Survey on China’s “National Intellectual Property Strategy”

TianNIPS

SIPO is conducting a survey to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Outline of the National Intellectual Property Strategy” , which was issued in June 2008.   The online survey is available here.

When the first National IP Strategy was being drafted, I had the pleasure of discussing concerns with the former Director General of the Law and Treaties Division of SIPO, Yin Xintian (尹新天), attending two meetings/hearings on the NIPS, including one involving outside experts (February 28, 2006) and another involving diplomats, and attending a meeting with then Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and SIPO Commisioner Tian Lipu to discuss the implementation of the NIPS (see picture above, March 29, 2006).

The NIPS introduced many important IP-related reforms in China, some of which are still under development.  I  advocated for the creation of a specialized appellate IP Court at the “experts hearing,” where I recall I was the only foreigner.  I noted at that time that there was a “need to concentrate expertise in more complicated patent cases to insure they are more efficiently and effectively handled.“  Regarding substantive IP matters, I noted that “In the patent area … a robust patent linkage system also could help improve enforcement for pharmaceutical patents by providing advance notice to prospective generic manufacturers through denial of regulatory approval until relevant patents have expired, been invalidated or otherwise have been determined to not be infringed.”  The prospects for both a specialized IP court and patent linkage have indeed improved significantly in recent years.

With SIPO’s expanded role of examining trademarks and geographical indications in the government restructuring, as well as it being co-housed with antimonopoly/unfair competition (trade secret)  and food and drug agencies, the NIPS may be even more important in both articulating policies and implementing them.

Here are some prior postings on the NIPS: “Outline of the National Intellectual Property Strategy” ; “National IP Strategy Action Plan” and  “Action Plan for Further Implementation of the National IP Strategy (2014-2020)” .  Another document that might be helpful is the “State Council Decision on Intellectual Property Strategy for China as a Strong IP Country (in Chinese).”  This website of the National IP Strategy Office is http://www.nipso.gov.cn.

This survey request is being posted on behalf of  Intellectual Property Publishing House.  Commentary is by Mark A. Cohen.

Picture Source:
 http://www.sipo.gov.cn/gk/ndbg/2006/201310/t20131025_859773.html

 

Semiconductor Industry Association Seeks Asian Policy Director

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) is seeking to hire a Manager or Director Global Policy (China focused)  to join SIA’s Global Policy Team.  The ideal candidate will have an education and prior work experience relevant to Chinese technology or international trade issues.  The position reports directly to the Vice President of Global Policy.  The position requires a Bachelors degree (B.A.), Masters degree preferred; 2-7 years of professional experience in international trade or global technology issues; good understanding of China’s political-economy and tech policy; working-level fluency in Chinese, with strong Chinese source material reading and research skills; etc. Here is the link to the posting.

In recent months, semiconductor policy has become a hot bilateral area, and this position would likely bring the successful applicant directly into the range of bilateral semiconductor issues and opportunities, including technology policy, trade, antitrust and intellectual property.

April 10 – 16, 2018 Updates

1.New Policies for  Innovative Drugs in China.  Premier Li Keqiang held an executive meeting of the State Council on April 12, 2018 to adopt a series measures to encourage the importation of innovative medicines into the Chinese market, to enhance intellectual property protection, and to lower the price of medications. The measures involve the exemption of cancer drugs from customs duty, reduction of drug prices, expedition and optimization of the process for authorization on the commercialization of imported innovative medicines, enhancement in intellectual property protection and quality monitoring.

The measures on enhancement in intellectual property protection includes the 6-year maximum data exclusivity period for innovative chemical medicines.  Further, a maximum of 5 years’ compensation of patent term will be offered for innovative new medicines which are applied for commercialization on domestic and overseas markets simultaneously (which appears to be a patent term extension system). See more discussion of the original CFDA proposals which these these appear to draw on here.  It’s still unclear how such policies will be implemented, The specific policies announced by the official in English is available here.

2.China to introduce punitive damages for IP infringements. According to an interview with Shen Changyu on April 12, China will soon introduce punitive damages for IP infringements. Shen said a fourth revision of the Patent Law will come faster than expected. “We are introducing a punitive damages system for IPR infringement to ensure that offenders pay a big price.” Shen also called on foreign governments to improve protection of Chinese IPR.

