Lilith Games v. uCool – Seeking Preliminary Relief in the US

Attached is the order denying a preliminary injunction in Lilith Games v uCool (N.D. Cal., Sept. 23, 2015).  According to the order of Judge Conti, Lilith is a video game developer that released the game Dao Ta Chuan Qi (translated as “Sword and Tower”)  in China in February 2014. Lilith holds Chinese copyright registrations in Sword and Tower’s source code and alleges that it owns the copyrights to that code pursuant to Chinese copyright law. Sword and Tower has enjoyed great commercial success, and as of August 2014, was the leading game in Asia.   Defendant uCool is a video game marketer who allegedly obtained access to Lilith’s copyrighted software code for Sword and Tower and used it to create its own game, Heroes Charge , which it published in the United States in August 2014.

Lilith filed this case in March 18, 2015, four months after talks with uCool had broken down. Lilith argued that a four month delay was justified because Lilith is a small start-up  and was reluctant to become involved in costly litigation until it was necessary, although the court noted “It is unclear what Lilith means by ‘small start-up,’ particularly given that Lilith owns the most popular game in Asia.”

There are a few interesting points in this case worth comparing to Chinese practice:

  1. Application of Law and Recognition of Evidence: The court determined that Lilith “owned valid Chinese copyright registrations and therefore has provided prima facie evidence of copyright ownership under Chinese law.” In addition, it was “undisputed that Lilith is the entity that filed for and obtained the copyright registrations and that these registrations expressly list Lilith as the copyright owner. Thus, Lilith was the developer of the Sword and Tower source code and the copyright for Sword and Tower consequently belongs to Lilith.” The court also noted that “Lilith brings its copyright infringement claim under the Berne Convention, an international agreement governing copyright.”

The court directly  applied Chinese copyright law and the Berne Convention, which are rather unusual.  To its credit, there was no evidence that the court required notarized and/or consularized documentation, as might be required of a US company submitting similar evidence in China.   

  1. Regarding copying, the court concluded that “a finder of fact is likely to conclude that the source code for Heroes Charge is substantially similar to the source code for Sword and Tower,”and that “the evidence shows that the games are almost identical from the user’s standpoint, with only minor modifications.”

Although the court noted that Lilith sought to apply the Berne Convention, the court’s determination of copyright infringement appears squarely based on US practice.  Screen shot comparisons can be found here.

  1. In its trade secret analysis the court noted that “Lilith’s efforts to maintain the confidentially of its source code, while not as rigorous as they could have been, were sufficiently reasonable to maintain the code as a trade secret. Lilith keeps its source code on a secure server and limits access only to those employees who need it to perform their duties. Lilith also encrypts the Sword and Tower source code so that it cannot be easily deciphered. Although Lilith failed to secure confidentiality agreements from all of the employees that had access to the code, Lilith has presented evidence to show that these employees understood Lilith’s code to be confidential business information. Further, there is no evidence to suggest that any of these employees disclosed the code to a third party.”

Difficulties in demonstrating that a trade secret owner has established appropriate measures to protect the confidentiality of a trade secret are one of the obstacles in trade secret litigation in China.   The court’s approach is not unreasonable given that there appeared to be adequate procedures in place, and any gap in protection was not a cause of the leak of confidential information.

  1. Preliminary Injunction “E-Bay” Factors

Although the court determined that there was a strong likelihood that Lilith would succeed on the merits, it denied the motion for a preliminary injunction.  In the court’s view Lilith could not demonstrate that there was adequate imminent injury, either by reason of reputational injury in a market where it had little presence or by difficulties in developing that market through an exclusive distributorship.  The court took note that eight months had passed from when Lilith discovered the alleged copying to when it filed for a preliminary injunction. The court’s apparently suspicious view of Lilith’s argument that it was a small start-up, which accounted for the delay, may also have been a factor in this determination.

These cases are part of a growing trend of Chinese companies using the US courts to address claims of infringement by Chinese, US or third country actors.  There are also several obvious comparisons in recent Chinese cases to this one.  The case may be compared to the preliminary injunction granted by the Guangdong IP court in Blizzard Entertainment and NetEase versus Chengdu Qiyou Limited, involving a US rightsholder.  In that case, I noted the importance of having an active licensee as a co-plaintiff to succeeding in a preliminary injunction matter; the lack of an active licensee may have been a problem with the US case in demonstrating irreparable harm due to difficulties in obtaining an exclusive licensee. 

This is the second recent case brought by a Chinese company seeking a preliminary injunction in the US courts for copyright infringement.  In the earlier CCTV case, the Chinese plaintiffs were granted a preliminary injunction applying US law.    As I noted in the CCTV cases, had the US court applied Chinese law it might have found that no copyright infringement existed at least with respect to sports broadcasting.

