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.  

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.

shenzhenstrictlyprotectip

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

 

 

Sedona Conference January 17: Patent Protection and International Competitiveness

On January 17, 2019 in Washington, DC, many of the country’s leading patent experts, including USPTO Director Andrei Iancu, will gather to discuss how the U.S. patent system can be optimized for the benefit of all stakeholders.  The focus this year is on  “Promoting Invention, Entrepreneurship, Economic Growth, and Job Creation” .  The initial sessions focus on statutory subject matter, PTAB and remedies.  I will be participating in the last session focusing on how developments in Europe and China differ from the United States and could impact the innovation ecosystems of each region.   Former Chief Judge Paul Michel and former USPTO Director David Kappos will be co-moderating this session, which will also include former WIPO Deputy Director General for Innovation and Technology, Jim Pooley, Galit Gonen from Teva and Ami Patel Shah from Fortress Investment Group.

I have followed some of these issues in this blog, including the SIPO examination guideline revisions on software and life science patents, the role of industrial policy in patent grants in China, and the availability of injunctive relief (including in SEP cases, as well as preliminary injunctions).   The problems in differing approaches to patentability was also highlighted by me in written testimony before the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission earlier this year (see p. 145).

Sedona conferences are highly interactive, policy-oriented expert discussions.  These are typically not one-off events, as they can often involve follow-up in the form of position papers or other efforts.

I hope that some of the readers from this blog can attend and contribute their insights, especially to my session. If you are interested, please register now.  More information about the Conference can be found on The Sedona Conference website.

SO MANY CHINA IP CONFERENCES, SO LITTLE TIME…

markatjmls

Here’s a rundown of some past events, and some upcoming ones.  I will provide an update on some of the legal developments at a later date (I know I have been a bit remiss).

On October 4, 2018, I spoke about China at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ program  on “Intellectual Property Enforcement at Trade Fairs.”   My observations: (a) China does not routinely great preliminary injunctions at trade fairs, despite heavy reliance on injunctive relief in final adjudication of IP infringements;  (b) The United States does have robust preliminary injunction/temporary restraining order trade fair remedies; (c) the use of sui generis administrative or quasi-administrative enforcement mechanisms for trade fair enforcement in China may be one reason that judicial remedies are not that common; (d) trade fairs do afford other opportunites – they are excellent evidence gathering opportunities, their use can help satisfy use requirements for a trademark, and they may constitute infringing conduct as an “offer for sale” under the patent law.  Please look through my  power point and tell me if you have any comments.

On November 2, 2018.  John Marshall Law School (JMLS) convened its 62nd annual IP conference I chaired a great breakout session on international developments, with Kira Alvarez, Peter Yu, Cynthia Ho, Tobias Hahn and Prof. Dennis Crouch.   The session discussed the state of global IP and China-specific IP negotiations in the Trump administration.   Kira Alvarez noted the success of the administration in negotiation trade secret commitments in the revised NAFTA.  The panel, along with the audience, also discussed the role of soft diplomacy, rather than trade disputes, to resolve IP-related trade conflicts.  Prof. Dennis Crouch attributed many of the changes in civil litigation globally to the work of former Chief Judge Rader “who was really using his gregarious nature to reach out and become close friends with the leading jurists around the world.”  This point was restated by many during the conference and thereafter.  The photo above is from the JMLS international IP panel with Kira to my right.

I also participated at the JMLS annual IP  conference in a plenary discussion on antitrust and IP developments, moderated by Prof. Hugh Hansen of Fordham with  Carlos Aboim, David Djavaherian, Suzanne Munck (FTC),  Prof. Ioannis Lianos, University College London and  Annsley Merelle Ward.   I looked at the evolution of Chinese judicial practice regarding SEPS, which are a remarkable set of steps in light of there being no substantive change in antitrust or patent law during this period, and likely reflect increased judicial experience as well as the impact of economic changes in China as an emerging licensor.  These developments were previously discussed in this blog.  I also discussed China’s historical reliance on civil law measures to deal with IP misuse, rather than remedies under the patent law or antitrust law, and how these compare with US practice.

On November 5, 2018, Dan Rosen (Rhodium Group) launched another path breaking paper “Missing Link – Corporate Governance in China’s State Sector” at the Asia Society of Northern California.  A copy can be found here.  The video of the launch can be found here.  The focus of my comments was on whether SOE’s can play a more active role in China’s innovation plans, and the awkward fit between SOE’s and global trading rules.  I believed that existing efforts to provide greater market accountability and transparency for SOE’s (and more broadly, China) have not achieved their intended outcomes despite  the extensive commitments negotiated with China at WTO accession.

I gave a talk at the IP Dealmakers Forum in NY on November 8, 2018 with several individuals involved in financing litigation, providing patent analytics, buying Chinese patents  – Roger Tu, Y. P. Jou,  Brian Yates, iPEL, and Bill Yuen.  Brian Yates’ company had just been the subject of a Chinese article regarding whether patent assertion entities will now be/should now be coming to China, that was posted by IPHouse.  I think many in the room shared my skepticism that China was now “ripe” for this type of activity, particularly for litigation by foreigners against Chinese.  There was however a general sense that the IP and litigation environment was improving.

In addition to these programs, here are some upcoming events;

November 12, 2018, I will be talking at NYU.  I have always greatly enjoyed the open discussions with Prof. Jerome Cohen (no relation), Ira Belkin and others, and I believe this upcoming event will be no different in my current role at UC Berkeley.

On November 13, 2018, I will be at Columbia University talking about “IP and the China Trade War: Long Overdue, a Pretext, or Both?”     I may be guided by the discussions around that topic at JMLS earlier in November, where many concurred that these actions on IP in China are both overdue and dwarfed by other concerns.

On December 2, 2018, I will be in Shenzhen. Peking University School of Transnational Law (“STL”) will be partnering with Berkeley to present an exciting program on “Legal and  Funding Issues for Successful Startups.”  Both the topics and speakers promise to make this an especially exciting launch event. Here’s the link to register.

On December 3, 2018, I will be at IPBC  Asia moderating a session on “China’s Mandate to Innovate” and its impact on IP commercialization. IPBC has constituted a great panel, including former SPC Chief IP Judge Kong Xiangjun, now Dean at Jiaotong University Law School, and Prof. Yang Guohua of Tsinghua Law School (former Chinese IP Attaché in the US, and DDG of MOfCOM), as well as Liren Chen, from Qualcomm, Eeva Hakoranta from Nokia and Roger Tu from Marconi.

On December 4, I will be at Tsinghua University speaking at the first annual Tsinghua/Berkeley conference on “Transnational IP Litigation: Opportunities and Challenges”.  A copy of the agenda (Chinese) is found here.   We will also have some great speakers for this launch event which focuses, non-exclusively, on US developments.  The speakers include several Tsinghua and Berkeley professors, and leading attorneys from practice in the US and China.  The program will cover a full range of issues including empirical data on litigation trends, venue, jury trials, Section 337 litigation, antitrust, the role of expert witnesses, and licensing strategies to mitigate risk.

I have some other events upcoming in Taiwan in December – but that will be another posting, along with some overdue updates on Chinese IP developments.