Identical vs. Similar Trademarks in Criminal and Civil Adjudication

Both Judge Bao WenkJiong 包文炯 in Zhichanli, and James Luo on his blog, have recently  published  summaries of a 2014 case in Wuxi (无锡滨湖法院(2014)锡滨知刑初字第0002号刑事判决书) involving the definition an “identical” mark under China’s criminal trademark law.

This case raises the important question of the differing roles and standards for civil and criminal prosecution of trademark infringement – an issue that is especially important in light of the many different manners of enforcing IP in China, which also includes an extensive administrative punishment system.

Judge Bao noted that the court held that attention should be paid to avoiding excessive application of the “trademark similarity” standard of civil trademark cases to criminal cases.  More specifically, the case held that a counterfeit “identical trademark” in the criminal law means one that is identical with the registered trademark or not visually different from the registered trademark and therefor is enough to mislead the public.   Where, however, there is a slight difference between the accused counterfeit trademark and the registered trademark, the close similarity is sufficient to cause the relevant public to be confused and it should also be regarded as an “identical trademark.”

The requirement of an “identical trademark” derives from Article 213 of China’s Criminal Code, which provides:

“Whoever, without permission from the owner of a registered trademark, uses a trademark which is identical with the registered trademark on the same kind of commodities shall, if the circumstances are serious, be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years or criminal detention and shall also, or shall only, be fined; if the circumstances are especially serious, the offender shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than seven years and shall also be fined.”

A 2004 judicial interpretation on criminal IP matters (关于办理侵犯知识产权刑事案件具体应用法律若干问题的解释 (2004)) further clarified what constituted an “identical trademark” for purposes of China’s criminal IP laws:

“Article 8: An ‘identical trademark’ as provided for in Article 213 of the Criminal Law refers to the same trademark as the counterfeited registered trademark, or one that is substantially visually indistinguishable from the counterfeited registered trademark, and is sufficient to mislead the public.”

“第八条 刑法第二百一十三条规定的“相同的商标”,是指与被假冒的注册商标完全相同,或者与被假冒的注册商标在视觉上基本无差别、足以对公众产生误导的商标.”

Why should a higher degree of similarity of trademarks be required in criminal trademark cases but not for civil cases?    The critical test, to my mind, should be whether the infringement is willful, and not whether a cunning counterfeiter designed a mark that is insufficiently identical but nonetheless potentially confusing to a segment of the consuming population.  From a policy perspective, public criminal enforcement of the trademark laws can and should protect public interests greater than the legitimate trademark itself, including such interests as purchases by innocent consumers, protecting investment in brand creation and deterring brand dilution, and addressing the confusion of third parties who may be harmed by using these products.  These policies suggest that more liberal construction of what constitutes an “identical” trademark could be useful.   Indeed some courts in the United States have used civil standards to determine when a trademark is counterfeit (United States v. Petrosian , 126 F.3d 1232, 1234 (9th Cir. 1997).  Nonethelesss, even if prosecutors declined to prosecute an “identical” trademark case, the rights owner may still be free to bring a civil case under the “similar trademark” civil standard.

The Chinese summary of the case notes that the Jiangsu IP courts, where this case was held, play a role in delineating the role of the civil and criminal IP systems, as these courts have combined civil, criminal and administrative case adjudication in one tribunal.  I hope that these courts can play an even greater role in clarifying addressing the public policy needs behind different standards of IP protection under China’s civil, criminal and administrative enforcement regimes.

GAI and ABA Publish Their AUCL Comments

Attached are the comments of the American Bar Association Sections on International Law and Antitrust Law  on the proposed draft revisions of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law (AUCL)  as well as comments of the Global Antitrust Institute of George Mason University.

The ABA’s comments are comprehensive – addressing IP issues (including trade secret and trade dress), advertising law, competition law issues and commercial bribery.  GAI’s  comments are focused on the interface between the AUCL and the Antimonopoly Law.

Regarding the overlap with the AML, the GAI advocates that “any provisions in the AUCL that relate to conduct covered by traditional antitrust laws, or conduct covered by China’s Anti-Monopoly Law, be either omitted entirely or revised to limit liability to situations when there is substantial evidence of harm to competition.  … The AUCL should be implemented in a manner consistent with these objectives of competition policy.”  The same argument might be applied to other laws in China, such as Section 329 of the contract law, which deals with monopolization of technology.   In fact, China has a long history of industrial policy regulation of competition, much of which was enacted prior to China’s antimonopoly law.

