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.  

The Phase 1 IP Agreement: Its Fans and Discontents

How much will the IP Sections of the Phase 1 Agreement (the “Agreement”) with China change  IP strategies in China?   For the most part, the Agreement adds much less than its appearance might suggest.  Many of the important changes that the Agreement memorializes have recently been codified into law or set into motion for forthcoming codification.  There are some important prospective changes in the text, particularly regarding pharmaceutical patent protections and in civil and criminal enforcement.  If these changes are well-implemented, that could augur significant changes in the future.  Nonetheless, a cautious approach should be taken to these changes as well, as many of them have a long history of disappointing US rightsholders.  An additional problem with the Agreement is its reliance on administrative mechanisms that have a track record of not providing sustained protection for IP rights.

The IP-related sections are found in Chapter 1 (“Intellectual Property”) of the Agreement and Chapter 2 (“Technology Transfer”).  Chapter 1 is divided into several sections: General Obligations, Trade Secrets and Confidential Information, Pharmaceutical-Related Intellectual Property, Patents, Piracy and Counterfeiting on E-Commerce Platforms, Geographical Indications, Manufacture and Export of Pirated and Counterfeit Goods, Bad-Faith Trademarks, Judicial Enforcement and Procedure in Intellectual Property Cases, and Bilateral Cooperation on Intellectual Property Protection. Chapter 2 concerns Technology Transfer and is not divided into separate sections.

There are many concerning textual aspects of the Agreement.  For example, it is unclear to me why “Technology Transfer” was not considered an IP issue in the Agreement.  Additional ambiguities are supplied by inconsistent use of legal language as well as differences in the English and Chinese texts, both of which are understood to be equally valid (Art. 8.6).   A careful reading shows that in many cases the Agreement does not afford any new progress on particular issues, but merely serves as a placeholder on issues that have long been under active discussion (e.g., on post-filing supplementation of pharmaceutical data in patent applications).  In contrast to these provisions, however, there are several provisions that appear to break new ground, such as in consularization of court documents by foreigners.

Reactions from the dozens of people I spoke with about the Agreement in the US and China have been mixed.   One prominent Chinese attorney thought that Chinese IP enforcement officials were now much more likely to be responsive to US requests in forthcoming enforcement proceedings.  Several individuals thought that the Agreement would be a great stimulus to IP agencies and the courts in their enforcement efforts as well as in drafting new laws, regulations and judicial interpretations.  Many academics were perplexed by the unclear language in the Agreement.  Some experts shared my view that the Agreement places an undue emphasis on the wrong issues, such as punitive damages, administrative campaigns, and criminal punishment at the expense of compensatory civil compensation.  Due to the numerous errors and inconsistencies in the Agreement, many people speculated that the negotiators on the US side and/or the Chinese side may not have been adequately consulting with experts.  The administrative and Customs enforcement provisions were dismissed by many as show.  On the other hand, it did appear that the Chinese negotiators did rely upon their interagency experts.  Susan Finder, the author of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) Monitor, told me that it was clear that the SPC (and likely the Supreme People’s Procuratorate [SPP]) provided input to the negotiating team.

Review of the Individual Sections and Articles

The trade secret provisions generally memorialize amendments already made to China’s Anti-Unfair Competition Law, including an expanded scope of definition of “operator” (Art. 1.3), acts that constitute trade secret infringement (Art. 1.4), as well as a shifting of burden of proof in civil proceedings where there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a trade secret infringement has occurred (Art. 1.5).  Interestingly, the United States asserts in this section that it provides treatment equivalent to such shifting of a burden of proof.  I am unaware of any nationwide burden-shifting in US civil trade secret proceedings.

The trade secret provisions also require China to provide for preliminary injunctions in trade secret cases where there is an “urgent situation”.   The use of preliminary injunctions to address early-stage trade secret theft has long been under discussion between the US and China.  This is an awkward hybrid of Chinese and English legal standards.   Generally the test in Chinese law for “action preservation”  as in US law for “preliminary injunctions” is whether there is irreparable injury arising from such urgent situation which necessitates provisional relief (See Sec. 101 of Civil Procedure Law)  An “urgent” situation which is not likely to cause irreparable injury does not require granting of a preliminary injunction.   China’s judicial practice currently permits the use of preliminary injunctions where there is a risk of disclosure of such confidential information (关于审查知识产权纠纷行为保全案件适用法律若干问题的规定, Art. 6.1).

