SPC’s 2020 IP-Related Judicial Interpretation Agenda

On March 19, 2020, the Supreme People’s Court’s Judicial Interpretation Agenda for 2020 (“2020 Judicial Interpretation Agenda”) 最高人民法院2020年度司法解释立项计划 was discussed and adopted by the SPC Trial Committee at its 1795th meeting on March 9, 2020. In 2020, there are 49 judicial interpretation (JI) projects, divided into two categories: 38 in the Class I Projects, which are required to be completed by the end of 2020; 11 in the Class II Projects, which are required to be completed in the first half of 2021. Generally speaking, the complete catalogue covers various fields such as the enforcement, security, pre-litigation property preservation, civil code, criminal cases, administrative cases and judicial appraisal. There are a number of  IP-related projects, all of which involve the recently established national Intellectual Property Court as a drafting and research partner with other SPC divisions or tribunals, and suggest an increasingly important role for this specialized court in IP policy making:   

Class I Projects (to be completed before the end of 2020) 

  1. Several Provisions on Evidence in Civil Procedures of Intellectual Property 关于知识产权民事诉讼证据的若干规定 [ As previously noted, this draft was discussed at a conference hosted by the SPC in Hangzhou in 2018. As Chinese courts experiment with more expanded discovery, evidence preservation and burden of proof reversals, clearer rules regarding the obligations of parties to produce evidence are becoming more critical. ]

 Organizers: Civil Adjudication Tribunal No.3, Civil Adjudication Tribunal No.1, Research Office, Intellectual Property Court 

  1. Interpretation of Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Administrative Cases for Patent Validity 关于审理专利授权确权行政案件适用法律若干问题的解释 [Note: A draft was issued for public comment in the summer of 2018; see the earlier blog].

 Organizers: Civil Adjudication Tribunal No.3, Intellectual Property Court 

  1. Interpretations of Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Trade Secret Secret Infringement Cases 关于审理侵犯商业秘密纠纷案件适用法律若干问题的解释 [Note: Regarding the Interpretations of Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Trade Secret Infringement Cases, it was also on SPC’s 2019 JI Agenda. As mentioned in Susan Finder’s November 26, 2019, blogpost, this judicial interpretation is flagged in the Party/State Council document (November, 2019) on improving intellectual property rights protection with a goal to “explore and strengthen effective protection of trade secrets, confidential business information and its source code etc. Strengthen criminal justice protection and promote the revision and the amendment and improvement of criminal law and judicial interpretations 探索加强对商业秘密、保密商务信息及其源代码等的有效保护。加强刑事司法保护,推进刑事法律和司法解释的修订完善.”]

Organizers: Civil Adjudication Tribunal No.3, Criminal Adjudication Tribunal No.1, Intellectual Property Court [Note the involvement of the Criminal Adjudication Tribunal is a positive sign for seeking an integrated civil/criminal/administrative enforcement approach] 

  1. Provisions on Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Pharmaceutical Patent Linkage Dispute Cases 关于审理药品专利链接纠纷案件适用法律若干问题的规定 [Note: this appears consistent with the requirement for adopting a patent linkage system in the Phase 1 IP AgreementAs we have discussed in a previous blog, the Pharmaceutical-Related Intellectual Property section of the Phase 1 IP 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]

(New Project)

Organizers: Civil Adjudication Tribunal No.3, Case Filing Tribunal, Intellectual Property Court  

  1. Provisions on Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Civil Dispute Cases Arising from Monopolistic Conduct () 关于审理因垄断行为引发的民事纠纷案件应用法律若干问题的规定() (New Project)

 Organizers: Intellectual Property Court, Civil Adjudication Tribunal No.3

 Class II Projects (to be completed in the first half of 2021)

  1. Provisions on Several Issues concerning the Specific Application of Law in the Trial of National Defense Patent Disputes 关于审理国防专利纠纷案件具体应用法律若干问题的规定 (New Project)

Organizers: Civil Adjudication Tribunal No.3, Intellectual Property Court 

  1. Interpretation of Several Issues concerning the Application of Punitive Compensation for Intellectual Property Infringement 关于知识产权侵权惩罚性赔偿适用法律若干问题的解释

Organizers: Civil Adjudication Tribunal No.3, Intellectual Property Court  

  1. Interpretation of Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Civil Cases Involving Unfair Competition 关于审理不正当竞争民事案件适用法律若干问题的解释 (New Project)

Organizers: Civil Adjudication Tribunal No.3, Intellectual Property Court 

  1. Provisions on Legal Issues concerning the Specific Application of Law in the Trial of New Plant Variety Right Infringement Cases 关于审理植物新品种权纠纷案件具体适用法律问题的规定 (New Project)

Organizers: Intellectual Property Court, Civil Adjudication Tribunal No.3

 Judicial interpretations that are not marked as the “New Projects” have already been on the SPC’s Judicial Interpretation Agenda for 2019 or 2018. Several of them, including Several Provisions on Evidence in Civil Procedures of Intellectual Property (2019) and Interpretation of Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Administrative Cases for Patent Authorization and Confirmation (2018 and 2019), were to have been completed by the end of 2019 or 2018. 