Neither set of comments fully addresses a core concern of the proponents of this draft,  “that the administrative law enforcement is dispersed, that law enforcement standard is not unified, that the legal responsibility system is not perfect, and that the punishment is too lenient.”  Prior experience of administrative trade secret enforcement of the AUCL has shown that foreigners have not been a significant beneficiary, despite high level political attention paid to increased trade secret protection.   In the trademark context, SAIC’s foreign-related docket is several multiples of all foreign-related civil IP cases.  Increased administrative enforcement authorities raise several complicated concerns:  will these authorities be used fairly on behalf of Chinese and foreigners alike,  will trade secrets be protected by administrative agencies, are the courts better situated to adjudicate the various divergent issues,  what priority will AUCL enforcement assume in SAIC’s vast bureaucracy,  how will these expanded authorities be coordinated with criminal law enforcement and the courts, etc.

Update of March 16, 2017:  Attached are the  Comments of the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

 

 

Revised Patent Infringement Judicial Interpretation Released

The Supreme People’s Court published its revised judicial interpretation on patent infringement litigation.  I previously blogged about the early draft here.  Here is a Chinese language article on the press conference announcing the draft Judicial Interpretation, which was held on March 22, 2016.  The JI goes into effect April 1.

The drafting and timing of the JI seems to be drafted in part in response to perceived problems in enforcing patents in China, which have put pressure on the legislative bodies, courts and administrative agencies to seek appropriate reforms.  In particular, the JI may be perceived to be another policy initiative undertaken to address the continuing competition between the courts and administrative agencies over which agency should be the principle patent enforcing agency. Justice Tao Kaiyuan addressed this issue for the courts in an article earlier this year, while SIPO’s efforts to enhance its role were articulated in a draft SIPO revision of the patent law released for public comment by the State Council Legislative Affairs Office at about the same time as the draft law was released.

For those inclined to seek political motivations to legislative and policy actions particularly by competing agencies, the release of this JI is also proximate to the release by SIPO of its revised provisional guidelines for administrative enforcement earlier this month (March 2, 2016) (专利行政执法操作指南(试行).

The court’s press conference noted that the revision of the JI seeks to address concerns over patent litigation involving a high burden of proof, low damages and delay.

Who is winning in this competition – the courts, SIPO, the State or the patentee?  I hope to provide more detailed comments on the JI later.

Update April 3, 2016: : Song Haining has done a good summary of these recent developments in his blog, including an unofficial translation of the JI, available here.

Beginning the Journey for Trade Secret Reform: the Recent AUCL Draft

A much awaited, proposed public draft revision to the Antiunfair Competition Law was released by the State Council Legislative Affairs Office on February 25, 2016. Comments are due by March 25, 2016.  An open source translation is available here.

This is not an easy law to comment on, as the law combines a range of various issues to varying degrees: competition and fair trade law, trade secrets law, trade dress law, cybersquatting and enterprise name infringements, advertising regulation, bidding law, compliance/anti-bribery, network management and other areas.  Strictly speaking it is not an IP law which focuses on giving individuals private rights.  Rather, it is geared towards ensuring that there is fair competition in the market, as its title suggests.

A key focus for me has been on the trade secret provisions of the draft.  Pertinent provisions are discussed and copied below:

“Article 9: A business operator must not carry out the following acts infringing on trade secrets:

(1) Obtaining rights holders’ trade secrets by theft, enticement, intimidation, fraud, or other improper tactics;

(2) Disclosing, using, or allowing others to use a rights holders’ trade secrets acquired by tactics provided for in the previous item;

(3) Disclosing, using, or allow others to use trade secrets in their possession, in violation of agreements or the rights holders’ demands for preserving trade secrets.

Where a third party clearly knows or should know of unlawful acts listed in the preceding paragraph, but obtains, discloses, uses or allows others to use a rights holders trade secrets, it is viewed as infringements of trade secrets.