Another comparison is with the   Eli Lilly v. Huang Mengwei (黄孟炜) case, where a preliminary injunction was granted in China for a trade secret matter.  However, that case was publicly discussed but never published.  The Lilith case is published, according to US practice, with confidential information removed.   

Perhaps the most interesting comparative aspect of the Lilith case was the delay in initiating litigation by the plaintiff.  Had this case been tried in China, the delays in seeking preliminary injunctions might have been more problematic in light of the expectations of tight time frames, where litigation and IP matters change in “a New York minute.”    After all, in eight months, most IP litigation has been finally adjudicated.

 

The World of Injunctions: Guangzhou Makes Its Mark

According to various press reports, on March 9, 2105, the Guangzhou Specialized IP court issued a preliminary injunction in a copyright matter, Blizzard Entertainment and NetEase versus Chengdu Qiyou Limited (“Seven Games”),Beijing Fenbo Times Internet Technology Co., Ltd (“Rekoo”) and Guangzhou Dongjing Computer Technology Co., Ltd (“UCWeb”), regarding developing, operating, distributing and disseminating over the internet the game titled Everyone WarCraft: War of Draenor (formerly known as Chieftain Thrall: The expedition of WarCraft). The injunction calls for the above named defendants to cease reproduction, distribution and/or online dissemination of this game.

Eric Roeder, General Counsel of Blizzard is quoted in the media as saying “We welcome the efficient and timely injunction of the Guangzhou IP Court based on Chinese…It provides a fast and effective remedy and fully demonstrates the determination and power of the Chinese courts to protect intellectual property…”

The case is notable for three factors

A) Its rarity. According to the Supreme Peoples Court, in 2013, there were 88,583 first instance civil IP cases, yet there were only 11 cases in which a preliminary injunction was accepted, and, according to the Court, “77.78%” were “granted approvals.” (Note: I can’t quite figure out how many of these 11 were granted approvals based on this percentage).

B) The importance of having an active licensee. From press reports, it appears that Blizzard and Netease have had a multi-year licensing relationship. As Chinese licensees become more interested in US content and establish collaborative relationships, I expect we will also see more strategic and path breaking judicial decisions.   As Eric Priest has discussed in his work, one approach to dealing with high piracy may be finding business models that work for licensor and licensee.

C) Political timing. The desire of the newly established Guangzhou IP Court to show its authority may  have been a positive factor in this case being acepted and the relief granted.  Although preliminary injunctions remain rare, there appears to be an interest in clarifying procedures and, one hopes, in increasing their availability.  In another important development, on February 26, 2015, the SPC issued a draft Judicial Interpretation for public comment on Act Preservation [Preliminary Relief] Measures in IP and competition civil cases. The measure seems to be directed to preliminary injunctions, but may also have an important impact on asset and perhaps evidence preservation matters. Comments are due March 30. Attached is an unofficial translation.  

RIP VAN WINKLE RETURNS FOR THE TRADE WAR

A Modern Illustrated Political Fable By an Anonymous Folklorist

ripvanwinkle

Rip Van Winkle VIII, Esq, the great US government intellectual property and trade lawyer and descendant of the Hudson Valley Van Winkles,  fell asleep on December 12, 2001, the day after China joined the WTO.  He woke up earlier this year to find a changed country, engaged in a trade war that undercut all his prior hard work.   He was disappointed at how the US had handled the legacy of China engagement that marked the period before WTO accession.  He had a Yogi Berra-like moment of “Deja-vu all over again “, and felt he had to reach out to the American people to tell his story.  These are my interviews with him.

I asked Rip about the 301 report on Chinese forced technology transfer. “You mean, the report that launched the trade war”, he remarked with a wry smile.  He said that he was surprised by the tactics that the President pursued.   The US “pressured China without imposing tariff sanctions in the 1990s and with considerable success.  For example, China agreed to have a trade secret law back in 1995 or so.  No administration in the 1990s had to pull the tariff trigger on China, although we had a clearer legal basis in international law to do so since China was not yet a WTO member.  We also had the statutory authority to revoke MFN on human rights issues but didn’t do that either.  Now our imposing these sanctions risk dismantling the global trading system.  I understand the frustration about China’s WTO compliance, but I don’t understand why we haven’t more aggressively pursued WTO remedies.”

wto

I asked Rip, “Was it because the issue back in your day was one of China’s compliance with the laws, rather than enforcing than the laws as written? After all, it is hard to bring a case on how adequately a country is enforcing its laws.  There are lots of flexibilities built into the TRIPS Agreement.”

