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.  

New Draft JI on Enforcement on Criminal IP Laws, Especially Trade Secrets

China’s judicial organs (the Supreme People’s Court [“SPC”] and Supreme People’s Procuratorate [“SPP”]) continue to work on trade secret related judicial developments, with the release on June 17, 2020 of the “Interpretation on Several Issues Concerning the Specific Application of Law in Handling Criminal Cases of Infringement of Intellectual Property (3) (Draft for Comment)《关于办理侵犯知识产权刑事案件具体应用法律若干问题的解释(三)(征求意见稿)》.

This JI covers trademark, copyright, and trade secret-related crimes. Comments are due by August 2 2020 at the SPC (Third Civil or IP Division) and SPP. The focus on trade secrets is self-evident from this document.  The Chinese characters for “secret” 机密appear 36 times, trademarks 商标18 times, and a copyrighted “work”著作 8 times.

Among the major provisions that implicate trade secrets are: (a) clarification of how to satisfy criminal thresholds for trade secret enforcement, including use of illegal losses, gains and causing bankruptcy or major operational difficulties (Art. 4); how to calculate losses, including lost profits, lost sales, revenue and other benefits from the misappropriated trade secret (Art. 5); calculating the proportional value of a trade secret in combination with another  product or technology (Art. 6); use of research and development costs if the secret is lost to satisfy criminal thresholds (Art. 7); other compensatory remedial expenses (Art. 8); sanctions for violating protective orders (Art. 9); increases in penalties for entities that are mainly engaged in IP infringement or in the case of “infringement of commercial secrets for foreign institutions, organizations and personnel” (Art. 10, see my earlier blog); a reduction of penalty when the trade secret is disclosed to obtain an IP right, such as a patent, and the right is vested in the trade secret owner (Art. 11); and prohibition against engaging in certain occupations may be imposed for a period of time as a condition of a sentence (Art. 12).

Comment: trade secrets have often proven to be the subject of intense trade pressure.  However, the pressure is often not persistent, and the issues may therefore also receive inconsistent attention over long periods of time.  Recent trade pressure has contributed to such laudable developments as the revised trade secret law (AUCL), the Phase 1 Trade Agreement, the recent increase in legislative and policy work from the courts on trade secrets including work on JI’s and recent plans by SAMR to revise trade secret related rules.

If you are interested in learning more about how inconsistent trade pressure may have prolonged consideration of trade secret issues such as the definition of a “business operator”, limitations of protection to Chinese “citizens”, the availability of preliminary injunctions, and concerns over requiring “practical applicability” for trade secret protection for as long as 25 years, here is a pdf of a presentation that I gave last week at a Berkeley webinar.

July 4 update: Here is a translation of the draft JI.

July 20 update: Here are the comments of the American Bar Association’s Section on Intellectual Property Law and International Law on the six recent JI’s involving IP, including this JI, and others previously blogged about: Judicial Interpretation on Certain Issues Concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Civil Cases Involving the Misappropriation of Trade Secrets (comments due July 27); Official SPC Reply on the Application of Law in Network-Related Intellectual Property Infringement Disputes (comments due July 27); Guiding Opinions on Hearing Intellectual Property Disputes; Involving E-Commerce Platforms (comments due July 27); Certain Provisions on Evidence in Civil IP Litigation (comments due July 31); Opinions on Increasing Punishment for Intellectual Property Infringement (comments due July 31); Judicial Interpretation Concerning Some Issues on the Specific Application of Law for Handling Criminal Cases of Infringement upon Intellectual Property Rights (comments due August 2).

Updated: June 30, 2020, July 4, 2020, July 20, 2020.

 

More Encouraging News of Trade Secret Reform… But Is It Always Good for the Foreign Community?