3.Commerce Blocks China’s ZTE from Exporting Tech from U.S.  The U.S. blocked Chinese telecommunications-gear maker ZTE Corp. from exporting sensitive technology from America.  According to a statement by the Commerce Department, ZTE made false statements to the Bureau of Industry and Security in 2016 and 2017 related to “senior employee disciplinary actions the company said it was taking or had already taken.”. ZTE did not disclose the factthat it paid full bonuses to employees who engaged in illegal conduct, and failed to issue letters of reprimand, the Department said.  Alleged export control violations had also been implicated in the NDA dispute between Vringo and ZTE involving settlement of patent claims, which were previously discussed here.

4.Judge Orrick Issues Anti-suit Injunction Against Huawei.  In the continuing transpacific saga of Huawei v Samsung, Judge Orrick of the N.D. of California issued an anti-suit injunction against Huawei’s implementing a Shenzhen intermediate court’s injunction against Samsung for the same patents in suit.  A good summary from the essentialpatentblog is found here.  The redacted decision is here.   One possible explanation for Huawei’s strategy might be that Huawei was trying to get a quick decision from Shenzhen, its home court, on a matter also involving an overseas litigation, such as Huawei obtained in the Interdigital dispute, and is also a common enough Chinese litigation tactic.  Such a decision might have tied Judge Orrick’s hand on at least the Chinese patents in suit, as well as on licensing behavior.  Judge Orrick in fact noted that “Chinese injunctions would likely force [Samsung] to accept Huawei’s licensing terms, before any count has an opportunity to adjudicate the parties’ breach of contract claims.”  (p. 17). 

Although anti-suit injunctions may be more common in common law jurisdictions,  it is wrong to assume that Chinese courts take a strictly “hands-off” attitude towards foreign proceedings.  One aggressive Chinese response might be to borrow a page from a Chinese (Wuhan) maritime court decision of last year, where the Chinese court issued an anti-anti-suit injunction, ordering a foreign ship owner to withdraw an anti-suit injunction in Hong Kong.  Commentators have also suggested that generally Chinese courts more commonly ignore these injunctions entirely.  Another approach was taken by the Shenzhen court in Huawei v Interdigital,  where the court imposed imposed damages on a US party seeking injunctive relief (an exclusion order) in a US Section 337 proceeding involving FRAND-encumbered SEP’s.   This did not constitute an anti-suit injunction, but rather “anti-suit damages.”  These actions may be based more on notions of judicial sovereignty than comity.  Judge Orrick for his part, did undertaken a comity analysis in rendering his decision, which is part of the non-confidential order he signed.

Probably the best approach however is for the parties to amicably resolve their disputes through arbitration or mediation. After all, even Huawei and Interdigital were ultimately able to settle their differences.

April 3 – 9, 2018 Updates

1.China pushes generics over brands with another round of new pharma policies. The General Office of the State Council on April 3rd, 2018 issued “The Opinion on Reforming and Improving Supply and Use of Generic Drugs” (国务院办公厅关于改革完善仿制药供应保障及使用政策的意见 国办发〔2018〕20号), to promote China’s generic pharmaceutical industry. The State Council said it would draw up new incentives aimed at encouraging the development and production of generic drugs, a move it said would help safeguard public health, reduce medical bills and spur innovation.

According to the document, CFDA and the National Health Commission will compile and actively update a drug list that encourages companies to produce generic versions. That list will include medications for rare diseases, major infectious diseases and pediatric treatments, as well as important drugs that are short in supply. Certain qualified generics makers are allowed to be designated as High and New Technology Enterprises (HNTE) with commensurate income tax reductions (see more about China’s practice of providing tax incentives to high tech enterprises here).

The State Council also said that with regard to IP protections, China will “strike a balance between the interests of patent holders and the public,” and would strengthen anti-monopoly enforcement. (Note that the recent combination of agencies involved with antitrust enforcement, IP with CFDA may offer increased opportunities for such antitrust enforcement). An “early warning” mechanism to prevent generic drug producers from infringing patents will be established. The policy also restates that China considers compulsory patent licensing (CPL) a bona fide option during public health emergencies or shortages of key drugs; however China has not explicitly implemented a CPL to date.