Rip pensively pulled on his long Van Winkle beard and noted ”Back then the efforts were not simply legislative.  China’s enforcement of IP was weak too, and some progress was made: for example, there was a special Customs regime on exports, which is TRIPS+, which survives to this day.  Specialized IP tribunals were also something that he had worked on ‘back in the day.’  There were also a number of special campaigns, task forces, and other efforts.   In fact, people had even been complaining that some of the enforcement had gotten too tough when China launched a ‘strike-hard’ campaign against some of this activity.”

“But, “ I added “today we have high tech issues in addition to counterfeiting and piracy issues.  We have AI, and IOT, and 5G, and genetic engineering, online businesses, plus all the counterfeiting and fake goods.  These are new issues!”

“All true,” said Rip, “and you have other new things that are also fake,” Rip smiled, “fake news and–,” he added sarcastically, “this President.”  Rip appeared puzzled that a reality TV show actor could also become President.

“But I am not surprised by all the fake goods originating from China that are sold throughout the world,”  he continued.  “After all, that was the problem with regional trade in the 1990s.  It was to be anticipated – that was the reason we asked China to control infringing exports in the ’90s. “

“As for technology, we had those challenges as well.  There was the ‘great subsidy’ compilation CD exported from China that infringed on multiple business software copyright owners,”  Rip mused. “That was a high-tech problem.  We found solutions working in Taiwan and China.  And what about the submarine they discovered in Hong Kong to haul counterfeit DVD’s? That was also a high-tech problem.”

Rip pulled out a beaten photo of a diagram of the submarine that was captured by Customs authorities in Macau:

macaucustoms

Photo by Mark Cohen from an original diagram at Macau Customs.

“I don’t get it though” Rip snorted. “Why did the US file a WTO case in 2007 against China’s export of counterfeit goods, DS362?  We all knew that this was not a WTO issue, but one that depended on external pressure on China.  China was only obligated to have Customs remedies on imports. Yet we haven’t yet filed a case against how ineffective China’s IP remedies are, which is a specific WTO requirement?  I expected more, from China’s carefully crafted WTO accession package and from the US and the WTO itself.  We worked so hard on that package.”

“As best we could, we foresaw many of these problems in the 1990s and created the roadmap for legal strategies.  Sure, it wasn’t perfect.  It was a crystal ball exercise.  But look at China’s WTO commitments.  China’s obligations had no grace period.  There was a special safeguard measure.  China was subject to a range of extra commitments as a non-market economy under our dumping law.  China was also subject to extensive new transparency obligations.  Moreover, China’s trade regime was subject to a 15-year annual review.  Its IP regime should now be the subject of WTO cases.”

Rip shook his head: “Only a few weeks after WTO accession in 2001, China implemented a discriminatory technology licensing regime called the Technology Import/Export Regulations, which discriminated against foreigners.   Why did we wait until March 23, 2018 for the US to file a  case against this regulation?  Who else was asleep when I went to sleep? Did someone put sleeping pills in the water?”

It is true, as the press reported, that when Donald Trump met Rip Van Winkle, they both agreed that nothing had changed on China IP.  However, the media once again generated some fake news around that meeting.   Rip disagreed that Trump’s strategy made sense, or that the US should indeed feel like it had exhausted its patience.  After the meeting, Trump tweeted that “Rip Van Winkle is a BAD man”.

djt

That was indeed their only meeting.  Trump referred Rip’s personnel dossier to OPM for further investigation to see if he had been collecting salary during the past 18 years when he should have been on leave without pay or whether he was simply AWOL.

After the incident with Trump, Rip went to Beijing.  He noticed that things had changed.  The street vendors of DVD’s, counterfeit Beanie Babies, and all another manner of fake goods were largely gone.  When he talked to average Beijingers, they seemed to know a great deal about patents, trademarks, and copyrights – perhaps more than the average American.  He was shocked to see that the patent and trademark offices had grown to the largest in the world.  He was pleased to see that China had a system of multiple intellectual property courts, with specialized judges.  He met many American-trained lawyers working in Chinese law firms, in companies, and in government.  This looked very much like the kind of system that the US might have imagined for China back when he was negotiating.

