Notorious Markets, Alibaba and the JSP

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At the end of 2016, a trio of reports are being released by the US government all of which reflect upon the IP environment in China

The first one to be released was the Joint Strategic Plan of the IP Enforcement Coordinator at the White House for the years 2017-2019 (released Dec. 12, 2016) (152 pp).  The second is the Notorious Markets Report of the US Trade Representative, was released yesterday, December 21, 2016 (22 pp).  A third report on China’s WTO compliance, hearings for which were held earlier in 2016.  This annual report is due shortly.  The last report focuses on WTO issues (including IP), while the first two focus on IP issues (including China).

The Joint Strategic Plan singles out China’s “weak protection of intellectual property” (p. 4), relying upon a variety of sources of data, including USTR reports, US Customs seizures, “massive online and physical markets” , business survey data, antitrust concerns, and other sources.    The report also notes China’s legislative efforts to reform its IP laws, the positive role of the National Leading Group, and the “welcome” development of the specialized IP court pilot project.   

The report also singles out US engagement with China on cyber theft as well as US efforts more generally to “mitigate the theft of US trade secrets.” As I have pointed out elsewhere, trade secret misappropriation is a complicated area, where civil, criminal and administrative remedies can be improved and there can be close links to industrial policy.

The Notorious Markets report has gotten the most attention because Alibaba’s Taobao has now been placed back on this list. Taobao is not the only market with a Chinese link.  Other sites included Gongchangcom, which reportedly sells counterfeits, including counterfeit security acts to attach to counterfeit merchandise; Nanjing Imperiosus Technology Co., Ltd (also operating as Domainerschoice.com), which provides services to illegal online pharmacies;  and several physical markets.  These markets include the Baiyun Leather Goods Market (Guangzhou), Jing Long Pan Foreign Trade Garment Market (Guangzhou), Chenghai District Market (Shantou), Wu Ai Market (Shenyang), Cheng Huang Cheng Intenraitonal Auto Parts Market (Beijing), and the Silk Market (in Beijing).

The reports notes that Alibaba’s leadership has underscored the efforts it is taking to address counterfeits but that Taobao “is an important concern due to the large volume of allegedly counterfeit and pirated goods available and the challenges right holders experience in removing and preventing illicit sales and offers of such goods.” Alibaba was previously on the notorious markets list four years ago. Taobao is among the 15 top sites globally, and among the top 5 in China and was the subject of numerous notorious market submissions by industry.  Some US companies had been questioning why Taobao had been dropped from the list (see my blog from a program at Cardozo law school).  Alibaba’s President, Michael Evans, in response to the relisting of Taobao, noted that the decision “leads us to question whether the USTR acted based on the actual facts or was influenced by the current political climate.”  A press release of the American Apparel and Footwear Association supporting USTR’s decision to list Taobao is found here.

The Notorious Markets Report was released in the afternoon of December 21, 2016; it remains to be seen how much affect (if any) the report has on shares being traded in the United States (see chart above).  Alibaba did overcome other counterfeiting-related legal hurdles this year.  Alibaba had been the subject of several US law suits involving its alleged involvement in counterfeiting activities. A racketeering claim was dismissed in August of this year.  In June of 2016, Alibaba reported that seven securities class actions law suits against Alibaba were dismissed that involved allegations that Alibaba failed to disclose a “white paper” issued by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce before its US public offering.  The white paper was reportedly critical of Alibaba’s IP protection policies.   Attached are two of the recent US court decisions involving the shareholder law suits.

These are personal, non-official opinions.

27th JCCT Concludes in DC: Many IPR-Related Outcomes

 

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The 27th Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade concluded in Washington, DC on Wednesday, November 23, 2016, in time for the Thanksgiving holidays in the United States.  Here is a link to the U.S. government fact sheet.  The following is my summery of IP-related issues –

Amongst the “core” IP issues the fact sheet notes that China agreed to “take further efforts to combat bad faith trademark filings.”  Regarding technology transfer, China advised that it is “actively conducting research on the Technology Import and Export Administration Regulations (2002) (TIER) to address U.S. concerns.”  Both of these statements are forward leaning although they admittedly lack specificity.  Regarding trade secrets protection, China agreed that “ in practice, trade secrets misappropriation may be committed by individuals, including employees, who may not be directly involved in the manufacture or sale of goods and services” , thus addressing the concern that the trade secret provisions of the anti-unfair competition law only address commercial undertakings (this issue was also addressed in the draft revisions of the AUCL that was released earlier this year).  China also announced that it plans to bolster other elements of its trade secrets regime, including with respect to  evidence preservation orders  and damage calculations.  Also on the technology side, China also confirmed that “the government has never asked the fund to require compulsory technology or IPR transfer as a condition for participation in [state semiconductor] Funds’ investment projects.”