China is a major branded generics market and innovative pharma companies are heavily dependent on this market in the absence of a robust market and incentives for innovative pharmaceuticals. The Opinion also states that when there is a bioequivalence determination, the generic drug should be marked as a substitute for the innovative drug and release such information to the public. In the absence of special circumstances, no brand name could be written on the prescription.

With regard to intellectual property, the Opinion further states:

“…In accordance with the principle of encouraging the creation of new drugs and the development of generic drugs, research and enhance a system of pharmaceutical intellectual property protection that is compatible with China’s economic and social development level and industrial development stage, and fully balance the interests of drug patent holder and the public. Implement the patent quality improvement project and cultivate more core, original and high-value intellectual property. Strengthen the enforcement of anti-monopoly law in the field of intellectual property rights, prevent the abuse of intellectual property rights and promote the listing of generic drugs while fully protecting innovations in the pharmaceutical field. Establish and improve the patent early-warning mechanism in the pharmaceutical field to reduce the risks of patent infringement of generic pharmaceutical companies.”

按照鼓励新药创制和鼓励仿制药研发并重的原则,研究完善与我国经济社会发展水平和产业发展阶段相适应的药品知识产权保护制度,充分平衡药品专利权人与社会公众的利益。实施专利质量提升工程,培育更多的药品核心知识产权、原始知识产权、高价值知识产权。加强知识产权领域反垄断执法,在充分保护药品创新的同时,防止知识产权滥用,促进仿制药上市。建立完善药品领域专利预警机制,降低仿制药企业专利侵权风险.”

2. SIPO releases the 2017 China Patent Survey Report.  The State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) recently released the 2017 China Patent Survey Report, which is the third time that the national patent-related survey results are publicized.

In 2017, the patent survey covered 23 provinces nationwide and was carried out concerning the valid patents and the patent holders who owned such valid patents at the end of 2016. The survey was launched in March 2017 and was completed at the end of 2017. 15,000 questionnaires about patent holders and 43,000 questionnaires about patent information were released. Over 85% of the questionnaires were returned.

According to the report, China’s overall environment of patent protection has been significantly enhanced, but still not to a level that is satisfied. More than 88% of patent holders believe that patent protection needs to be further improved in China. The report also notes that the emerging industries with strategic significance rely more on patents to gain their competitive edge and have better utilization of patents. Chinese universities have strong innovation capabilities, but their utilization rate of patents in 2016 (12.7%) was much lower than enterprises (59%). The lack of professional technology transfer team was considered to be the biggest obstacle for Chinese universities. The continuing focus on Chinese universities is odd, since universities should have a primary goal of information dissemination, not patent acquisition, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.

3. Chinese national convicted in US for stealing a valuable U.S. trade secret: Kansas rice seeds.  A scientist from China has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in the United States for stealing seeds of genetically modified American rice, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.  The Chinese scientist Weiqiang Zhang is a U.S. legal permanent resident residing in Manhattan, Kansas. Zhang was convicted on Feb. 15, 2017 of one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets, one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property and one count of interstate transportation of stolen property. Zhang was working as a rice breeder at Ventria Bioscience, a biopharmaceutical company that creates genetically modified rice. According to trial evidence, Zhang stole hundreds of rice seeds from the company that had cost millions of dollars and taken years of research to develop and kept at home. In the summer of 2013, personnel from a crop research institute in China visited Zhang at his home in Manhattan.  On Aug. 7, 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found seeds belonging to Ventria in the luggage of Zhang’s visitors as they prepared to leave the United States for China.

The Widening Impact of China’s Publication of IP Cases

I recently had the opportunity at the Fordham IP Conference to discuss the potential impact of the continuing publication of court decisions by China’s courts since 2014, including their wide-ranging impact on legal research, China IP strategies, and trade.  China’s publication of court cases has had a dramatic impact on political science, legal research and IP strategy.  Here is an extended version of my presentation:

A good starting point for understanding these developments is the important paper of Profs. Benjamin Liebman, Margaret Roberts, Rachel Stern, and Alice Wang on the China Judgements Online Database (CJO) entitled Mass Digitization of Chinese Court Decisions: How to Use Text as Data in the Field of Chinese Law (June 13, 2017) (21st Century China Center Research Paper No. 2017-01; Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-55).  This team looked at 20,321 land use administrative court judgments in Henan Province. The authors critical approach to CJO is summarized below:

First, it is critical to take missing cases into account, rather than succumbing to the temptation to treat even a very large sample as an accurate reflection of reality. … Second, viewing millions of court decisions provides an unparalleled wide-angle perspective on courts’ daily activity, and exposes underlying patterns… Scholars must remember that court judgments provide only one, often limited, view of actual practice. Third, a migration toward treating text as data in the field of Chinese law will require a multi-method approach that combines expertise and insights from law, the social sciences, and computer science.