However, there were other ominous changes for the US.  The Chinese patent office was now several times the size of the US patent office, as was the Chinese trademark office.  Moreover, domestic filers dominated in both those offices, as they did in bringing suits to the courts.  In areas such as information technologies, where the US was once the dominant manufacturer and developer, the leading role had been ceded to China.  China now produced 25 to 30% of the world high tech products, supplanting both the US and the EU.   During a southern excursion on this trip, he saw that Shenzhen had grown to a high-tech mecca, well beyond even his dreams.

shenzhen

Rip was amazed to see that the Chinese IP system by some measures at out-paced the US.  The Chinese courts now handled about 280,000 IP cases in 2018, up 40% from 2017, while US domestic patent cases were declining.  Chinese courts handled over 100 times more copyright cases than US courts.  It was also an IP system that didn’t merely serve big state-owned companies.  The percentage of individual filers of patents as well as patent litigants in the Chinese courts were higher than in the US.  Moreover, in areas like software, business method patents and genetic patents, where the US had a lead “back in the day,” the Supreme Court of the US had made it harder to obtain patent rights.  China, however, was making it easier.  And this eBay case decided by the US Supreme Court in 2006 – why did the US decide to make it harder to get an injunction for an IP dispute, thereby weakening the system even further?”

Rip wondered, was there some kind of reverse alchemy at work – were we turning our IP system of “gold” into one of “lead”, and China was now getting the magic touch?alchemy

“It isn’t quite that simple” tweeted Mr. Trump when he heard of Rip’s reporting on the matter.  “We are pursuing structural barriers!!!”

“Well, we had the Structural Impediments Initiative with Japan back when I was in the government– sounds pretty similar to me.” Rip reported, closing an op-ed he wrote by asking the President: “Have you been asleep too?”

Rip thought that it was not surprising that China would benefit from being a low-cost manufacturer and joining the WTO.  The expectation was that China would also continue to make necessary economic reforms, and the US would monitor these reforms.  After the Tiananmen incident, the Western world was also greatly concerned about China’s commitment to liberal political and economic values.  The current regime in China may be pushing back on the legacy of Deng Xiaoping, but that should have made a WTO case that much easier today, by showing that China had reneged on some of its fundamental WTO commitments to bring about economic reform and institute certain minimum rule of law and transparency obligations.  These kinds of cases would also elicit support from many in China and from our trading partners.”

“Why didn’t you learn your lessons?  Is that the reason you brought back Lighthizer to USTR?  I hadn’t seen Bob for decades.  Did he fall asleep for even longer than me, maybe thirty years?” Rip joked, half-heartedly.

”The Japanese tried to persuade us that the reason there was a trade deficit with Japan was because of our lack of knowledge of their system.  Japanese snow, they said, was different from US snow so we couldn’t sell our skis there.  We all know however that this was a sorry excuse for market barriers set up to protect their industries.“

Mtfuji

Japanese snow by Mount Fuji.  Does it look different?

“With China, we knew there were a host of other, more problematic non-market barriers including possible security issues with Taiwan.   When we worked on the TRIPS Agreement,” Rip recalled, “we made it pretty clear that this was an agreement for market economies.  There was a transition period in the TRIPS Agreement for-state controlled economies, and we had extensive provisions around civil remedies, which reflects the private law orientation of TRIPS.  When we went ahead in our own domestic laws to define what constitutes a non-market economy we didn’t even tackle the role of intellectual property, perhaps because we hadn’t thought through the problem of how a non-market economy could exploit IP in its own interests.  The problem we face today is due to an unanticipated turn by China, that it would ease up on economic reforms and not reject IP but instead incorporate IP its state planning mechanisms.”

“Look at the preamble to the TRIPS Agreement,” Rip fumed. “It says intellectual property is a ‘private right.’ As I recall, the Hong Kong delegation put that into the TRIPS Agreement – they anticipated what was going to happen just a few years later in the 90s when they would be reunited with the mainland.”

“We know that IP is a private right and we knew that Chinese state is interfering in markets. We knew China had technology goals, and that the state was not letting individuals maximize their interests in private property rights.  We knew that addressing these issues was core to the success of China’s WTO accession.  We put in a host of other provisions in the TRIPS Agreement – national treatment, most favored nation treatment, due process in IP cases and IP antitrust cases, right to an independent counsel and an independent lawyer, injunctions and preliminary injunctions, the right to a decision based on evidence  — yet, the only WTO case the United States brought against China on IP until 2018 occurred back in 2007 and it involved asking for greater control by China of those markets – for improvements in China’s criminal and Customs IP remedies, as well as its censorship regime.”

“It doesn’t stop there either.  Our antitrust authorities entered into training and other programs that have further enhanced the role of the state by working with China’s former State Planning Commission and others, so that they can further diminish the value of these rights – rights that our companies have a hard time trying to enforce – and that further strengthen the role of the state.  You can’t have IP abuse unless you have IP use….”