James Pooley posted a great blog on IPwatchdog on the recently released draft judicial interpretation on trade secrets (the “Trade Secrets JI”).  In his blog, “Has China Finally Embraced Trade Secret Protection ”,  Mr. Pooley discusses aspects of the draft JI that embrace or expand upon US practices including: “combination secrets”, “reasonable efforts”, “indirect misappropriation”, “head start injunction” and apportionment of damages based on fault.   Mr. Pooley also notes that “this most recent pronouncement seems in some respects to go beyond what was required [from the Phase 1 Trade Agreement], and in those respects also seems to reflect an imprint of U.S. practices.“  I agree.

Individuals who expect all of China’s recent IP reforms to be in response to US pressure are, for the most part, likely to be pleasantly disappointed — for the most part.   As an example, the Trade Secrets JI also reflect China’s own evolving practices in trade secrets and other areas, including the availability of punitive damages, the emergence of a limited discovery regime, and implied obligations of confidentiality notwithstanding the non-existence of an NDA (see Contract law, Art. 43, now amended by the Civil Code).  Moreover, the evolving system in China for trade secrets will likely also benefit by the increasing competence of the IP tribunals and courts, including the “three in one” courts which combine civil, criminal and administrative IP jurisdiction.  As noted in another recent blog, China is also seeking to improve its criminal IP enforcement regime through more further development of the three-in-one system, and further development of evidentiary standards in criminal cases, as well as more active roles for prosecutors and police, among other measures.

While the ink is hardly dry on this Trade Secrets JI, China has since announced two other draft JI’s for public comment:  “Some Provisions on Evidence in Intellectual Property Litigation (Consultation Draft)” (the “Evidence JI”)  and the “Opinions on Increasing the Level of Sanctions for Intellectual Property Infringement (Consultation Draft)”(the “Sanctions JI”)《关于知识产权民事诉讼证据的若干规定(征求意见稿)》《关于加大知识产权侵权行为制裁力度的意见(征求意见稿)》(June 15, 2020)。 Comments are due by July 31, 2020.

Here is a quick summary of the trade-secret related provisions in the Evidence  JI:

Article 19 addresses granting protective order for evidence preservation purposes and provides that if a party is a subject of an evidence protection order and claims that a trade secret is involved, the party that requests the evidence protection order cannot participate in on-site evidence preservation procedures,but can engage an attorney, patent agent or another person with specialized IP knowledge (collectively “authorized representatives”) to sign the protective order.

Article 23 authorizes the appointment of expert appraisers to determine if a claimed trade secret consists of information in the public domain, or to determine the differences between the claimed trade secret and the alleged infringing technological information.

The third chapter of this JI regulates the exchange of evidence and includes several provisions regarding protective orders.  Article 31 grants the court authority to structure a protective order to limit access to authorized representatives.  Disclosure of information subject to protective orders shall be limited to the proceeding where the protective order was issued.  Sanctions may be imposed for unauthorized disclosure (Art. 32).  Consent to a protective order once given cannot be withdrawn.  The parties are also free not to engage in an exchange of information  (Art. 34).  Procedures are also established for challenging the secrecy of evidence, including providing rebuttal evidence and cross-examination of witnesses.  If a party succeeds in having the information considered as non-secret, it shall be considered as such during the proceeding (Art. 35).

Here are some provisions in the Sanctions JI:

Expedited proceedings are provided for serial infringers.  In addition, punitive damages should be imposed on serial infringers (Arts. 9, 20, 21). If actual damages are proven, they should be provided to the rights-holder (Art. 10).  Punitive damages should be imposed for their deterrent effect (Art. 13). Reasonable attorneys’ fees may be provided if there is a willful infringement and in a complex case (Art. 17). Attorneys’ fees and other expenses shall be compensated for in the case of malicious litigation where the right is unjustly obtained or there is not a substantial basis for its exercise (Art. 19).

Of particular note is Article 20: Serial infringers of IP rights, as well as those  who steal commercial secrets for foreign agencies, organizations or individuals, shall be subject to severe penalties according to law and generally no probation shall be applied 境外的机构、组织、人员侵犯商业秘密的情形,依法从重处罚,一般不得适用缓刑.