Their article also discusses motivations for transparency (including reducing corruption), and motivations for individual courts to disclose cases. They note as well that an “incentive bias” now exists which includes making judicial decisions available at the end of the calendar quarter before court evaluations (p. 16).

Moving from the use of the CJO to look at legal issues generally to IP, an important recent study on foreign participation in China’s IP system has also recently been-published by Berkeley JSD Candidate Bian Renjun. Her provocatively-entitled articleMany Things You Know About Patent Infringement in China are Wrong  is scheduled to appear in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal. Ms. Bian uses CJO to analyze 1,663 patent infringement judgments decided by local courts in 2014. Her research provides a much-need supplement to the scholarship of Brian Love, Xuan Thao Nguyen, as well as this blog, about foreign “win” rates in the Chinese courts.

Ms. Bian observes that foreigners asserting invention patents are not underrepresented in the courts. The proportion of invention patents granted by SIPO to foreigners was roughly equivalent to the proportion of foreign invention patent cases decided to overall invention patent cases in court (7.16%/6.92%). The gross number of decisions however was only 115 cases. During that year foreign win rates were higher compared to domestic litigants (84.35%/79.84%), as were injunction rates (92.78%/90.05%) and damages (201,620.45 RMB/66,217.93 RMB).  In sum, Ms. Bian provides a more compelling narrative of the probability that foreigners win in patent litigation in China than predecessors such as Brian Love. However, she does not address how to consider issues involving validity in overall success rates, as has been attempted by such databases as Darts IP, nor does she include metrics to assess any differences in the quality of the patents being asserted, for which additional research would be required.

The third article to look at judicial practices in IP, including the IP databases is Max Goldberg’s promising paper Enclave of Ingenuity: The Plan and Promise of the Beijing Intellectual Property Court (May 2017). Mr. Goldberg is a 2017 graduate of Yale College. His paper won an award as the best student paper in East Asian Studies during the year he graduated.

Mr. Goldberg draws from the work of Martin Dimitrov in suggesting that China’s administrative enforcement system is more politically reactive and less independent. He shares the view of this author and others that the Guiding Cases System of the Supreme People’s Court has had limited uptake by the courts, while the precedent system of the Beijing IP court (BJIPC) appears to have been more widely adopted by judges and practitioners of that court in part due to the releative ease of introducing this system into one highly trained court in an affluent city. Mr. Goldberg offers a reply to the concerns of Benjamin Liebman et al. over the large number of “missingness’” in court cases, by noting that while “the phenomenon of sensitive cases’ omission from government databases in China is well documented, lapses of this size are “much more likely the result of a lack of attention and resources than deliberate censorship.” He bases this part on the more comprehensive reporting rate of IP House at 94.25% based on the docketed numbers of cases at the BJIPC, while CJO had only about 50% of the cases from the same period in 2015.

Mr. Goldberg also focuses on specific judicial policy developments, many of which have been little noticed in the West. For example, he notes that “BJIPC opinions are 40-50% shorter than the decisions of more traditional IP tribunals, despite the fact that the BJIPC jurisdiction specifically includes the most technical cases.” He also notes that the court is also interested in soliciting the opinions of third parties, in a manner akin to an amicus brief. Amicus briefs have been advocated for some time by the US-China IP Cooperation Dialogue, with some important experiments, of which this author is a member. Mr. Goldberg also notes that the Beijing IP Court permits dissenting opinions and that the courts have held open “adjudication committee” meetings, which is an important new innovation. Finally, he notes, that the courts are more actively engaged in use of precedent. The court also had an administrative decision revocation rate of administrative decisions of 17% and a withdrawal rate (where complainant withdraws a case before final decision) of only 7%, which suggests the court is acting to reverse administrative decisions and that litigants have enough confidence in the court that they are willing to pursue cases to their final determination.   Many of these innovations were described in an IP House report previously discussed on this blog, but Mr. Goldberg adds a useful gloss to these developments.