“So having lost this 2007 case,” Rip asked “the US government decided it wasn’t worth filing another WTO case for 10 years or so?  What were we asking for – the Chinese government to step in and do more to control property rights?” Rip snorted.   “I don’t like Mr. Trump, but then again I can’t blame him for lousy strategies of 10 years ago.”

“Maybe the US went astray because you bought into the rhetoric of the 1990s which saw intellectual property as a foreign concept to China, one that was inconsistent with Chinese Confucian culture and that was not susceptible to change due to US pressure alone.  These misunderstandings were promoted by academics and Chinese officials, often over the objections of Chinese scholars.  By almost any measure, their assumptions were flawed, and they could not have predicted China’s wholesale and disruptive embrace of intellectual property into its innovation ecosystem. “

“Of all those assumptions, the one that China would not protect IP until it has IP of its own to protect, is the ‘old wives tale’ that…”

I corrected him: “’Old spouse’s tale’–we don’t use this sexist terminology now, and even that is ageist.”

“This old assumption” Rip said looking hopelessly at the sky, “that China needs more IP of its own in order to protect US IP should have been discredited only a few years after I went to sleep – because it was around 2005 that the Chinese trademark office grew to be larger than the US trademark office, and that Chinese TM owners were the dominant applicants.  And that trend has spread to nearly every other sector or indicator – patents, plant varieties, copyright registrations, litigation…. “

“As for this indigenous innovation problem, or Made in China 2025, or Strategic and Emerging Industries, or Medium and Long Range Scientific Plan, or 1000 Talent Program, or High and New Technology Industries, or indigenous innovation, or techno-nationalism, or self-strengthening, or China ‘breaking the IP paradigm’,   or China’s Galapagos-style  for local technical standards – whatever you want to call it  — it is also shocking that you didn’t read the signals from the 1970s and 1980s. “

“It was the science and technology people that were negotiating IP issues with us back then – even through the 90’s – including most notably Vice Premier Wu Yi, a petroleum engineer.  Ma Xiuhong, who I understand later became Vice Minister, was an engineer with the People’s Liberation Army.  My IP negotiating counterpart was Duan Ruichun, from the State Science and Technology Commission.  We sent our lawyers, and they sent their engineers and Ph.D.’s!  Did any of you fellows every study Chinese history and look at how China safeguarded its own technology, like sericulture, from the Romans? Have you read Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China….They knew early on the value of technology!”

“Forced Technology Transfer?!”, Rip added, “How about this language from the Office of Technology Assessment Report (OTA) report on Technology Transfer to China in 1988 that I worked on: ‘Although most U.S. firms approach the China market with the intent to sell products, many find they must include technology transfer if they wish to gain access to the China market.’”

“We were also aware when we wrote that report that China was modernizing with military goals in mind,” Rip noted: “‘Our report went on: ‘If China is to become a major power, it will be through developing its own capabilities throughout the economy. Thus, in the long term, technology transfer will have a great military effect if it spurs innovation, modernized thinking, research and development, and economic growth generally.’”

“This isn’t a state secret!” Rip showed me a picture he was given from the Ministry of Science and Technology website that says “indigenous innovation” next to a Chinese missile.

zizhuchuangxin

“To save the situation of the United States, you might want to look at ourselves.  OTA was closed after that report, as was the Technology Administration of Commerce, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House was also defunded from engaging in China.”

Rip pulled out his perfectly preserved copy of the OTA report from 1988:

ota

“By the way,” Rip asked “Are there any foreign commercial service officers posted overseas that have technology promotion as an export goal? Has the US census changed its antiquated reporting system where it reports technology transfer as exports of ‘industrial processes’– whatever that means…”   Rip was getting agitated. “I would have thought that the US would at least take steps inside our own government to improve  our knowledge and engagement on these issues.”

Rip scratched his beard, told me that he felt like Diogenes looking for a good man by the light of his lantern in ancient Greece.  Rather than looking for an honest man,  he had no idea where to find anybody who understood technology trade in a US government agency in DC.

diogenes.jpgPainting of Diogenes looking for an honest man

“There are WTO cases that could have been filed.  In addition to investigating whether China has an ‘adequate or effective’ IP regime under the TRIPS Agreement, and all the other general requirements of the TRIPS Agreement I talked about,  there might also be cases about the role of the state as infringer and misappropriator of trade secrets and the state’s role as a cyber-spy,  China’s watering down of IP rights through antitrust and denying due process to US lawyers, and there’s always the possibility of a ‘non-violation’ or ‘situation’ complaint.  I understand there is a moratorium in the TRIPS Council on these generalized ‘non-violation’ complaints, but it still might be worth pursuing them.  We could also look at other remedies, such as using the countervailing duty law that China is using subsidies to undercut what we reasonably expected by China’s accession to the Information Technology Agreement.  Hell, he said, “even our lawyers can’t function well in China because the market is so restricted and they are paying higher taxes on their China revenue than Chinese lawyers, even though they are often providing the same kind of advice on Chinese law or foreign law.  That seems to be a national treatment violation of the GATS to me….”

