need to correlate new patents with marketing approvals and actual patent maintenance and utilization rates.

The report also notes increasing numbers of forward-looking citations to Chinese data processing patents (1.17 times each).  This is far behind the United States (6.72 times forward looking citations), but exceeds South Korea and is close to Japan and Europe (p. 9).  To me this useful data suggests that the United States remains the source of pioneering innovations and corroborates Chinese notions that it has yet to achieve any breakthroughs in IT technology, despite it having become a manufacturing powerhouse and an overall increase in Chinese patenting activity.

The key weakness with this report is that it equates increases in patenting activity with “surge[s] in innovation.” (p. 6).  That assumption may apply in other countries, but it is less clear in China due to a number of factors including: low patent maintenance rates, patent subsidies and other government-supported market “distortions” such as awards to localities or enterprises, lower quality associated with the large number of non-service invention patents, lack of correlation with commercialization data, and the apparent disparity between low quality domestic patents and high quality overseas filings, amongst other factors.

The report also analyzes patent litigation data from the Ciela database (www.ciela.cn).   It properly notes that “Foreign plaintiffs in patent litigation win materially more often against domestic defendants than domestic plaintiffs do: a 75 percent win rate against a 63 percent win rate sinc 2006.”  However, the report does not underscore that this data – like the patenting data – needs to be treated critically. Foreigners are a disproportionately small percentage of the civil IPR docket.  Indeed, foreigners may only be filing a small share of cases out of concern for other risks of litigation, including low damages, government relations “costs,”difficulties of enforcing judgments, and difficulties in sustaining judgments on appeal.  This information might also be compared with data from the United States on foreign “win” rates .  In fact, the initial data that I collected showed that foreigners due worse on appeals in China than they do in the United States, and then they also do worse on appeal than they do in trials of first instance in China.

In an important but unrelated event, IPKey posted the presentations from its recent conference on IP and innovation.  The conference addressed many of the topics I outlined above, including the role of subsidies in China’s innovation strategies.