Mr. Goldberg’s article is another important indicator of how China is “crossing the rule of law river by feeling the IP stones.”  Importantly, Mr. Goldberg focuses less on whether foreigners’ win and more on whether procedures compatible with an advanced legal system are being put in place.

Adela Hurtado, one of my former students at Fordham law School has also recently written a useful note in the Fordham Intellectual Property Law Journal that, like Mr. Goldberg’s article, looks at the use of judicial and administrative remedies, including criminal procedures, in addressing rampant infringement. Ms. Hurtado believes that reactive, politically motivated administrative enforcement brings few sustainable results. In her view, foreign companies should consider using the civil system, with its relatively high win rates (as reflected in the new databases) and look to models of successful law enforcement campaigns in the United States which provide for more interagency coordination and sustained efforts to address specific problems. She uses data drawn from Walt Disney’s use of civil and administrative campaigns, comparing Disney’s actions in China with its use of civil remedies in the United States to suggest that Chinese IP enforcement campaigns by Disney should similarly return to greater reliance on civil remedies. Ms. Hurtado may be the first author to look at company specific behavior in different markets by using both Chinese and US databases and thereby highlights another future area of inquiry.

There have been several other efforts that look to China’s legal databases as analytical and research tools. Among other recent scholarship, Susan Finder has also recently written an excellent article on the evolving system of precedent in China in the Tsinghua China Law Review. For those individuals and scholars craving analytics, IP House has also begun publishing important analytic studies on trends in the courts. Topics covered include patent and health, motion picture and television industry and analyses of the decisions of the Beijing IP Court.  Another important application of China’s new databases is in development of course materials on China’s IP system.  In this respect, Profs. Merges and Seagull Song’s forthcoming book on Transnational Intellectual Property Law Text and Cases  (April 2018), comparing US, Chinese and European cases in the full range of IP law with a view towards their importance in developing global strategies, is also a promising step towards incorporating Chinese jurisprudence into the global discussions of IP issues.

China’s decisions to make cases more widely available  also has important consequences for trade-related discussions on IP. Approximately 13 years ago, a TRIPS “Article 63.3” transparency request was made by the United States, Japan and Switzerland at the WTO of China. This request demanded “clarifications regarding specific cases of IPR enforcement that China has identified for years 2001 through 2004, and other relevant cases.” The US delegation, of which I was a part, requested the cases to better analyze developments in China’s IP environment since WTO accession and to prepare for a forthcoming dispute. China refused to produce these cases either in the response to the request or during the dispute.  During the ensuring IP enforcement dispute (DS/362), the WTO itself refused to demand that China produce cases relevant to the outcomes of two claims – one involving copyright, and the other involving criminal thresholds. Indeed, rather than make an adverse inference from China’s unwillingness to produce cases, the WTO panel found that the United States failed to make out a prima facie case with respect to a claim that Chinese criminal thresholds failed to satisfy WTO requirements.

With the benefit of hindsight, one could argue that the WTO established a lower standard in DS/362 for analytical research on Chinese case law than China has since established. Additionally, DS/362 may also stand for the proposition that certain cases may be ahead of their time, particularly in light of China’s own commitments to innovation and development of its IP system.  But that is a topic for another blog….

 

Updates for March 27 – April 2, 2018 – China steps up control over technology exports

China steps up scrutiny of IP transfers to foreign firms on national security grounds Under new regulations issued by the State Council on Thursday, technology transfers include IP transfers that are part of acquisitions made by foreign firms involving patents, integrated circuit layout design, computer software copyright and plant varieties. Such transfers will be assessed in terms of their impact on national security and the country’s “key technology innovation capability in key areas,” said the document.

