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

 

 

 

Legislative Plans and Updates For the Balance of 2015

The following is a summary of recent and some near-term legislative developments:

According to its legislative plan (September 2, 2015), the State Council will accomplish the following during the balance of 2015:

  1. Completion: Revisions to the Regulations on Patent Agents (SIPO is drafting)
  2. Preparatory work for submission to the NPC or regulations by the State Council: Anti-unfair Competition Law (SAIC is drafting); patent Law (SIPO is drafting)
  3. Research projects:   Antitrust Law (MofCOM, NDRC and SAIC are drafting); Regulations on Science and Technology Rewards (MoST is drafting); Copyright Law Implementing Regulations (NCA is drafting), Regulations on Protection of Olympic Symbol (Sports Administration and SAIC are drafting); Platform for Innovation in National Defense Regulations (State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense [“SASTIND”] is drafting); Management of Military Engineering and Science Research (SASTIND is drafting); National Defense Patent Regulation (revision) (PLA  General Armament Department, MIIT and SASTIND).

In addition, the new Advertising Law has been put into effect (September 1). Article 12 specifically regulates advertising that involves mentioning patents, including requiring permission of the patentee, and prohibiting mentioning patents that have lapsed, terminated or been invalidated. Enforcement authority is with SAIC.    Falsely representing that a product is patented seems to have also caught the attention of Guangdong authorities, which also recently issued guidance on new thresholds for referral of “counterfeit patenting” cases from Guangdong IP authorities to criminal prosecutions.

On October 1, the Law on Promotion of Transformation of Science and Technology Achievements 促进科技成果转化法 (the STA Law) came into effect, after having been passed by the NPC on August 29, 2015. Article 45 of the STA Law requires minimum compensation for those who make important contributions to scientific accomplishments of their work unit in the absence of specific provisions in an agreement. These presumably include service inventions and are not limited to state enterprises. They may also extend beyond patents to trade secrets, software development, plant varieties and other “technical” IP matters. The STA Law specifies high minimums if an agreement is not negotiated and provides non-negotiable minimum compensation for “state-maintained research and development institutions and institutions of higher learning”.   The regulations also do not identify how someone who has made a significant but not an “important contribution” is to be compensated, particularly as it often takes a team to make an invention.

The relationship between the STA law and proposed service invention regulations, which were made available for public comment earlier this year, now appear even murkier to me than before.   The service invention regulations are not mentioned in the 2015 State Council legislative plan on IP, noted above. This may suggest that its consideration by the State Council is less imminent. On the other hand, the State Council may have been waiting for the passage of the STA Law to come into effect, as well as for further consideration of the imminent patent law revisions.  This might seem more efficient, but for the fact that the State Council has often drafted implementing regulations while the superior law has still not been adopted. This is evident in the current drafting work of copyright law implementing regulations in the absence of finalization of proposed revisions to the copyright law.

As a higher ranking document, the STA Law should govern an inferior-ranking law, such as a regulation. If there is a conflict, China will also look at which enactment is more specific and which is later in time to interpreting the STA Law. Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang had specifically made it clear at the US-China Innovation Dialogue that the then-proposed law permits freedom of contract and we hope that this perspective is maintained.

As can also been seen from the legislative agenda, China seems to be rapidly integrating defense related IP into its overall IP efforts. Another item in legislative work is dealing with advertising for patented products.

I think a better focus regarding patent passing-off might be on insuring that the public knows that there is no necessary product quality association with a patented product, particularly in a system where patent applications are heavily subsidized and most of the patents are not examined for substance. I find it hard to believe that Chinese consumers are looking up patent numbers and making their own assessments on the contribution of the patent to determine if a product has the product quality it desires.

The factual information in this article is drawn from the newsletter of the Beijing Intellectual Property Institute and other sources.