“Many of these cases would be fact-intensive and difficult,” I said.  “They might also invite retaliation…”

“Difficult? You think you have it bad?” Rip asked indignantly. “China has finally gotten around to publishing its cases, and its patent and trademark databases are pretty transparent.  Back in the day, you had to hire a Chinese lawyer to look at the few databases or books that were only available to them.  The trademark classification system was a secret.  Moreover, most judges didn’t have legal training so judgments might not be well-worded.   In fact, back then lawyers would sit around a table exchanging information about the little pieces of information they had about the “nei-bu” (internal)  laws that were governing their clients’ investments.  We had to bring a 301 case just to get China to publish its laws and regulations.  Now you not only have more information, but you also have Chinese lawyers trained in the US system and US lawyers that have graduated from Chinese law schools.  This is a lot better than the random shots we were taking without much information to improve China’s legal environment.”

“Moreover, now the government actually publishes draft laws and regulations for comment, as well as the laws and lots of the enforcement data.  In fact, the Chinese government has been promoting open government platforms, including publishing of cases.  Today you have more data and much more transparency.  Has anybody looked at the licensing data?  Has anybody looked at how the patent office and courts treat foreigners and whether full national treatment is available?  If you want to avoid retaliation against companies, just use the data….” Rip fumed, “we would have died for this kind of information back in the 1990s.  Youse guys don’t know from difficult. ”  Rip’s New York accent was manifesting itself.

“I also don’t understand why US companies don’t bring many cases to the Chinese courts! I understand about 1% of the IP litigation in China today involves foreigners. That is really pathetic. Companies have kept on running to the US government on the same issues but often didn’t pursue the legal remedies that we negotiated.  Not only do Chinese companies file far more cases, but they also bring cases against their own government if the facts support it.  One group of Chinese citizens actually sued the Supreme People’s Court on a land use matter some years ago.  I think those people had more to fear from retaliation than some American companies.    Some of us seem to be scared of our own shadow.”

“We have to acknowledge some of the recent positive changes too.   I like it that China has a new foreign investment law that says the government can’t compel tech transfer as a condition of investment approval, and they finally discarded their tech transfer regime.  I wish you good luck on supervising those, however, particularly if you don’t do the data-driven analytics.  I also like the new appellate IP court.  It is like our own CAFC, and they are increasing damages in the courts, and have increased transparency and are experimenting with case law. I don’t think the US should be pursuing punitive damages in China however, as much as compensatory actual damages.  We have to let the civil system fulfill its role as the primary arbiter of disputes around private property rights.  You guys in the government should be all over this.  In fact, you should be sharing your views with industry, including your comments on draft laws,  rather than treating your comments and engagements as some kind of secret negotiations.  These are important reforms that could have wider consequences.  And you don’t have to be in a trade war to talk about them with China or with our own industry.”

“But there have also been negative developments, and it seems like you have been ignoring both the good and the bad. Today, it is harder to get a pharmaceutical patent in China than back in 1995, when we finally got China to grant patents for new pharmaceutical compounds.”

“Moreover, back around 20 years ago, I saw that the likelihood that a US company would get a patent granted for a semiconductor patent in some classes was nearly 100%.  By 2014, the grant rate drops dramatically to between forty and sixty percent.” Rip looked around sheepishly on that one: “Are you certain I wasn’t the only one asleep?

“The reasons for these changes are pretty obvious.  China needed foreign investment or international recognition back then.  Motorola’s semiconductor plant was the big foreign investment project in the 1990s when I was getting ready to fall asleep.  We left you with a pretty good, improving track record then on pharma and semiconductor issues.  Now China believes it doesn’t need to offer the same protection.  We wrote the TRIPS agreement to promote private property rights and transparency.  We brought China into the WTO with multiple additional commitments, possibilities for review of China’s IP regime, and to ensure there was no discrimination against industrial sectors in patent grants, litigation, and other areas.  How are those projects going?”

I told Rip that I was unaware of any such projects.