(一)以盗窃、利诱、胁迫、欺诈或者其他不正当手段获取权利人的商业秘密;

(二)披露、使用或者允许他人使用以前项手段获取的权利人的商业秘密;

(三)违反约定或者违反权利人有关保守商业秘密的要求,披露、使用或者允许他人使用其所掌握的商业秘密。

“Trade secrets” as used in this Law refers to technological information and business information that are not publicly known, have commercial value, and are subject to corresponding secrecy measures taken by the rights holder.”

Importantly, the draft drops the earlier statutory requirement that trade secrets had to have practical applicability, a “TRIPS-minus” provision which may have had the effect of denying trade secret protection to experimental failures.  The distinction between technical information and business information in this draft may also reflect other laws and government agencies some of which, like the Ministry of Science and Technology and SIPO have expressed interest in “technical trade secrets” or “service invention” compensation for trade secrets. Chinas IP courts similarly have jurisdiction over technical trade secrets, but not business confidential information.

The law also expands the scope of a covered business operator, to include natural persons, which is a positive step:

“‘Business operators’ as used in this Law refers to natural persons, legal persons or other organizations engaged in the production or trade of goods, or the provision of services. (“goods” hereinafter includes services). “(Art. 2)

The draft offers very little in the way of improving procedures for trade secret litigation.  There are improvements to trade secret administrative enforcement.

“Chapter III: Supervision and Inspection

Article 15: When supervision and inspection departments investigate acts of unfair competition, they have the right to exercise the following powers of office:

(1) Enter business premises or other venues related to the conduct under investigation to conduct inspections;

(2) Question business operators under investigation, interested parties, or other entities or individuals, and request supporting materials, data, technical support or other materials relating to the acts of unfair competition;

(3) Make inquiries about, or reproduce, agreements, account books, invoices, documents, records, business correspondence, audio-visual materials or other materials relating to the acts of unfair competition;

(4) Order business operators under investigation to suspend suspected unlawful acts, to explain the source and quantity of property related to the conduct under investigation, and to not transfer, conceal or destroy that property;

(5) Carry out the sealing or seizing of property suspected to be involved with acts of unfair competition;

(6) Make inquiries into the bank accounts of business operators suspected of acts of unfair competition as well as accounting vouchers, books, statements and so forth relating to deposits;

(7) Where there is evidence of the transfer or concealment of unlawful funds, an application may be made to the judicial organs to have them frozen.

Article 16: When supervision and inspection departments are investigating acts of unfair competition, business operators under inspection, interested parties or other relevant units or individuals shall truthfully provide relevant materials or circumstances, shall cooperate with supervision and inspection departments performing duties according to law, and must not refuse or obstruct supervision and inspection.”

Although I believe most right holders seek improvements in trade secret enforcement, including more deterrent remedies, I am uncertain how much those desires extend to administrative enforcement.  Transferring of relevant confidential material to an SAIC official tasked with trade secret enforcement will raise concerns of further trade secret leakage, which are probably not of equal concern in the case of administrative enforcement of, for example, trade dress infringements covered under this draft law.    Moreover, the State Council has elsewhere stated that all administrative cases should be conducted ex-officio.  To me administrative ex-officio enforcement of trade secrets, with authority to enter business premises to inspect and conduct investigations, is problematic.

The draft law also seeks to increase administrative fines for trade secret theft, and improve burden of proof issues:

“Article 22: Where business operators violate the provisions of Article 9 of this law, the supervision and inspection departments shall order them to cease the unlawful acts, and shall impose a fine between 100,000 and 3,000,000 RMB depending on the circumstances; where the act constitutes a crime, criminal responsibility is pursued in accordance with law.

Where the rights holders of trade secrets can prove that information used by others is substantially the same as their trade secrets and that those others had the capacity to obtain their trade secrets, those others shall bear the burden of proof to show that the information they used came from lawful sources.”

It is unclear to me from Article 22, that this “burden of proof” reversal in the second paragraph above applies to administrative enforcement or civil enforcement, or even criminal process.  Moreover, the requirement of substantial similarity of the technology for the shifting to take effect, is probably too high a threshold, having been an impediment for plaintiffs in trade secret litigation in China to date.

Does this law go far enough in addressing trade secret issues in China?