One may ask: why is theft of trade secrets for foreigners being singled out? Article 20 may be China’s response to cases brought against foreigners under the US Economic Espionage Act or similar foreign laws.   However, the EEA requires action “benefit[ing] a foreign government, instrumentality or agent” in 18 USC Sec. 1831.  Article 20 does not, however, single out these security concerns arising from state-drive trade secret misappropriation.

Fairness suggests that those engaged in IP theft on behalf of foreigners should also be afforded the opportunity to avail themselves of defenses otherwise available if a Chinese party were the beneficiary of the trade secret misappropriation. This is also consistent with the requirement under the TRIPS Agreement that punishment is proportionate to crimes “of a corresponding gravity” (Art. 61), and that judicial procedures are “fair and equitable” (Arts. 41 and 42).  The TRIPS obligations to afford national treatment (Art. 1) should also equally apply to a defendant in a proceeding – that he or she should not be singled out because of having worked for a foreigner.  A similar logic applies to the cases brought against the United States involving national treatment under our Section 337 remedy; a heavier defense burden had been placed on foreign entities compared to domestic entities. The provision could also lead to a de facto denial of national treatment for a foreign investor in China who finds that police or prosecutors may be less likely to initiate a case unless there is a trade secret theft that benefits an overseas entity where a heavier sentence could be imposed.  Moreover, this provisions flips US concerns on their head: it does nothing to address the concerns that the United States has expressed regarding trade secret theft in China of US-origin trade secrets, since this law addresses  thefts that were undertaken on behalf of a US entity, not from the overseas entity.

Once any country advocates for more deterrent penalties, it should consider that such penalties may also be applied to non-Chinese defendants, including one’s own nationals, which this provision could easily encompass through its focus on actions on behalf of foreign entities.  To the extent this provision is used to target foreign actors as well as actors for foreign entities, the TRIPS Agreement provides little in the way of guard rails to ensure equality of treatment in IP enforcement proceedings.  Many foreigners are already concerned, as they fear being denied authorization to leave China arising from allegations of civil violations.  In addition, there have also been several precedential IP cases over the years where foreign parties may have served as “guinea pigs” for more deterrent sanctions,  including such cases as Chint v. Schneider Electric [utility model patent damages award]; Qualcomm AML investigation [high antitrust penalty]  Veeco and Micron [preliminary injunctions involving semiconductor patents and unpublished judicial opinions as well as unpublished Customs seizure decision], and PRC v. Guthrie [criminal copyright cases brought against foreigners].

I believe that this draft of Article 20 may be sending the wrong signal.  Actions undertaken for foreigners and Chinese should be treated equally, with equivalent penalties and opportunities for probation.  Moreover, the concept of equality generally applies equally to any right.  If there are concerns regarding national security or difficulties in apprehending a party engaged in trade secret theft on behalf of a foreigners, those can be addressed through other measures such as through bilateral criminal justice cooperation, including mutual extradition arrangements and cooperation in gathering evidence. Such measures would also help restore trust between participating countries.  By providing harsher penalties for trade secret infringement benefiting foreigners, a potential precedent might also be established for any other case benefiting an overseas actor, notwithstanding that the principal concerns appear to be infringement occuring within China.

Note: this post was revised June 30, 2020 to address a reader’s concerns that Article 20 is directed to actions on behalf of foreigners and not simply by foreigners.

Trade Wars: A New Beginning?

Why is this year’s  Special 301 Report (the “Report”) from USTR (April 29, 2019) different from prior reports?  In prior years, this report often repeated materials found elsewhere, such as in the  National Trade Estimate Report (March 2020).  This year’s Report reflects the Phase 1 Trade Agreement (January 15, 2020) (the “Agreement”) and the subsequent Chinese Action Plan (April 20, 2020). More importantly, it also suggests how the US might wish to see the implementation of the Agreement and negotiate a Phase 2 Agreement. There are a number of welcome surprises that suggest a new beginning.