Issues involving entertainment market access in China also got some attention.  Regarding music licensing, China committed to “issue a measure allowing foreign-invested enterprises to engage in online music distribution and revoking the requirement established by the Ministry of Culture’s 2009 Circular on Strengthening and Improving Online Music Content Examination.”  Regarding theatrical film distribution, which had been the subject of a settlement of a WTO case between the United States and China, China affirmed that it will “enter into consultations with the United States in calendar year 2017 in order to provide further meaningful compensation to the United States.”  Furthermore, the United States and China agreed that, as part of the calendar year 2017 consultations, they will seek to increase the number of revenue-sharing films to be imported each year and the share of gross box office receipts received by U.S. enterprises.

There are several outcomes which are cooperative in nature.  Regarding on-line IP issues, both sides committed to training of small and medium-sized enterprises as well as exploring the use of big data and other new information technologies to enhance the capability for combating infringement and counterfeiting online.  A program on copyright protection for live sports broadcasts is planned for 2017.  In addition, China committed to further study the feasibility of protecting the broadcasts of sporting events under its Copyright Law and the United States “welcomes further clarification” on this issue from the Chinese judiciary “at the earliest possible time.”    Other cooperative programs include ones on: “legal protections for product and service designs, and U.S. trade dress protections “; “criminal enforcement of trade secrets and counterfeit pharmaceuticals”; a joint conference in 2017 on criminal law, legislation and enforcement “to share experiences on recent trends in technologies, business models, and legal developments”; and a workshop on Judicial IPR Protection in China in 2017.

Often events happen on the margins on the JCCT which may not be fully reflected in JCCT outcomes.  There were two notable developments around the time of the JCCT affecting intellectual property rights.  One was the publication of the draft revisions of China’s patent examination guidelines, which address post filing data supplementation, software and business method patents.   Post-filing supplementation of data has been the subject of prior JCCT and bilateral commitments.  Another development involved de-linking of government procurement policies with indigenous innovation, which has been the subject of a recent State Council document that, according to the fact sheet, “requir[es] all local regions and all agencies to further clean up related measures involving linking the indigenous innovation policy to the provision of government procurement preferences….”

The JCCT has a long history, but has typically grown in scope and significance over the years as the US and Chinese economies have increasingly become interdependent.  This was the last JCCT of the Obama administration.  It will next be up to the Trump Administration to decide how to guide the JCCT to continue to play a useful role in bilateral trade relations.

The above are my personal, non-official observations.  All photos are by Mark A. Cohen.

JCCTwangyang.jpg jcctend

 

Counterfeits in Microchannel Marketing … and Case Law

Amidst the escalating focus on online counterfeiting, piracy and patent infringement, online social media, such as WeChat are also becoming a source of infringing products, as documented in a Wall Street Journal article and other journals.  

James Luo (罗正红), a prominent IP lawyer in China, has been following these developments in his blog, where he recently reported on a Supreme People’s Court promoting of  ten model cases that promote “core socialist values” (最高人民法院关于弘扬社会主义核心价值观典型案例). One model case involved a couple that sold counterfeit goods through WeChat Moments, which was held to  constitute the crime of selling commodities bearing counterfeit registered trademarks 微信朋友圈销售假冒注册商标的商品案)。

The reason for the insertion of the case according to the court, was to promote “honesty in business.” As the court noted:

The case was a typical case of selling via microchannel marketing circle of friends, goods bearing counterfeit trademarks. …Compared with the traditional IPR criminal cases, the perpetrators of such crimes use relatively covert means, but the scope of their promotion and sale of counterfeit goods is broad with an adverse social impact.  …Currently, the “Consumer Protection Law” and the “Rules for Network Transaction Management” do not have specific provisions addressing microchannel shopping, and microchannel marketers do not have to register their business with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.  The relevant laws and regulations need further improvement in this area. “

本案是一起通过微信朋友圈销售假冒注册商标的商品的典型案例。,利用微信朋友圈等新平台售假者也越来越多。与传统侵犯知识产权犯罪案件相比,这类犯罪作案手段相对隐蔽,但传播面广及推广速度快,销售假冒注册商标的商品涉及面广,社会影响恶劣。目前,消费者权益保护法和《网络交易管理办法》在微信购物方面还没有明文规定,而且微商没有经过工商注册登记,相关法律法规还需要进一步完善。

As the accused had intentionally sold a relatively large amount of counterfeit goods, the defendants were found guilty of the crime of selling commodities bearing counterfeit registered trademarks by the Shaoguan Zhengjiang District People’s Court of Guangdong Province.  Sentences were imposed of  6 – 7 months and a fine of RMB 15,000.