Although SAIC has historically conducted many administrative trademark cases on behalf of foreigners, historically trade secret administrative enforcement has not significantly benefitted foreign companies or small enterprises.  As I previously blogged:

That there were 174 trade secret cases [for 2008-2010] out of 110,896 cases involving the Law to Counter Unfair Competition, or about 0.2% of the total. In addition, the data shows that average fines were 11,624 Yuan, and only 7 cases or about 4 % of the trade secret case were referred to criminal enforcement.  Like the civil system, the administrative system also appears to be frequently used to address employee theft of confidential information.  Precisely one third, or 58 of these 174 cases involved individual respondents; 24 involved private companies  (14%) and 23 cases involved individual businesses (13%).   There were no cases where a state owned enterprise or publicly held company was named as a defendant in an administrative action.  

One may question, therefore, whether this draft revision of the AUCL addresses the full range of substantive and procedural improvements that need to be made to improve trade secret enforcement in China, much of which may be more uniquely linked to trade secret protection compared to other IP rights.  Moreover, many of the problems are amplified by comparison with trade dress or other provisions of this draft law.

Much of the problem with trade secret protection has been in the lack of discovery in the civil system.  One significant advantage of improved trade secret administrative enforcement however could be in facilitating the transfer of information obtained in administrative investigations to civil courts or law enforcement authorities, consistent with State Council guidance on facilitating case transfers.  Improving civil procedures for trade secret cases could also greatly help in civil prosecution of trade secret cases, including by making necessary changes in evidence collection, burden of proof reversals, and other areas.

The current draft appears unduly oriented to instances where trade secret theft has actually occurred.  One critical area concerns the availability of relief for threatened misappropriation of trade secrets including preliminary injunctions, adoption of “inevitable disclosure” type doctrines, and evidence or asset preservation measures.  Such measures can be especially important as the harm that may be caused by a misappropriation may be incapable of being compensated for by the misappropriator or beneficiary of the theft. Although revisions to China’s Civil Procedure Law now permit preliminary injunctions for trade secret theft (Eli Lilly vs. Huang Mengwei),  China may wish to consider specific provisions in this law to facilitate more liberal dispensation of provisional remedies.  China had specifically provided for preliminary injunctive relief in other IP laws, before the most recent Civil Procedure law amendments, and may want to consider appropriate provisions for trade secrets.

Regarding threat of trade secret law, the current law also only addresses “disclosing, using, or allowing others” to use the secret information.   This deficiency could easily be remedies by including language on threat or imminent trade secret theft.    The Uniform Trade Secrets Act in the United States, by comparison, specifically addresses “actual or threatened misappropriation” which may be enjoined, and also provides a remedy for trade secret inducement.  The TRIPS Agreement itself clarifies that a key focus of WTO member trade secret obligations is “preventing information lawfully within their control from being disclosed to, acquired by, or used by others without their consent in a manner contrary to honest commercial practices.” (emphasis added).  The need for preventative measures is also reflected in TRIPS Article 41, which requires WTO members to have “expeditious remedies to prevent infringements.”  In addition, inducement liability is being considered in other China IP laws (patent/copyright) and does not appear to be part of this draft.  A clear definition of inducement liability may be helpful in limiting losses due to third party misappropriation of trade secrets.

China’s trade secret regime also has several other challenges, including difficult criminal thresholds; unclear relationships with labor law, labor mobility regulations, and employee non-competes; difficulties in gathering evidence; unclear divisions among the appropriate role of civil, criminal and administrative remedies;  and even an emphasis on trade secret protection as an aspect of market regulation, rather than as a civil IP right, as is under consideration.    Some of these deficiencies may be cured by judicial interpretation and guidance, as was previously addressed by the Supreme Peoples Court in an earlier Judicial Interpretation.

The focus on market regulation denies trade secret holders in China the ability to address infringement based on where a product that benefits from a trade secret misappropriation is sold, but instead may require litigation where the misappropriation occurred.  See Siwei v. Avery Dennison (Min San Zhong Zi No. 10/2007) (Sup. People’s Ct. 2009) (China).   This may also encourage foreign litigants, concerned about  local protectionism or undue influence of local companies on local courts, to seek remedies elsewhere (such as through Section 337 remedies in the United States).  In addition, the lack of discovery can also lead to the “exporting” of such litigation.  Making these necessary procedural improvements, including improving “success rates” for domestic trade secret cases and improving procedures for gathering evidence, may also enhance China’s position that Chinese judgements in trade secret cases are entitled to res judicata effect in other jurisdictions.