The Agreement uses inconsistent nomenclature to describe preliminary injunctions.  The Chinese text does not refer to preliminary injunctions but refers to an overlapping concept of “action preservation.” Other provisions of the Agreement discuss “preliminary injunctions or equivalent effective provisional measures” (Art. 1-11).

Historically, Chinese judges have been highly reluctant to issue preliminary injunctions.  As Susan Finder has noted in an email to me, the language in the Agreement also does address the underlying structural problem that judges may be reluctant to give injunctions because they are concerned they will be found to have incorrectly issued them, and hence held accountable under the judicial responsibility system.  The utility of provisional measures is also quite different in the Chinese system than in the US.  China also concludes its court cases far more quickly than the United States, thereby providing more immediate relief, often without needing recourse to provisional measures if there is not an urgent need.

The Agreement also requires China to change its trade secret thresholds for “initiating criminal enforcement.” (Art. 1.7).   The Agreement does not specify what measures are to be reformed, such as the Criminal Law or Judicial Interpretations,  or standards for initiating criminal investigations by public security organs and/or the procuracy and State Administration for Market Regulation administrative enforcement agencies (See, e.g., 关于公安机关管辖的刑事案件立案追诉标准的规定(二)).  The issue of what constitutes “great loss” for calculating criminal thresholds has itself been the subject of discussion and changing standards over the years.

As mentioned in Susan Finder’s November 26, 2019, blogpost, a judicial interpretation on trade secrets is on the SPC’s judicial interpretation agenda for 2020, scheduled for issuance in the first half of the year.  Additional guidance may be expected from the procuratorate, SAMR, and Ministry of Public Security to address criminal enforcement issues.

Consistent with the Foreign Investment Law, the Agreement also prohibits government authorities from disclosing confidential business information (Art. 1.9).

The Pharmaceutical-Related Intellectual Property section of the Agreement requires China to adopt a patent linkage system, much as was originally contemplated in the CFDA Bulletin 55, but subsequently did not appear in the proposed patent law revisions of late 2018.   Linkage will be granted to an innovator on the basis that a company has a confidential regulatory data package on file with China’s regulatory authorities, and where a third party seeks to rely upon safety and efficacy information of another party.  The drafters seem to be describing a situation similar to an Abbreviated New Drug Application (ANDA) in the United States under the US Hatch-Waxman regime.  According to US procedures, a generic company needs to demonstrate, inter alia, bioequivalent safety and efficacy to an innovator’s pharmaceutical product in order to obtain regulatory approval.  Notice is thereafter provided to the patent holder or its licensee of the application for regulatory approval to address the possibility that the generic company may be infringing the innovator’s patent(s).   China’s proposed linkage regime also extends to biologics (Art 1.11).  Taiwan has also recently introduced a linkage regime.

The Agreement requires an administrative or judicial process for an innovator to challenge a generic company’s market entry based on the generic infringement of a patent held by the innovator  It omits a requirement to amend China’s patent law or civil procedure law to permit a court to act when there is an “artificial infringement” by reason of approval of an infringing product for regulatory approval, notwithstanding the lack of any infringing manufacturing, use or sale of the product prior to its introduction into commerce in China. The lack of a concept of “artificial infringement” could make it difficult to implement a civil linkage regime in China.  In fact, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Beijing Intellectual Property Institute (BIPI) had specifically recommended revising Article 11 of China’s patent law to address this issue.  BIPI had noted in its report that “Lacking of artificial infringement provisions results in lacking [sic] of legal grounds for the brand drug company to safeguard their legal rights.” This provision likely reflects continuing turf battles between the courts and China’s administrative IP agencies in enforcing IP rights.

The Agreement also does not reference regulatory data protection obligations, which was one of China’s WTO obligations, nor does it reference China’s efforts to adopt an ‘orange book’ similar to the US FDA’s to govern patent disclosures and regulatory data protection as recommended by CFDA Bulletin 55.  This section also reiterates in general terms a commitment by China to provide for post-filing supplementation of data in pharmaceutical patent matters, which has been a long-standing request of the US reflected in several JCCT commitments.  Permitting post-filing supplementation is necessary to support a linkage regime, as, in the absence of any meaningful patent grants, China’s patent linkage commitments would be a hollow outcome.

