How to Monitor an IP Trade Agreement with China

The following observations are drawn from a recent talk I gave at the US-China Business Council, which was called “IP in the Trade War: Strategies for a New Normal.”  A video recap of part of those discussions is available here.  In that presentation, I talked extensively about available data sources on China’s IP environment and how they can be leveraged to shape both government trade strategies and corporate strategies.

Data-driven approaches that are now available have considerable potential value to US and Chinese negotiators thinking over how to monitor and enforce an agreement to settle the US-China trade war and help avoid the problems of continuous government oversight.  One alternative to traditional government monitoring is to empower the companies and individuals that are affected by IP and tech policies to conduct their own “bottom-up” monitoring and evaluation.  This has the added benefit of reorienting trade negotiations from governmental control to a commercial, rights-owner focus that should be its principal orientation for protection of a private right such as IP.  In addition, a bottom-up approach helps create a greater global community interested in compliance, which could also include rights holders in third countries.

What are the key elements in a trade agreement to empower rights holders to monitor an agreement? Here are four critical elements to the trade commitment:

  • The first trade commitment is that the requested conduct of the foreign state must be observable. There must be a degree of transparency associated with the conduct that permits a third party to provide reasonable analyses of the conduct, including any deficiencies in the data being disclosed.  A good example of observable data would be the publication of court cases about patent protection in a given country.
  • The second trade commitment is that the observable information must be accessible, usually by online publication or database compilation with available tools to search for data relevant to the trade commitment. A comprehensive public database of patent cases would an accessible information source, with available search tools for issues of concern.
  • The third trade commitment is that there are clear standards to which the foreign country is committed. A hypothetical example of such a commitment might be that “China agrees not to favor domestic companies litigating patent disputes in technologies that are identified in Made in China 2025, including patent classifications X, Y, and Z”.  The parties might then further agree on a statistically standard to measure compliance with the standard.
  • Finally, the trade agreement itself must have an enforcement vehicle for rights holders to raise violations of the applicable standard based on the application of the standard to the observable and accessible data. Example of an enforcement vehicle would be an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism where affected companies might bring suits directly against the foreign country before a neutral body. Alternatively, a US government IPR case referral mechanism process might be re-established to bring specific cases to the attention of Chinese authorities.  Such a process existed in the years after China joined the WTO.   This would now be strengthened by the additional weapons of withdrawal of tariff concessions or other sanctions.    A less direct mechanism might occur when companies provide the information to a US government agency, such as USTR, such as through the 301 process or a WTO dispute.

In order to ensure that China’s civil enforcement is observable and accessible, China would need to publish all of its IP cases, including cases involving provisional measures, case filings and settlements as well as on enforcement of judgments.  Standards setting should not be too difficult either.  There are numerous areas where negotiators could establish standards, many of which have been identified in this blog including: granting of preliminary injunctions against US companies, patent litigation involving semiconductors and pharmaceuticals, challenges in targeted technology patent grants (pharmaceuticals, semiconductors and strategic emerging industries, difficulties in winning trade secret litigations, retaliation against foreign companies asserting their rights in China, and challenges in bad faith trademark litigation.

As an example of such an approach, China might agree to establish a patent linkage regime requiring that pharmaceutical regulatory approvals are not granted to products that would infringe an IP holders patent rights and to facilitate generic drug introduction into the market.  In order to make the data observable and accessible,  China would adopt an “orange book” to listing relevant patents for approved pharmaceuticals.  Relevant legal databases should also be made available to determine if China’s drug regulators are approving infringing generic drugs and if patent infringement cases are brought to appropriately permit or prohibit their approval.  US rights holders could bring violations to the attention of Chinese or US trade authorities, to Chinese regulatory agencies, or through the 301 process or a case referral mechanism.   Both new and prior commitments could be written to facilitate real-time monitoring.