Former SPC Vice President, now Chief Procurator  Cao Jianming 曹建明, noted in 2005,  trade secret enforcement was the area with the “greatest difficulties” for the courts Industry has also raised concerns about many of these deficiencies.  While many of the changes in the AUCL on trade secret protection are positive, a more comprehensive approach could require reforms in other areas, including the practices of law enforcement and the courts, administrative law reform, civil law reform, and/or a stand-alone trade secret law.

My personal estimation: the AUCL draft is a beginning and not an end in the trade secret reform process.

Justice Tao Kaiyuan and the Role of the Judiciary

MadameTaoMichelleLee

Justice Tao Kaiyuan of the Supreme People’s Court, who had been to the United States in 2015 delivering important speeches on rule of law, has recently published an article on “Giving Full Play to the Leading Role of Judicial Protection of IP Rights“ 充分发挥司法保护知识产权的主导作用”(Dec. 31, 2015).  The article is receiving considerable attention in China, as it was published by Qiu Shi, 求是(“Seeking Truth”), a bimonthly political theory published by the Central Party School and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.  The publication of the article appears to be timed with the release of the recent draft of the Patent Law Amendments, comments for which were due the day after publication (January 1).  The proposed patent amendments would strengthen the role of administrative agencies in IP enforcement, to the possible detriment of the judiciary.

The author of the article is no less important than its contents.  Madame Tao knows patents.  She was the former Director General of the Guangdong Patent Office and therefor once had “vertical” reporting responsibility to SIPO (see picture above taken by me of Madame Tao [on the right] with USPTO Director Michelle Lee taken in 2015).  Although the article was authored in her name, many in China were speculating that the article was approved by higher authorities – perhaps Zhou Qiang, the President of the Supreme People’s Court, with Madame Tao serving as an appropriate messenger.

The concerns about this draft on patent law enforcement are not that different from those in the earlier (2012) draft when I blogged in “Why the Proposed Amendments to the Patent Law Really Matter … and Maybe Not Just For Patents” that “the changes strike me as a rather sudden about face in China’s march towards better civil protection of IP.” Madame Tao takes this several steps further.

Madame Tao’s article is divided into three parts: (1) The important meaning of giving full play to the leading role of the judicial protection of IP rights; (2) The key factors that constrain the leading use role of judicial protection of IP; and (3) Key measures in giving full play to the leading role of judicial protection of IP rights.   Here are some of the points she makes:

Madame Tao refers back to the National IP Strategy and related documents, such as the Third Plenum, the NPC’s decision to establish IP courts, and the Action Plan for the National IP Strategy to underscore the well-established, leading role of the courts in enforcing IP.

Her article compares certain key elements of judicial protection versus administrative protection.  In her view, judicial enforcement can curtail abuses of administrative enforcement.  It also has other advantages.  It has clear rules.  It is transparent.  It can help establish guidance for businesses by establishing clear standards for similar disputes (a possible nod to efforts at developing case law/guiding cases).  Moreover, civil enforcement comports with notions of private ownership and the development of markets and creation of a fair competitive environment in China.  Madame Tao especially underscores the role of the courts in supervising administrative agencies.  As I have noted, this is also an important part of the foreign IP docket in China.  Madame Tao states that the judiciary should also actively guide administrative law enforcement in investigation and review of evidence, and determination of infringements.

Madame Tao also calls for greater coordination in administrative and judicial roles in IP protection, noting that administrative enforcement played an important leading role in the beginning of China’s IP enforcement environment.  Administrative enforcement has “in a short time met the need for building effective IP protection.”  However, the “growing maturity” of the judicial system has caused increasing problems in the coordination process.

Madame Tao also calls for specific policy initiatives, many of which are already underway.  She calls for greater deterrent civil damages, including by revising patent, copyright and unfair competition laws based on experience of the trademark law revisions.   She also suggests that a discovery system should be considered.  Civil and criminal divisions in IP should be unified.  She suggests that a specialized national IP court should be researched and promoted, and she calls for the unification of technical appellate cases, perhaps like the CAFC.  She also notes that the division between infringement and validity determinations in the courts in patents and trademarks should be addressed, and calls for improvements in the availability of provisional measures.