The  Patent Section continues the focus on pharmaceutical IP by providing for patent term extension due to regulatory delays for pharmaceutical patents, including patents methods of making and using pharmaceutical products (Art. 1.12).  The draft patent law already provides for patent term extension.  The additional encouragement is welcome, however.

There are no provisions in this Agreement addressing non-pharmaceutical patent concerns.   Companies that may have concerns about standards-essential patent prosecution or litigation, low-quality patents, patent trolls, procedures involving civil or administrative litigation involving patents or Customs enforcement of patents, China’s increasing interest in litigating global patent disputes for standards-essential patents, the relationship between industrial policy and patent grants, design patent protection, China’s amending its plant variety protection regime and acceding to the most recent treaty obligations, etc.,  will find that their issues are not addressed.

Section E on “Piracy and Counterfeiting on E-Commerce Platforms” addresses “enforcement against e-commerce platforms”.  By its terms, it does not specifically discuss e-tailers, online service providers or other third parties.

The text apparently seeks to clarify and update the E-Commerce Law by eliminating the liability of platforms for erroneous takedown notices submitted in good faith,  extending mandating a time period of 20 days for rightsholders to file an administrative or judicial response to a counternotification, and penalizing counter-notifications taken in bad faith.

Article 1.14 specifically addresses infringement on “major” e-commerce platforms. As part of this commitment, China also agreed to revoke the operating licenses of e-commerce platforms that repeatedly fail to curb the sale of counterfeit and pirated goods.  It is unclear from this text if this provision is limited to “major” platforms as the title suggests (in both English and Chinese), or to platforms of any size as the Article itself states.  In addition, it is unclear what kind of “operating license” is involved: the business license, or a license to operate an internet business.  Whatever license is involved, this remedy has theoretically been available for some time for companies that sell infringing goods.  As I recall, past efforts to use license revocations to address IP infringement had little success.  Smaller enterprises might also easily circumvent the license revocation by establishing a new business incorporated or operated under their name or that of a relative or friend.

Article 1.14  notes that the United States “is studying additional means to combat the sale of counterfeit or pirated goods.”  According to news reports, the USTR has threatened to place Amazon on the  list of “notorious markets.” Since the publication of the Agreement, Peter Navarro at the White House has also threatened to crack down on US platforms due to the increased pressure of the trade deal to “combat the prevalence of counterfeit or pirated goods on e-commerce platforms.”

The Geographical Indications (GI) Section (F) continues long-standing US engagement with China with respect to its GI system.   The Agreement ensures that multi-component terms that contain a generic term will not be protected as a GI, consistent with prior bilateral commitments.  China will also share proposed lists of GI’s it exchanges with other trading partners with the US to help ensure that generic terms are not protected as GI’s.  The competing GI systems of the United States and China have been the subject of decades of diplomacy.

Section G requires China to act against counterfeit pharmaceuticals and related products, including active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) (Art. 1.18).  It is unclear if these APIs need to be counterfeited to be seized, or if they should be liable for seizure because they are low quality or perhaps contribute to the manufacturing of counterfeit goods.  The issue of API’s contributing to the production of counterfeit medicine has long been a discussion point between the US and China and had been the subject of JCCT outcomes.

China is also required to act against “Counterfeit Goods with Health and Safety Risks” (Art. 1.19).  The text does not explicitly address unsafe products that do not bear a counterfeit trademark or the enforcement agencies that will implement this commitment.  Generally, the burden of enforcing against counterfeit products belong to trademark enforcers, rather than enforcement officials involved in product quality or consumer protection violations.  However, the National Medical Products Administration and/or the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology are specifically named as enforcement agencies in a related provision to this one (Art. 1.18).

This section also seeks to address “Manufacture and Export” of these goods, including “block[ing]” their distribution (chapeau language).  It does not elaborate on how such cross-border steps will be undertaken – such as by Customs agents, law enforcement authorities, cooperation between food and drug regulatory agencies, or through bilateral or multilateral law enforcement cooperation.