Most importantly, the Report demonstrates a renewed commitment to the rule of law and the role of markets in protecting IP.  As noted in many of the postings of this blog, these were areas that I found seriously deficient in the Agreement.  The Agreement revitalized administrative campaigns and enforcement mechanisms and encouraged punitive mechanisms.  It generally underemphasized compensatory damages and other civil remedies, including appropriate civil procedures, and did not adequately emphasize the need to let market mechanisms govern IP creation and commercialization.

The Report addresses issues that the Phase 1 Agreement war did not, such as “poor quality patents”, “the presence of competition law concepts in the patent law” and challenges faced in trademark prosecution.  The Report also notes that  there are “obstacles in establishing actual damages in civil proceedings,” including a lack of “preliminary injunctive relief.”  These are useful statements, but even more important are the references to judicial procedures.

The Report states that “Chinese judicial authorities continue to demonstrate a lack of transparency”, including publishing only “selected decisions rather than all preliminary injunctions and final decisions.”  In addition, “administrative enforcement authorities fail to provide rights holders with information.” The issue of transparency has been repeatedly reported on in this blog as key to effective oversight of the Agreement.  The Report also notes that “[a] truly independent judiciary is critical to promote the rule of law and to protect IP rights.”  The Report mentions the need for transparency in China’s IP system five separate times.  By comparison, Chapter 1 of the Agreement mentions transparency once (with respect to Geographical Indications),  and not once with respect to judicial or administrative proceedings.

The Report comes down particularly hard in favor of legal process in its discussion on the social credit system, particularly the CNIPA/NDRC  et al, Memorandum of Cooperation on Joint Disciplinary Actions for Seriously Dishonest Subjects in the Field of Intellectual Property (Patent) 关于对知识产权(专利)领域严重失信主体开展联合惩戒的合作备忘录》(the “Dishonesty Measures”) (December 5, 2018) by noting that “these measure lack critical procedural safeguards, such as notice to the targeted entity, clear factors for determinations, or opportunities for appeal.” The Report further concludes that “The United States objects to any attempt to expand the ‘social credit system’ in the field of IP.”

This statement suggests a further distancing of the administration from rhetoric and outcomes of December 2018-May 2019 when the primary goal appeared to be strong legal commitments to punish IP infringement without explicit consideration of due process.  The Dishonesty Measures were likely enacted to appease US concerns on IP on the margins of the G-20 summit (November 30- December 1, 2018).  The concern then appeared to be that they were not sufficiently well-codified, not that they lacked due process.  Larry Kudlow said after the G-20 in 2019, that IP-related provisions (most likely the Dishonesty Measures) need to be “codified by law in China” and should not just be a “state council announcement.”

I am personally gratified to see the reintroduction of concerns over due process and rule of law into the Administration’s discourse of IP, although I believe the complexity of the relationship between IP protection and the social credit system may require further study.  I suspect that it may be difficult for rightsholders commercializing their rights or seeking to enforce judgments to completely distance themselves from the social credit system.

The Report also notes that the US had initiated dispute resolution proceedings against China at the WTO regarding China’s technology licensing regime and that China revised the measures the US had challenged in March 2019. The Report concludes that “[t]he significance of these revisions is under review.”  The Report does not note that the US had agreed to suspend the WTO case due to these legislative revisions, until May 1, 2020, at which time (the date of writing of this blog) it needs to decide whether or not to reinstate this case.  Perhaps USTR did not want to show its hand regarding what it would do effective May 1, 2020 – two days after the Report was issued.  Presumably, the United States will seek an extension of time in light of the continuing “review.”

Whatever decision is made at the WTO, the US team deserves credit for the legislative changes in licensing, forced tech transfer and trademarks that were made in the spring of 2019 and for re-emphasizing due process, the market, and rule of law, in the Report and in United States advocacy for better IP protection in China.