Due to the difficulties in monitoring China’s complex IP environment, bilateral trade policy should adjust to the era of big data and provide timely and responsive avenues for companies to note compliance or violations of trade agreements.

 

 

 

 

EPISODE 900: THE STOLEN COMPANY

Recently National Public Radio’s Planet Money aired an extensive radio broadcast entitled “Episode 900: The Stolen Company” about a counterfeiting case involving a US adhesives company, ABRO.  The case occurred over 10 years ago but continues to have meaning today.  Owing to my role at the US Embassy at the time, I was interviewed along with Bill Mansfield, who implemented ABRO’s anti-counterfeiting strategies, ABRO’s executive team, and others.   The Planet Money segment recalls the extreme measures that the counterfeiter undertook as well as Bill Mansfield’s creative countermeasures.  I won’t spoil the show by telling you now.   The case continues to stand for the proposition that it is possible to win complex counterfeiting cases in China.

One of the individuals who was not included in the final broadcast was Jack Chang 张为安.  Jack is a friend and fellow veteran of many anti-counterfeiting campaigns, and he has been particularly active in the Quality Brands Protection Committee (QBPC), an association of foreign-invested enterprises (FIE’s) that work together to improve China’s IP system.  He remembered those early days involving ABRO.  Jack noted the following to me in a recent email exchange regarding ABRO after this program aired:

“1) After the Hunan counterfeiter was arrested in London but managed to return to China, he conducted a press conference blaming on USG and ABRO for cheating and framing him. His story was widely spread in China. Even within QBPC, many Chairs circulated the counterfeiter’s one side story. It was Mark Cohen, whom I checked with and who provided me with ABRO’s story. Mark did not disclose that he was involved in the operation at that time though. After learning that the Hunan counterfeiter was the bad guy, I asked the QBPC Chairs and members not to repeat the counterfeiter’s one side story and they did.

2) I know Bill [Mansfield]  for many years. His drinking tea and presenting appreciation plaques served in fact as an important value that “a U.S. citizen, who was so frustrated with China’s counterfeiting problem, ended up recognizing Chinese authorities’ sense of honor.” … Chinese Customs and Economic Crime Police are the heroes in the minds of many U.S. (European as well) companies. … Having said that, why the western world is still so frustrated? The simple answer is that the magnitude of counterfeit trade is huge and the technology related IP issues have caught almost every western leaders of public and private sectors’ attention.

3) …In terms of fighting counterfeiting trademark and copyright piracy, there is no difference between industries. Pfizer, J&J and many other pharm giants got tremendous support from the Chinese police to conduct serious criminal investigations on counterfeit rings. Our semiconductor members got the support too. The problem was with prosecutors and courts, which believe that IP owners were not the victims of IP crimes … and that paying civil damages would suffice while no need to put people in jail. The Chinese police are on our side. Some procuratorates are too… [I]n terms of fighting counterfeiting, industrial differences is not an issue at all. However, I agree with Mark partially that technology-related IP protection may be a different story. As I said earlier in this email, forced tech transfer is NOT a real issue from the perspective of many QBPC front line IP soldiers. But lack of effective legal framework for trade secret protection, which threatens both foreign and domestic companies, national treatment for FIEs in terms of the implementation of national innovation and technological policies, FIEs’ participation in the national technological standard setting, the harmonization of “Regulations on Administration for Import and Export of Technology Transfer” and the tech transfer section of Contract Law etc. are the real concerned areas of QBPC IP experts. …”

The ABRO case may also have some parallels with the current controversy involving extradition of Meng Wanzhou of Huawei.  In the ABRO case, the Chinese government also reacted strongly to the arrest of Yuan Hongwei, the alleged Hunanese counterfeiter in London, on a writ of extradition to the US.  Ultimately the ABRO case quieted down as the facts became better known.

Jack also graciously noted of my own involvement in the ABRO case: “Without your telling me the ABRO story in the old days, QBPC might have rejected ABRO’s application to join QBPC and the Chinese colleagues might turn their anger to the USG. You probably did not know how critical your contribution was to the QBPC (possibly to China’s anti-counterfeiting momentum). I thank you now!! All the best!”