The failure to clearly designate a responsible agency in these commitments can lead to problems with enforcing IP rights.  The academic literature, including that of Prof. Martin Dimitrov,  has suggested that when multiple agencies have unclear and overlapping IP enforcement authority, they may be more inclined to shirk responsibility.  I hope that coordination mechanisms for these and other outcomes have been well-negotiated to address this issue.

Article 1.20 addresses the destruction of counterfeit goods by Customs, in civil judicial proceedings and in criminal proceedings.    Article 1-20(1) requires Customs to not permit the exportation of counterfeit or pirated goods  The Article does not define what is a “counterfeit” good, or whether manufacturing a product for export may constitute infringement by a third party that holds the right in China.

Article 1.20(2)(d) requires the courts to order that a rightsholder be compensated for injury from infringement in civil judicial procedures.

The Agreement requires that materials and implements which are “predominantly” used in the creation of counterfeit and pirated goods shall be forfeited and destroyed.  This “predominant use” test is derived from the TRIPS agreement. It regrettably provides a basis for goods that are demonstrated to have a less than dominant use (e.g.,  49.9 percent) to avoid forfeiture and destruction.   A better test might have been to encourage China to use a “substantial use” test, or a test based simply on use in commercial-scale counterfeiting and piracy.

Destruction of counterfeit goods in administrative trademark proceedings is not discussed in this Agreement.

Section H addresses bad faith registration of trademarks.  No specific action is required by China in the text.  However, certain steps have already been undertaken by relevant agencies to address this important issue.

Section I requires the transfer of cases from administrative authorities to “criminal authorities” when there is a “reasonable suspicion based on articulable facts” that a criminal violation has occurred.  “Criminal authorities” are not defined.  This could include the Ministry of Public Security and/or the Procuracy. The intent behind this provision is likely to ensure more deterrent penalties for IP violations and avoid the use of administrative penalties as a safe harbor to insulate against criminal enforcement.  This problem of low administrative referrals is an old one.  In bilateral discussions of the last decade, we would often inquire about the “administrative referral rate” of China, which is the percentage of administrative IP cases that were referred to criminal prosecution, which has historically been quite low. See National Trade Estimates Report (2009) at pp. 101-102.  However, if administrative agencies are required to transfer cases at an earlier stage to the Procuratorate, it will have little impact unless the prosecutors accept the case and initiate prosecutions.  A loophole in this text may be that it does not mandate that a case is accepted for prosecution after it has been referred by administrative agencies, thereby risking non-action by prosecutors.

Article 1.27 requires China to establish civil remedies and criminal penalties to “deter” future intellectual property theft or infringements.  These requirements are also found in the TRIPS Agreement.  The Agreement conflates the role of civil remedies and criminal penalties and their deterrent impact.   Civil remedies should, at a minimum, deter or stop (制止,阻止) the defendant from repeating the infringing act, whereas criminal remedies might provide broader social deterrence (威慑 as in nuclear “deterrence”). It is unclear from both the English and Chinese text what or who is being deterred.

The Agreement also requires China to impose penalties at or near the maximum when a range of penalties is provided and to increase penalties over time.

These provisions regarding criminal enforcement generally reflect concerns articulated in the unsuccessful WTO IP case the US brought against China to lower its IP criminal thresholds (DS362).  However, the lost lesson from that case may be that criminal thresholds are not as important as other factors in creating deterrence. Prosecutors may still decline to prosecute cases.  Law enforcement may also lack adequate resources. Judges may also have discretion in imposing sentences.  The calculation of the thresholds themselves, whether based on illegal income or harm caused, may be difficult to assess.  Simply increasing criminal cases through lower thresholds may not be enough to create a healthy IP environment.

The Agreement does nothing to advance procedural safeguards to criminal defendants in IP cases.  China’s IP history demonstrates that foreigners are often named as defendants in serious civil or criminal cases. The first significant criminal copyright case in China involved American defendants distributing counterfeit DVD’s.  More recently, patent preliminary injunction cases were granted in favor of two different Chinese entities in two cases against American defendants (Micron and Veeco). The largest patent damages case involved the first instance decision in Chint v. Schneider Electric (330 million RMB).  The NDRC investigation of Qualcomm similarly pioneered high antitrust damages in an IP licensing matter.  In many instances,  the final decisions in pioneering cases where foreigners lost were also never published.  Given this track record, we might not want to be advocating for harsher enforcement in the absence of greater commitments to due process and transparency.