This move is not intended to “upset foreign investors” but rather to formulate “concrete measures to secure a better business environment,” said Zhang Zhicheng, director of the Protection and Coordination Department at SIPO. Zhang also noted the importance for China to strictly review core IP transfers.
Our preliminary observations: Some observers believe the measures are drafted in retaliation to the Section 301 report of the US government which addresses Chinese investment in the United States as well as the US request of China for consultations of China over the Technology Import / Export Regulations, which are also referred to in these regulations. We are also unclear at this point if these regulations were previously “in the works” or otherwise accelerated in response to the Section 301 investigation.
Companies should consider consulting counsel on the impact of these regulations. First, it appears likely that a foreign-invested company’s acquisition of Chinese technology is an IP ‘transfer’ for purposes of these regulations. Under US law, these might be considered a “deemed export if a foreign national obtains technology while in the United States These regulations do not use this terminology. The regulations may impact foreign companies based on their source of capital rather than the presence of foreign nationals. For example, the regulation’s scope appears to include transfers that occur wholly within China, as they refer to transfers “to foreigners” of Chinese IP, and earlier regulations, by contrast, focused on transfers to enterprises overseas. .(本办法所述知识产权对外转让,是指中国单位或者个人将其境内知识产权转让给外国企业、个人或者其他组织.)Compare with the Provisional Regulations on the Administration of Technology Exports 技术出口管理·暂行办法 (对外经贸部/国家科委) (June 26, 1990) (本办法所称的技术出口是中国境内的 公司, 企业, 研究机构以及其·他组织或者个人(不包括外商投资企业, 外国在中国公司。。。。)向境外的公司。。。。). Further clarification on this important issue would be helpful.
Another issue requiring clarification is the difference between technology transfer from an assignment or licensing of a patent. This has been a subject of confusion under Chinese law for some time, and these regulations appear to carry that forward. The earlier 1990 regulations also regulated the transfer of patents, as well as registered trademarks (!) as a form of “technology transfer” (Art. 2). However, in most cases, any “leakage” of technology arising from a patent application occurred at the time of the publication of the patent application or grant. An added complication is that China already has procedures in place for regulating foreign filings of patents for national security purposes. Article 20.1 of the Chinese Patent Law provides for confidentiality examination of these applications. These measures be redundant with these procedures, particularly in regulating the transfer of patent applications to foreigners.
Until further clarity is established by implementing rules, these regulations could therefor have an impact of disrupting existing foreign invested R&D or cooperation across national borders. Two questions come immediately to mind: if, for example, a Chinese national is under contract to conduct R&D for a foreign invested company, or is an employee of that company, is the transfer in ownership of the patent application, from the employee to employer a “transfer of technology” for purposes of these regulations? Another question might be what is the standard applies to determine whether an invention created by individuals in China and overseas was created was created in China and its transfer is subject to these regulations? It is also worth noting that the 1990 regulations specifically exempted bilateral scientific cooperation (Article 2). These do not.
In a separate development, the State Council also released measures this week to strengthen security management of scientific data. The measures, which prioritize data security and focus on data sharing, order strengthening supervision of the use and sharing of scientific data, with both domestic and foreign parties.

Finally, this blog, and its preliminary observations, is not a substitute for legal counsel and serious research that is necessary on these and other issues arising under China’s export control regime. Please advise of any necessary corrections.

Beijing IP Court Rules on Copyright Protection for Sports Broadcasts

jordan

According to a recent posting on the Weixin account of IPHouse (结案信息 ┃ 北京知识产权法院审结涉及体育赛事节目的两起著作权侵权纠纷案, March 30, 2018), the Beijing IP Court has now decided the second instance appeals of two cases involving online piracy of sports broadcasts, an issue that is important to the development of China’s professional sports, as well as Olympic broadcasters and foreign leagues with large Chinese audiences, such as the National Basketball Association.

Most Chinese academics have been in agreement that live broadcasts (including webcasts) of professional sports broadcasts need to have some form of IP-related protection, whether under the Anti-unfair Competition Law, as a subject of the Copyright Law, or as a form of “neighboring rights” under China’s Europe-inspired copyright system.   During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the broadcasts of the Olympic games also enjoyed a form of sui generis protection against piracy – an issue that I had been involved with along with rightsholders at that time.  The controversies surrounding the consequences of each form of possible protection were detailed in an article in 2010 by Prof. Seagull Song,  as well as a more article by Wei Liu and  Jiarui Liu (“Copyright Protection of Sports Programs in China,” 63 Journal of the Copyright Society of the USA (2017)).  It has also been the subject of meetings and conferences hosted by the United States and others, experts dialogues and numerous blogs posted here, including a blog on the lower court case posted on here.