Thank you Jack, Bill Mansfield, the team at ABRO and NPR and others for working together on this important case and sharing your memories and insights.

 

 

THE TIER IS REVISED…

After nearly twenty years of advocacy, China has finally revoked certain offensive provisions of the Administration of Technology Import/Export Regulations (“TIER”), effective March 18, 2019.   The decision was made by State Council decision no. 709, paragraph 38 of March 2, 2019,  which provides as follows:

三十八、删去《中华人民共和国技术进出口管理条例》第二十四条第三款、第二十七条、第二十九条。

第四十一条改为第三十九条,修改为:国务院外经贸主管部门应当自收到本条例第三十八条规定的文件之日起3个工作日内,对技术出口合同进行登记,颁发技术出口合同登记证。

A rough translation is:

38. Delete Article 24, Section 3, Article 27 and Article 29 of the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on the Administration of Import and Export of Technology.

Article 41 shall be changed to Article 39 and revised as follows: “The competent foreign economic and trade department of the State Council shall, within 3 working days from the date of receipt of the documents stipulated by this Article 38  register a technology export contract and issue a technology export contract registration certificate.

The relevant provisions being modified of the TIER, as translated on the WIPO website, are as follows:

24 (3): Where the receiving party to a technology import contract infringes another person’s lawful rights and interests by using the technology supplied by the supplying party, the supplying party shall bear the liability therefore.

27: Within the term of validity of a contract for technology import, an achievement made in improving the technology concerned belongs to the party making the improvement.

Article 29 A technology import contract shall not contain any of the following restrictive clauses:

(1) requiring the receiving party to accept any additional condition unnecessary for the technology import, including buying any unnecessary technology, raw material, product, equipment or service;

(2) requiring the receiving party to pay exploitation fee for a technology when the term of validity of the patent right in which has expired or the patent right of which has been invalidated, or to undertake other relevant obligations;

(3) restricting the receiving party from improving the technology supplied by the supplying party, or restricting the receiving party from using the improved technology;

(4) restricting the receiving party from obtaining technology similar to that supplied by the supplying party from other sources or from obtaining a competing technology;

(5) unduly restricting the receiving party from purchasing raw material, parts and components, products or equipment from other channels or sources;

(6) unduly restricting the quantity, variety, or sales price of the products the receiving party produces; or

(7) unduly restricting the receiving party from utilizing the channel for exporting products manufactured using the imported technology.

This is one of 49 separate legislative provisions being modified by notice 709 of the State Council.

The TIER was itself part of ongoing WTO disputes (DS542, and DS549).  In addition, it was called out by USTR in its 301 Report on China’s forced technology transfer regime .  A panel had recently been composed in the US case against China (DS542).  The State Council has now addressed the most onerous provisions of the TIER by removing those provisions that had most obviously violated China’s National Treatment obligations under TRIPS Article 3, including footnote 3, which addresses discrimination in “the availability, acquisition, scope, maintenance and enforcement of intellectual property rights as well as those matters affecting the use of intellectual property rights.”

The legislation is immediately effective.  However, it does not address contracts that had previously been negotiated under the prior TIER.  Article 84 of China’s Law on Legislation does provide for the possibility of retroactive effect where the new legislation is made in order to better protect the rights of citizens, legal persons and other organizations, and may apply in this circumstance.  It will be up to the courts and/or the State Council to issue necessary interpretative guidance.