The Agreement also pioneers by providing for expeditious enforcement of judgments (Article 1.28).  This is a welcome step and should also be supported by additional transparency in this area.

Over the past several years, there has been an increasing incidence of multijurisdictional IP disputes, particularly in technology sectors.  The Agreement does not address the problems arising from these cases.  It does not mention that China does not enforce US judgments, although the US has begun enforcing Chinese money judgments, nor does it address the practice of many Chinese courts to fast track their decision making to undercut US cases.  Generally, US lawyers cannot conduct discovery in China and formal international procedures to collect evidence are slow.  Both Chinese and US courts often rarely apply foreign law, even when such law may be more appropriate to resolution of a dispute.  Based on a recent program I attended at Renmin University, it also appears likely that Chinese courts will issue their own anti-suit injunctions soon.  The Agreement also does not require anything further in terms of judicial assistance in gathering evidence.  These are areas for potential cooperation as well as confrontation.  Indeed Berkeley and Tsinghua have held a continuing series of conferences on this topic.  At the recent Renmin University conference, British, German, US and Chinese judges exchanged their views on these topics in a cordial and productive manner.  It is my hope that this topic is an area of collaboration, not confrontation.

Regarding copyright, Article 1.29 provides for a presumption of ownership in copyright cases and requires the accused infringer to demonstrate that its use of a work protected by copyright is authorized.  It would also have been helpful if the US and China had discussed the problem of title by title lawsuits in China, which has also increased costs of litigation through requiring multiple non-consolidated lawsuits for one collection of songs or other works.  One Chinese academic confided in me that the current practice of requiring that each individual title be the subject of an individual lawsuit was not the original practice in China’s courts and that the old practice was more efficient for both the courts and rightsholders.

The Chinese and English texts of the Agreement also differ to the extent that the English text refers to the US system of related rights, while the Chinese next refers to the Chinese (and European system) of neighboring rights.

In terms of civil procedure, Article 1.30 permits the parties to introduce evidence through stipulation or witness testimony under penalty of perjury, as well as requiring streamlined notarization procedures for other evidence.  China generally lacks a concept of authenticating a document under penalty of perjury.  The impact of this provision is therefore unclear.

Article 1.31 similarly permits expert witness testimony.  Expert witnesses are already permitted under existing Chinese law, although the trend appears to favor greater use of such expert witnesses.  Moreover, Chinese courts have been expanding the role of expert technology assessors to provide support for technologically complex cases.  The exact impact of this provision is also uncertain, although we can expect further developments from the courts in this area in the future, particularly in anticipated guidance concerning evidence in IP cases.

Article 1.35 requires that China adopt an action plan to implement the IP chapter of the Agreement.  The Agreement also supports reinstatement of cooperative relationships with the USPTO, the USDOJ and US Customs.

Chapter 2 addresses US allegations regarding forced technology transfer.  It prohibits China from seeking technology transfer overseas consistent with its industrial plans subject to the qualifier that such plans  “create distortion.”  Distortion is not defined.

Other provisions prohibit require technology transfer as a condition of market access, using administration or licensing requirements to compel technology transfer and maintaining the confidentiality of sensitive technical information.   These are consistent with the recently enacted Foreign Investment Law and other legislation.

The Technology Transfer provisions do not address whether the provisions that were removed from the TIER  are now governed by China’s Contract Law and proposed Civil Code provisions on technology transfer contracts.  Clarity on this important issue could help support the autonomy of parties to freely negotiate ownership of improvements and indemnities.  The Agreement also does not address the regulation of licensing agreements by antitrust authorities or under China’s contract law or proposed civil code for the “monopolization” of technology.  The Civil Code provisions are now pending before the NPC and could have appropriately been raised as “low hanging fruit” in this Agreement.  Antitrust concerns in IP had also been raised by several parties in the 301 report concerning IP concerns (at pp. 180-181).  Hopefully, these issues will be decided in the Phase 2 Agreement.