“If you started looking at the data, you might have a different view of what is really going on and how to use the WTO.  For instance, I know many in the US were upset when China didn’t need to change its criminal IP laws in 2007 as a result of a split decision on a WTO case.  But in the next several years the number of criminal IP cases in China went up dramatically.  It seems the US ultimately identified a real problem to China.  You could also say the same thing about US efforts to get China to publish its IP cases in 2007.  Today China has public databases with most cases available online.  You don’t need to win the dispute in a written decision in order to make a difference. ”

”I know the data is incomplete.” He added.  “ I noticed, for example, that not all the cases were being published.  There is lots missing.  But the missing data is also instructive.  Back then, we had real China watchers.”

For a moment, Rip looked like the Wizard from the Wizard of Oz giving a heart to the Tin Man, knowing that he already had one: “These China watchers looked for what was missing in China in the reports, not what China told us about its system.  They learned their lessons from the old Soviet Union, that is, they learned to look at what is missing in a photograph of Red Square or an economic report.”

Tinman

“As for this Confucius Institute problem, I see that the Modern Language Association reports that Chinese language studies are dropping in this country (13% between 2013 and 2016).  Are we supposed to rely on China to teach us about China? I guess that doesn’t matter, since even that pathetic effort is under attack.”

confuciusinstitute

“By the way, I heard that these problems of Chinese misappropriation of US technology might even affect private and public US science and technology collaboration, where China was entitled to own all improvements to technology licensed to China.  I would hope that the US government and industry would share any information that they have on this so that we can learn from it, and we could have a data-driven discussion around it…!”

Rip was feeling exhausted.  “When I first woke up, I thought this had to be a Sputnik moment.  The US would need to get back on its feet, revitalize its competitiveness and invest in science and science diplomacy.  I was wrong.  This is more of a Pogo moment than a Sputnik one.  We are forgetting technology, misunderstanding China, eroding our IP system, and not utilizing the tools we put into place.”

POGO

“You see, the problem isn’t that China has become the new Japan, nor is the problem that China doesn’t protect IP,” Rip concluded. “The problem is that the US forgot the significance of two elements of IP in China: (a) the Chinese economy is state-controlled and includes economic plans involving IP, and  (b) IP is a private right.”

He sighed, “I recognize that there are other trade issues, but having a foreign state adopt socialist-style economic plans on innovation is a recipe for government intervention into the markets to the disadvantage of foreigners, and for frustrated trade negotiations on IP or innovation.  These should have been addressed consistently and head-on.”

As we closed the interview, Rip looked increasingly exhausted.  He took me on a slow stroll past Lafayette Square in Washington, DC and gave me one final suggestion.  “Why don’t you try and bring back some of the old team, like the folks who worked on the OTA project  – some of those folks are still around – gee, even that greenhorn Craig Allen is now the President of the US-China Business Council, isn’t he?  He was just an intern when we worked together at OTA.  My old friends who worked on that OTA report, the China lawyer Stan Lubman and the China innovation expert Pete Suttmeier, are still around.  They didn’t have the benefit of a twenty-year beauty nap like me, but then again, I would hope they hadn’t fallen asleep at the wheel like the rest of you.”

And with that, Rip looked wistfully at the White House, thinking of his little family hamlet in the Hudson Valley, and the historic sacrifices of his family for his country since the founding of the Republic.   He tucked himself into some worn bedding and closed his eyes to the traffic and tourists.  If you travel to Washington, DC you may still hear him snoring gently near the White House gates.

Don’t think of him as just another homeless person.  He is really waiting for the right moment for the country to wake up again.

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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.

 

 

 

 

On Avoiding “Rounding Up the Usual Suspects” In the Patent Law Amendments …

 

Although many of the proposed changes in China’s patent law amendments are welcome, the draft amendments also present a difficult  choice in two key areas: (a) patent administrative enforcement and (b) punitive civil damages.

(A)The draft, if enacted, would enhance patent administrative enforcement through national coordination of large cases (Art. 70), expanding authority of administrative enforcement for infringement (Art. 69), and enhanced fines of five times illegal earnings or up to 250,000 RMB (Art. 68).  These efforts should be seen against the background of a huge ramp up in administrative enforcement in patents,  that has now eclipsed administrative enforcement of trademarks (77,000 to 31,000 cases).    Moreover, there appears to be a continuing interest of the Chinese government in special campaigns to deal with patent infringement, such as in a recently announced MOU with NDRC, and in a proposed campaign to deal with infringement issues faced by foreigners at the beginning of the current 301 investigation.