Class I Projects JI No. 37 and Class II Projects  Nos. 3 and 11 all have prior effective versions that were issued in 2012 or earlier.  It is likely that these “New Projects” will be in the form of amendments, perhaps significant, to the previous JI’s.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updates of July 4 and 18, 2020: Here are the February 3, 2019 comments of the AIPLA on this draft of the patent law revisions, and the February 5, 2019 comments of the American Bar Association’s Sections on Antitrust Law and International Law.

shenzhenstrictlyprotectip

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

 

 

A Data Download on Semiconductor Patent Litigation in China

Because of its strategic importance to both the United States and China, the IC sector is a useful example of how Chinese policies and plans may – or may not – be influencing the Chinese government in the protection of foreign-owned IP.

A useful starting point for evaluating the challenges in IC IP protection in China is the data collected from China’s court cases.  IP House has conducted a heretofore unpublished and useful study of all semiconductor-related patent disputes in its database, attached here (in Chinese).  The data shows that there have been 166 first instance civil patent infringements IP judgments with the word “chip” (芯片), and 86 second instance cases.    There have also been 142 first instance administrative decisions, typically involving validity matters, and ninety second instance decisions. 52.91% of the first instance cases involved invention patents, 10.31% involved utility model patents and 36.77% involved design patents.

Regarding civil cases, 39 were heard in Zhejiang, 35 in Guangdong, 27 in Beijing, 21 in Jiangsu and 11 in Shanghai.  Every other jurisdiction had fewer than five cases, and no cases were reported for Fujian Province.

The data suggest a comparatively low “success” rate for plaintiffs in semiconductor patent disputes.   Amongst the 183 reported judgments, only 51 cases were fully or partially successful — a 38.34% success rate.  This compared to an overall success rate of about 80% for litigants in patent cases in 2014 in China, as reported by Bian Renjun at Berkeley. Cases were not reversed to a significant degree on appeal; 60 out of 70 cases supported the original decision of the first instance court.  Amongst the “top 10 “ courts in terms of litigation volume, the success rate for semiconductor patent plaintiffs varied dramatically.   Guangdong had the highest success rate (60%), followed by Beijing (43.75%), Zhejiang (23.08%) and Jiangsu (19.05%).  76 of 77 successful litigants obtained an injunction to stop infringement; one litigant did not request an injunction.

Regarding administrative reviews, 117 out of 140 cases involved affirming the original administrative decision, an “affirmance rate” of 83.57 percent.  Eighty one out of ninety cases were affirmed on appeal.

The United States was the principal foreign civil litigant, with seven cases, followed by the British Virgin Islands and the Netherlands, each with two cases.  The United States was the principal first instance administrative plaintiff challenging SIPO’s decisions, with 30 cases, followed by Japan (5), Netherlands (3) and several countries with only one civil case (France, Germany, Cayman Islands, Korea,   Singapore and Israel).

I draw the following tentative conclusions from this data:

  1. Success rates for semiconductor cases vary dramatically by jurisdiction in China. My guess is that the Guangdong courts, which have the highest success rates, have greater expertise in both semiconductor patent litigation and patent litigation overall, which may make them more “expert” on these matters. Due to variations in success rates amongst jurisdictions, the semiconductor sector is a useful example of why China needs a national appellate IP court.
  2. No matter what major court one looks to, success rates for these cases are lower than the average for other types of patent litigation. This may suggest either a lack of familiarity with the technology or an unduly skeptical view of the courts regarding semiconductor patent assertions at this time. Considering that the vast majority of the cases do not involve foreigners, the low success rate primarily affects Chinese litigants.
  3. Foreigners, and especially Americans, use the courts primarily to litigate patent validity matters. There were 4.5 times more administrative semiconductor patent cases brought by Americans compared to infringement cases. Overall foreigners brought four times more validity cases compared to infringement cases in this area.  This means that the Beijing IP Court, which hears all validity disputes, plays a key role for foreigners on semiconductor patent matters.  Semiconductor patent cases also follow the general pattern where foreigners are disproportionately willing to challenge SIPO in court, but are less willing to bring infringement cases to final adjudication.
  4. Utility model and design patents are frequently asserted in patent disputes in China and may have value to foreign companies needing to protect their IP in this important market.
  5. The Fujian courts do not appear in this IP House report. However, Fujian has already heard one high profile case (AMEC v Veeco), which was settled and does not appear to be publicly available at this time. The second high profile case, involves Micron Technologies, and is currently on-going.

I hope to blog further about the AMEC cases in the United States and China in a subsequent posting.