She calls for greater improvements in judicial protective measures, including in obtaining evidence and the convenience and effectiveness of remedies.  Among other specific judicial reforms, she also suggests exploring intellectual property case law, improving judicial accountability and developing judicial professionalism.  Finally, Madame Tao also calls for expanding international awareness by IP judges to better protect national interests and to increase China’s IP influence.

Altogether, a tour de force.

Here’s what her speech looks like in a machine-translated wordcloud:taowordcloud

 

 

 

A Quick Report on the EIPC MIIT Conference Including SAIC’s IP Abuse Rules, Patent Law Amendments, EIPC MIIT Standardization Policies, Standards and IP Abuse…

EIPC MIIT’s Conference on Intellectual Property Standards and Anti-Monopoly Law convened on December 10 and 11 in Beijing.  The conference brought together about 150 international and Chinese experts, including lawyers, judges, academics, diplomats, and other professionals to the Wanshou Hotel in the Haidian District, Beijing.  There were over over 30 speakers. The initial speakers set the tone for the conference by concentrating on one theme:  China’s anti-monopoly regime had entered a new phase from theory to enforcement.  Further, this transition period is characterized by the need to balance anti-monopoly law and IP rights, regulation and innovation.

One example of the struggle for balance is the debate over the prevalence and importance of holdouts, or the practice of standards implementers engaging in conduct intended to drive royalties down royalties for Standards Essential Patent (SEP) holders to lower than F/RAND levels.  Dina Kallay, Director of Intellectual Property and Competition at Ericsson Ltd.  argued the problem of hold outs was real.  David Wang, Director of Standards and IPR Strategy, Intellectual Property Rights Department of Huawei Technologies Co., argued that that there is no evidence of real life hold outs.  His opinion comes in light of Huawei’s recent litigation with IDC, in which a court ruled that IDC should compensate Huawei for excessive pricing and tying practices.

Many speakers addressed current and future reforms.  Yang Jie, Director of the Anti-Monopoly and Anti-Unfair Competition Enforcement Bureau at SAIC, explained new revisions to its forthcoming rules on abuse of dominance and exclusionary relief (presumably, SAIC’s IP Abuse guidelines or rules). Since August, SAIC has modified seven articles. First, Yang Jie said that SAIC has maintained the “essential facilities” doctrine in the new version, however with some modifications. The doctrine will apply when an intellectual property right cannot be easily substituted in the relevant market, other players want to be part of the market, a refusal to deal would restrict competition or innovation in the relevant market, it harms the public interest, and the licensing of the patent would not negatively or unreasonably harm the interests of the patentee.

Yang Jie also explained that SAIC has adopted a narrow interpretation of refusal to deal for players in a dominant position.  It will only apply when the intellectual property right constitutes an essential element for production.  Moreover, a violation only occurs when the behavior limits competition. Additionally, in abuse of dominance, “abuse” must be considered parallel to other elements and the behavior must harm the public interest or consumer behavior.

Concerning guidelines for the standard setting process, Yang Jie explained that the rules do not include a special provision for horizontal agreements in the standard setting process, because this is covered under the provision for anti-monopoly agreements.  Furthermore, Yang Jie divided monopolistic behavior in the standard setting into standard setting procedures – for instance if a firm fails to say something in a patent application – and standard implementation, which would include violations of F/RAND commitments.  Yang Jie said that the standards clarify the “what should have been known” standard for the standard setting process.  For standard implementation, the guidelines add the requirement of restricting or limiting competition.  Additionally, the new guidelines will treat intellectual property rights the same as other property rights. In other words, SEP holders are not automatically deemed to have market dominant positions. Instead, a case specific analysis must show that a firm is “dominant” within the meaning of relevant provisions of the Anitmonopoly Law.

Lastly, the guidelines no longer include a specific provision targeting copyright collecting societies for abuse of dominance or restricting competition. Yang Jie explained that the provision was cut because there was no real evidence of copyright organizations abusing their position. That being said, enforcement agencies can still pursue copyright organizations as they are not otherwise exempt from the law.

Yang Jie also said that the official version has not yet been promulgated. The regulations have been submitted to relevant bodies within the State Council for review (note from Mark Cohen: it is unclear to me if this is registration with the State Council, or review by the Antimonpoly Enforcement Agencies, or another process.  If this document is an SAIC rule, then review by the State Council should be limited).