Interestingly, China did not take a “phased” or “limited” approach to revoking these terms, such as providing for limiting the application of mandatory provisions to protect smaller businesses or creating a default provision that could be waived in writing.  The Chinese government, to its credit, thus intended to rely solely upon the market and any other general provisions of the Contract Law.  China also did not seek to clarify the relationship between the TIER and China’s Contract Law or Antimonopoly Law, which had overlapping provisions with the TIER, and which should now apply more clearly and equally to foreign and domestic licensors.  However, the TIER provision regarding non-profit oriented technical cooperation, including government to government science and technology cooperation also continues to be in effect.  Specifically, article 2 of the TIER states that the legislation governs “technical cooperation” including “technical services and transfer of technology by other means.” (Art. 2).

It will be interesting to determine if the changes in the TIER have any impact on the manner in which technology is transferred by foreign companies to China, including use of affiliated/subsidiary companies of foreign companies in China to import foreign technology to avoid application of the TIER to technology imports.  The majority of US licensing transactions to China had been through such intermediated/affiliated entities.  After the affiliated licensee takes over the licensing activity of the licensor, any subsequent sub-license was believed to be governed by China’s Contract Law.

The amendment also comes shortly after China passed a new Foreign Investment Law on March 15, 2019, which also purports to address the forced technology transfer problem identified in the Section 301 report.  These legislative efforts thus appear to be part of a package intended to address US concerns.

Blog post by Mark Cohen.  Thanks to Jill Ge of Clifford Chance, Shanghai for pointing out this legislative development to me.  Thanks as well to the many lawyers, companies, officials, judges, and business people over the years who have advocated for revising the TIER and to the State Council for finally undertaking these revisions.

Rest in Peace, Birch Bayh

birchbayh

Amidst the many articles and radio commentary on the passing of Birch Bayh on March 14, 2019, a liberal Senator from Indiana, few have noted Senator Bayh’s contribution to patent law and none as far as I can tell noted his engagement with Chinese IP officials when he celebrated his 80th birthday at SIPO on January 22, 2008.

I was privileged to spend that day with Senator Bayh, and to later call up the Senator to see if he was available to meet with the occasional visiting Chinese delegation to Washington, DC to talk about the impact of the Bayh Dole amendment on patent commercialization in the United States. He generously volunteered his time to meet with delegations, and his wife Kitty was always gracious in fielding my requests, even if I recognized that his advanced age made it difficult for him to travel from his home in eastern Maryland to Washington, DC.

When I told SIPO officials that the day he was lecturing at SIPO was also his birthday, he was surprised to see that by the end of his lecture, there was a birthday cake for him and a crowd of a 100 plus admirers singing “Happy Birthday to you.” As part of those trips, he also hosted press conferences on the Bayh Dole Act to introduce his perspectives on this groundbreaking legislation, providing for private ownership of IP rights derived from government-funded R&D. Whenever I talk or lecture about him to students, I still reflect on those visits.

Senator Bayh had many accomplishments that are better known to the average American. He was justly proud of having authored two constitutional amendments, and of legislation banning sexual discrimination in school athletics (Title IX). To me however, he was also a reminder of another, more gracious age. He and his wife were always generous with their time with me. He came from an age when Democrats worked across the aisle with Republicans in passing key legislation (such as with Senator Dole), and indeed when training and collaboration were key elements of our bilateral IP relationship with China.

My condolences to his family. I was fortunate to work with someone who gave so much to the American people and to its IP system. May his memory be a blessing.

Photo above of Birch Bayh discussing the Bayh-Dole Act at SIPO in 2007.

Upcoming CFIUS and Export Controls Program at Berkeley Law

Practical Issues in CFIUS and Export Controls:
A Discussion Among Practitioners and Users​

The dramatic expansion of the scope of the CFIUS process and its complex interaction with traditional and evolving export regimes pose complex challenges to companies in the United States and throughout the world. This seminar will present practical insights on how to navigate these regimes and their impact on tech innovation and trade. We are expecting a great group of speakers and participants on both topics – watch this website.  There is no charge to attend this program.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

3:30 – 5:30 P.M.
(3:00 P.M. Registration)
Clark Kerr Conference Center, Krutch Theater
2601 Warring Street
Berkeley, CA
 

Reception to follow