Concluding Observations

It is often difficult to discern the problems that the Agreement purports to address and/or the appropriateness of the proposed solution(s).    In some instances, it also appears that USTR dusted off old requests to address long-standing concerns that may also not have high value in China’s rapidly changing environment. For example, it is unclear to me if commitments in the Agreement regarding end-user piracy (Art. 1.23) by the government are as necessary today when software is often delivered as an online cloud-based service and not as a commodity.  The leading software trade association’s position in the 301 investigation did not mention end-user piracy as a top-four priority (p. 4). Moreover, China had already been conducting software audits for several years and piracy rates had been declining.  The commercial value of these commitments is also uncertain under China’s recent “3-5-2 Directive”, where the Chinese government is obligated to replaced foreign software and IT products completely with domestic products within the next three years.  The issue does have a long and sad history. The U.S. Government Accountability Office had calculated 22 different commitments on software piracy in bilateral JCCT and economic dialogues between 2004 and February 2014.

Among the more anachronous provisions of the Agreement are the five separate special administrative IP campaigns that the Agreement mandates.  The general consensus from a range of disciplines and enforcement areas (e.g., IP, counterfeit tobacco products, air pollution and taxation) that campaigns result in “short term improvements, but no lasting change.” 

The situation was predictable: “late-term administrations may … be tempted to condone campaign-style IP enforcement, which can generate impressive enforcement statistics but have limited deterrence or long-term sustainability.” The Administration took this one step further, with enforcement campaign reports timed to be released during the various stages of the Presidential campaign.   Here are some of the administrative campaign reports we can expect, with some corresponding milestones in the Presidential campaign season:

March 15: China is required to publish an Action Plan to strengthen IP protection and to report on measures taken to implement the Agreement and dates that new measures will go into effect. (Art. 1.35)

May 15: China is required to substantially increase its border and physical market enforcement actions and report on activities by Customs authorities within three months (or by April 15, 2020) (Art. 1.21).

May 15: China is required to report on enforcement activities against counterfeit goods that pose health or safety risks within four months and quarterly thereafter (Art. 1.19).

June 15: China is required to report on enforcement at physical markets within four months and quarterly thereafter (Art. 1.22).  This report will coincidentally be released at the same time as the Democratic Party Convention.

August 15: China is required to report on counterfeit medicine enforcement activity in six months and annually thereafter (Art.. 1.18).  This report will coincidentally be released approximately one week before the Republican Convention.

September 15: China is required to report on third party independent audits on use of licensed software within seven months, and annually thereafter (Art. 1.23).

Also, a quarterly report is required regarding enforcement of IP judgments (Art. 1.28).

There is no explanation provided in the Agreement for the timing of each of these reports, their sequential staging or why the usual date for release of government IP reports (April 26) is not being used.

There are many other important IP areas not addressed in the Agreement.  The Agreement offered a missed opportunity to support judicial reform, including China’s new national appellate IP court, the new internet courts as well as local specialized IP courts at the intermediate level.  The Agreement also entails no obligations to publish more trade secret cases or to publish all IP cases as well as making court dockets available to the public, including data on enforcement of IP judgments.  Due to the relatively small number of civil and criminal trade secret cases and recent legislative reforms, the greater publication of cases would be very helpful in assessing the challenges in litigating this area and China’s compliance with the Agreement. The new appellate IP Court will be especially critical to the effective implementation of the important changes in China’s trade secret law as well as the implementation of the patent linkage regime.  The patent linkage provision also similarly neglects to describe the critical role of the courts in an effective linkage regime.  The Agreement to a certain extent memorializes the ongoing tensions between administrative and civil enforcement in China and regrettably reemphasizes the role of the Chinese government in managing IP through campaigns and punishment.

The trade war afforded a once in a lifetime opportunity to push for market mechanisms in managing IP assets through a reduced role for administrative agencies and improved civil remedies in China’s IP enforcement regime.   A high cost was paid in tariffs to help resolve a problem that the Administration estimated, or exaggerated, to be as high as 600 billion dollars.   The reforms in the Agreement hardly total up to addressing a problem of that magnitude.  While the continued emphasis on administrative agencies and limited focus on civil remedies is disappointing, there are nonetheless many notable IP  reforms in the Agreement in addition to legislative reforms already delivered.  I hope that a Phase 2 agreement will deliver additional positive changes.

Please send me your insights, comments, criticisms or corrections!  Happy Spring Festival!

 

Please send in any comments or corrections!

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.

whitehouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.