How much will these efforts help foriegn business people? The record on special campaigns is that most improvements are short-lived and perhaps focus too much on “rounding up the usual suspects” by local enforcement agencies (Casablanca).  Enhancements in administrative patent enforcement are also an about-face from the prior dominant role that trademarks played in administrative IP enforcement and the relatively minor role that patent administrative enforcement traditionally played in China.  Also of concern is that administrative trademark enforcement had uniquely been frequently utilized by foreign entities as complainants/victims.  For example, there were 17,022 administrative trademark enforcement actions taken by SAIC on behalf of foreigners in 2011.  This was nearly 14 times the number of all foreign-related civil litigation involving all types of IP rights that were disposed of by the China courts in that year (1,321).    In addition, as the Apple design patent case demonstrated in Beijing, foreigners may easily end up on the defensive side in these administrative patent cases that are typically brought by local government officials.    It is therefore uncertain how much, if at all, enhanced administrative patent enforcement will benefit foreigners.

(B)  The proposed draft would also provide for punitive damages upon a judicial finding of  willful patent infringement (Art. 72), with a maximum of 5x damages.  To many this may appear to be a welcome improvement. Punishing willful IP infringement is currently a policy that both the US and Chinese leaders share.  On the US side, the term IP “theft” appears 119 times in the Section 301 Report, while civil damages and compensation appear hardly at all.  On April 9, 2018, President Trump tweeted that he is “Defiant” and that he “Will End …Massive I.P. Theft” by China. Premier Li Keqiang apparently shares some of this enthusiasm.  He had noted in his annual report on the work of the government, that China needs to “improve IP protection, and implement a system for punitive damages against infringement “加强知识产权保护,实行侵权惩罚性赔偿制度” .

While punishment is an important tool, the more pervasive problem is that basic civil remedies are too weak.  Actual damages are in fact rarely imposed by Chinese courts and, have been the outlier.  Courts impose statutory damages in over 90% of all patent cases as well as in other IP areas.  In the Beijing IP Court median damages awarded for patent infringement in 2016 were only 112,500 RMB, or less than 20,000 USD. Rather than unduly emphasizing punishment, a better structural place to start is in improving the civil system to achieve maximum compensatory deterrence.

Intellectual property is fundamentally a private right (TRIPS Agreement, preface), and adequate civil remedies should therefore be the priority.  Using remedies that are not at the core of a healthy IP system based on private rights (administrative remedies/punitive damages)  are not a substitute for predictable, compensatory private remedies. In fact, the administrative system affords no private compensation to victims.  Punitive and administrative remedies are also often left to the discretion of the enforcement agencies, which can result in unpredictable enforcement.  In 2017 for example, despite the pressure on China to address trade secret theft, criminal cases declined by 35%.

By focusing on deterrent civil remedies that are fairly administered, the US will find common cause with many Chinese officials.  The issue was addressed  by Justice Tao Kaiyuan of the Supreme People’s Court  who similarly believes that the civil patent system is the primary enforcement mechanism for private patent rightsJustice Luo Dongchuan, who is now in charge of China’s new appellate IP circuit court, also underscored the importance of the IP courts in advancing rule of law in a visit to the US.  In an article I wrote,  with former PTO Director David Kappos and Chief Judge  Rader (ret), we also underscored that China’s administrative system is fundamentally unlike the judicial mechanisms of the USITC, and that better recourse to improved patent enforcement can be had with the courts.

Moreover, these punitive and quasi-legal remedies could easily be turned against the foreign community.  Consider, for example, that due process for foreigners has been a long-standing concern  in Chinese IP matters, well before the current concerns over retaliation over the proposed extradition of Huawei’s CFO.  Moreover, several cases have demonstrated that   foreigners are often the test cases for “improved” enforcement mechanisms in IP, such as in Chint v. Schneider (high patent damages), Iwncomm v Sony (injunctive relief in a SEP case), AMEC v Veeco (preliminary injunctions in patent infringement matters), antitrust cases involving licensing  and even the first publicized criminal copyright case, in which the principal defendants were two Americans (Guthrie and Cody).

I believe that China needs to focus its patent enforcement resources on the courts, and especially to give the new national appellate IP court a try in providing balanced and fair enforcement of IP rights, both foreign and domestic.  Both the US and China might try to focus more on much delayed and long overdue improvements in the civil system, some of whic are contemplated by the patent law amendments.  A rhetoric based too much around punishment may in the end prove to be self-defeating in the absence of necessary legal guarantees such as improvements in awarding compensatory damages, greater procedural due process, and improved transparency in the courts and administrative agencies.

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Bottom photo of the author in front of a Nanshan District Shenzhen IP Office sign “Create the Most Strict IP Protection Pioneering District” (Jan. 2019).  The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s own.  Please address any corrections or improvements to: chinaipr@yahoo.com