Copyright protection would afford address interactive streaming over the internet, while neighboring rights protection affords rights to broadcasters.  Many believed that unfair competition was too vague and could create difficulties in licensing internationally.  These issues were raised in the context of the long-overdue, proposed amendments to China’s Copyright Law.  For these reasons, the 2013 US-China Experts Dialogue, in particular, made the following recommendation:

“4.3 Live Sports Programming and Non-interactive Streaming

The experts unanimously agreed that when the production of live sports programming involves creativity and originality, it shall be protected under current China Copyright Law.  The experts supported the provisions of the latest available amendment of the Copyright Law which provides a bifurcated approach – the adoption of “broadcast rights” to give protection to non-interactive streaming media and the right of communication through information networks to protect interactive streaming media. This approach should provide greater flexibility and depth to the protection of the copyright.”

Delays in resolving these two cases were understandable in light of the uncertainty around the proposed amendments to the copyright law, the significance of these issues to numerous rightsholders and sporting events, the increasing importance of licensing revenue in the China market using international copyright standards,  the impact on Chinese rightsholders that may be pursuing cases overseas where copyright protection is more secure, and the role of copyright protection in providing a foundation for a diversity of revenue streams in order to provide greater stability to the beneficiaries of the system (see the “Jordan” store that has recently opened up in Beijing, above).

In the Sina case, which was the subject of my previous blog, the lower court had determined after some exhaustive analysis that the live broadcast of a sporting event constituted a cinematographic “work” under China’s copyright law.  The Beijing High Court reversed noting that cinematographic works have to be fixed/stable and creative.  In the case in suit, the production had not been stable and fixed in a material form and therefore did not constitute a cinematographic work.  Moreover, as Sina did not pursue the anti-unfair competition claim on appeal, the Court had no basis to adjudicate that claim to provide an alternative avenue of relief for it.

In the companion case involving CCTV and its recorded broadcasts of the Brazilian World Cup (2014), CCTV had advocated that the broadcast constituted either a cinematographic work or an audiovisual recording (entitled to neighboring rights protection).  The lower court had determined that it was entitled to be considered an AV recording and had awarded 670,000 RMB in damages.  The Beijing IP Court confirmed that it was also entitled to protection as an AV recording which is protected over information networks in part because it was stable and fixed on a physical medium and, as with the prior case, it was not sufficiently creative to be a cinematographic work.  The court however increased the damage award to 4,000,000 RMB.

Based on this summary, the cases seem to leave open the question of whether AV recording protection afforded as a “neighboring right” to a broadcaster, also permits the broadcast to claim infringement for a live/interactive retransmission of the broadcast over the internet, which was not a fact at issue in this case.  Broadcasting organizations do enjoy neighboring rights protection under Article 44 of the Copyright Law.   However, this neighboring rights protection most directly addresses wired and wireless retransmission of the signal, rather than interactive communication over the Internet (See article by Seagull Song, and quote above).  Moreover, this was exactly the problem that was faced by the Beijing Copyright Administration in the 2008 Olympics when it enacted short-term, sui generis rules to address this problem.  I hope that the full case will explain this further.

Article 41 of the PRC Copyright Law grants the owner of video recordings the right to distribute the recordings over an information network.  The court could have resolved the issue of the stability/fixation of the broadcasts in both cases by acknowledging any momentary delay in broadcasting and consequent fixation in real time broadcasting as a “recording” (see video of editing at an NFL game, below).  Moreover, the level of creativity being required of a cinematographic work seems unduly high, particularly when compared to comparably lower levels of creativity required of photographic works, as well as the professional editing, narration and script line that goes into any professional broadcast, along with the copyright attributable to various elements of the broadcast, such as the narration, mid-game performances, etc.  Thus, these cases do not fully address protection for the less controversial creative aspects of professional sports broadcasts.  Due to the temporal value of a live sports broadcast, it is also important that rights are clearly defined in advance, a task for which local case law developments are ill-suited under China’s system, and that must apparently wait until legislative reform.  The Beijing IP Court did use the tool of enhancing damages to help address the need for greater deterrence, however it appears on the substance of copyrightability, its hands were tied by current legislation.

I welcome any further analyses, and postings of the Chinese and/or English texts of the case that may help further clarify these decisions and their impact.