Zhang Yonghua, Deputy Director of No. 1 Division of the Legal Affairs Department of the State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO), provided details regarding the latest draft of the proposed patent law amendments.  The new draft empowers judicial and administrative bodies with the right of investigation and evidence collection. It also allows administrative agencies to effectively settle infringement issues by compensation.  Furthermore, the draft provides for punitive damages for severe infringements, a concept already employed in China’s trademark law. Additionally, protection for industrial design is extended to 15 years. The new draft also introduces a burden of proof shifting scheme in which the burden of proof shifts once the patentee has satisfied certain of its evidentiary burdens.

Zheng Wen, Deputy Director General of the Anti-Monopoly Bureau, focused on the need for improvement in the merger review process of MofCOM.  Zheng Wen said that MOFCOM had received over 1000 cases since August 2008 and had finished over 900, imposing sanctions in only 3% of the cases.  Zheng suggested that there was a need to impose more sanctions and to crack down on parties that illegally skipped merger review.  Since November, MOFCOM has been publishing notices of sanctions on parties that did not report their proposed merger but should have.  Zheng Wen also expressed the desire to set up a long term cooperation mechanism with the E.U. and U.S., especially for large scale transnational mergers.

Huang Yong, Vice Chair of the Expert Advisory Committee under the State Council Anti-Monopoly Commission, stated that allowing agencies the rights of investigation and suggestion would be a step in the right direction.

Concerning the new Specialized IP Courts, Jin Kesheng, Deputy Chief Judge of the IPR Tribunal and senior Judge of the Supreme Court said that we could look forward to a judicial interpretation regarding the role of the court’s “technology investigator” position.  Additionally, Zhang Xiaojin, Chief Judge of the Second Tribunal in the Beijing Intellectual Property Court, expressed serious concern over the new court’s ability to handle their large caseload. For instance, the Beijing specialized IP court has 100 staff in total, only 22 of whom are judges and the court is expected to receive 15,000 cases annually.  He expressed further concern over their ability to carry out judicial reform while so severely understaffed.

Finally, Shi Shaohua of EIPC MIIT spoke about feedback to EIPC MIIT’s own Template for IP Policies in Industry Standards Organizations, (which I previously wrote about here). Two criticisms were that the structure was too complicated and that courts do not have sufficient expertise to adjudicate F/RAND issues; injunctions and unwilling licensors;  and reference factors for unreasonable licensing, including factors such as the smallest component or device, the total aggregate royalties of all potential SEPs, the influence of standards on patents, and the extra value that standards bring to a patent.  EIPC MIIT also received comments concerning reciprocity requirements, for instance what standard should be employed and whether adding restrictions to SEP licensing will influence cross-licensing, market access, and reciprocity.

The conference also included presentations on Legal Issues of Competition in Internet Industry” and “Internet Based Information Security and Intellectual Property Protection” which unfortunately we were not able to cover.

Prepared by Marc Epstein of Fordham Law School with edits by Mark Cohen.   A special thanks to EIPC MIIT and Shi Shaohua for allowing a Fordham student to attend this important conference!  Please provide us with any corrections, additions or comments!  As always, these comments are the authors’ own.

A Deeper Dive Into the Jurisdiction and Role of Specialized IP Courts

deeperdive

As we previously reported the NPC’s Standing Committee established three Specialized IP Courts in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.  The Supreme People’s Court and the cities’ High Courts are now in the process of implementing the NPC’s decision.

On November 3, 2014, the Supreme Court issued a decision and held a news conference outlining the jurisdiction of the Specialized IP Courts of Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. The court detailed the Specialized IP Courts’ jurisdiction over cases of first instance, over different types of IP cases, and over IP right authorization and verification.

The Specialized IP Courts have jurisdiction over three types of cases:

1.  Civil and administrative cases involving patents, new plant varieties, layout designs of integrated circuits, technical secrets, computer software and other technology cases; 2.  Administrative cases involving copyright, trademark, and unfair competition against the administrative action of the State Council department or above the county level departments; and 3. Civil cases involving the affirmation of well known trademarks.

The Specialized IP Courts will review civil and administrative IP cases challenging the judgment of lower courts. Additionally, the Higher People’s Courts, where the Specialized IP Courts are located, will review appeals against the judgment of the Specialized IP Courts.   Probably the two most important impacts of the jurisdiction of the courts in terms of its impact upon foreigners aspect of the jurisdiction are the jurisdiction of the Beijing Specialized IP Court over appeals over patent and trademark office final decisions and jurisdiction over well-known marks

Foreigner-related cases constitute a large percentage of these appeals from the patent and trademark office while the infringement cases brought by foreigners are about 2% of the docket.  According to various press reports, the overall share of administrative cases brought by foreigners in Beijing hovers near 50%.  Interestingly, in January of 2014, Beijing had already divided its intermediate IP court into two divisions one of which would hear patent appeals and the other would hear trademark appeals.  This experiment, which likely was intended to anticipate one national IP court like the Federal Circuit in the United States,  has necessarily become short-lived.  Nonetheless, in its jurisdiction over patent and trademark appeals, the Beijing Specialized IP Court does retain jurisdiction that is in many ways similar to the Federal Circuit’s  “administrative” jurisdiction over the USPTO.

I do not have precise current data on foreign-related well known mark cases.  However, well known mark status has been of concern to foreign brand owners for some time.  Former China Trademark Office Director-General An Qinghu 安青虎published an extensive analysis in English in 2005 on recognition of well-known marks in China, including the various circumstances by which foreign well known marks have been recognized, which as I recall from prior personal review of that article, was intended in part to address the concern of foreigners over how well-known marks were being protected in China  As DG An noted at that time “Among the 153 well-known trademarks affirmed by SAIC or Trademark Review and Adjudication Board, 132 are registered by Chinese registrants …, 21 by foreign registrants …” (fn. 7), and “SAIC had affirmed some well-known trademarks  in objection decisions in the 1990s, most of which were registered by foreign registrants.” (final endnote).  I do not have current data on well known mark ownership by foreigners.

The Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou Specialized IP Courts have different focuses and differing impact upon foreigners.  As noted, the Beijing court is distinguished by its largely administrative docket.  The Shanghai and Guangzhou courts will deal with hear comparatively more civil IP cases and will hear relatively fewer administrative cases, mostly involving administrative enforcement decisions.  Guangdong has the largest IP docket in China although not the largest foreign-related docket.  Guangdong’s handling of intra-provincial IP disputes could become a model for a national appellate IP court.  Interestingly, an important and rapidly rising part of the overall IP docket in Guangdong involves online infringement owing to the large Internet business community in Guangdong.  However online copyright is not part of the Guangdong Specialized IP Court’s jurisdiction, despite many of those cases involving different regions of China and their rapid rise and complexity.  For example, from 2010-2013, the online infringement docket in the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong increased from 4058 to 9449, increasing from 21% to 38% of the overall IP docket.

The Supreme People’s Court also issued guidance regarding the selection of judges for the Specialized Court.  The judges can be selected either from those judges engaged in IP or related trials, or the judges can be selected if they have the same qualifications and conditions and are engaged in law practice, legal research or are law teaching professionals.

  1. A judge should also have the following qualifications: more than 6 years of relevant trial work experience; a bachelors or higher degree in law; a strong capacity for leading trials and drafting judgments; and Senior judge qualifications.
  2. The standards for other legal professionals as judges of the Specialized IP Court are referenced in further comments.

The candidates for the president of the Specialized Court are appointed by the city’s People’s Congress Standing Committee. The new President of the Beijing IP Court, Su Chi 宿迟, and his deputies, Chen Jinchuan 陈锦川 and Song Yushui 宋鱼水 appear to have such credentials.  Indeed, as if to underscore my analysis on the importance of Beijing to foreigners, the press reports  also underscore their experience in adjudicating foreign-related disputes.

Beijing’s Specialized IP Court will also include “Technology Experts,” (技术调查官)  who will help resolve technology issues that come up in the cases.  The High Court pointed to Taiwanese and Japanese courts that make use of such officials, noting that in those courts the Technology Experts are senior officials.  However, the SPC has also cautioned that the courts should not rely on such experts exclusively.

Here are three charts that demonstrate the jurisdiction of the Specialized IP Court in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. See also the Chinese version.

Written by Mark Cohen with the support of Marc Epstein and Yao Yao from Fordham Law School.