In my opinion, this case appears to be headed in the right direction in terms of addressing the use of social media to commit IP crimes.  The court suggests that the case was important to fill in the gaps in the current legislative regime based on technological changes – the way in which criminals do business online.  This is a typical evolution for IP-related case law in the United States, where courts have a record of using existing statutory provisions to address emerging technologies or ways of doing business.

Why this case was categorized as promoting core socialist values?  Perhaps it promotes socialist core values because it addresses problems in the market of unscrupulous unlicensed individuals who transact business without basic principles of good faith and fair dealing and is thus intended to send a policy signal to other courts and the legislative agencies.

How do these cases compare to other types of cases that the court is promoting?  In my opinion, China is paying more attention to cases to guide judicial decisions and create a more predictable legal environment, with 20,000,000 court cases available on line and new regulations on publishing cases in effect.  China is seeking  to develop a Chinese style system of precedent, and has elicited  much government and academic involvement, including scholarship in journals.  These cases need to be compared to the efforts to become more transparent, promote “model cases”, the system of guiding cases,  judicial interpretations, etc., which are all part of an evolving system intended to insure greater consistency of judicial decision making and address emerging issues.

Addendum of 1/1/2017: Here is a useful blog by Jeremy Daum  from 31 August 2016 on the Beijing IP Court’s experiment in precedent, which lines up nicely with the perspective in my blog.

Anticounterfeiting Roundup

This is the fourth in a series on IP enforcement developments.  I previously blogged on judicial developments, online copyright, Customs enforcement, and now I am writing on anticounterfeiting, particularly trademark counterfeiting.

There has been much happening on anticounterfeiting in China the past several weeks, including the much-reported dramas of the annual meeting of the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition, with  Alibaba being denied membership­­­, US Ambassador Baucus speaking at the IACC annual meeting,  and Jack Ma meeting President Obama.  On top of this drama, there had also been data out of China from IP Week (April 26), as well as the availability of other reports, such as USTR’s Special 301 report, which also singled out China’s online environment.

There have also been several high profile cases, typically involving allegations of bad faith trademark acquisition.  One such case is the IPhone trademark dispute.  Another case that may be in the making between Under Armour and Uncle Martian.   These two disputes came on the backs of a hearing on the Michael Jorrdan / Qiaodan trademark dispute which was heard by the Supreme People’s Court on World IP Day, (April 26, 2016).

Despite the adverse publicity for China’s IP system, there is plenty of enforcement taking place.  Alibaba reported through news outlets that the company has identified 3,518 groups selling fake goods on its platforms in 2015. It helped the police seize counterfeit goods worth $125 million and nail 300 suspects.  In addition, surveys conducted by 91% of AmCham China respondents in a recent survey believed that that IPR enforcement had improved over the past five years, a view that was generally shared by USCBC [US-China Business Council] respondents (38% reported some improvement over the past year).

The sense of improvement may be due in part to the high level attention being given to long standing enforcement issues, particularly in the online environment.  Towards the end of April 2016, the State Council released the outline of the Outline for the Work Plan for 2016 for the National Anti-IP Infringement and Anti-Manufacturing and Sales of Substandard and Counterfeit Goods (April 19, 2006).  This Work Plan contains numerous provisions that address on-line and transborder enforcement.  The first action item in this plan is to “strengthen control of infringement in the online environment. (Sec. 1.1)”  Product sectors targeted include:  food and pharmaceuticals; agricultural chemicals, household electronics, building materials, car parts, and childrens’ toys.  Exports by post and express services are to be targeted.   The Work Plan notes that there will be a 12thSword Network” campaign against online copyright enforcement.  Cooperation with large online platforms is to be intensified, and supervision over them is to be strengthened.  An e-commerce law is to be drafted (Sec. 3.10).  International cooperation between law enforcement is also underscored (Sec. 7.26).

On May 4, SAIC announced its own on line enforcement campaign for 2016 (2016网络市场监管专项行动方)(May 4, 2016, for action until November).   The campaign calls for SAIC to take a leading role in “combatting online trademark infringement and other illegal activities. Each region’s AICs/ market supervision departments should intensify the legitimate rights and interests of the network of sale of counterfeit famous trademarks, should increase their efforts to deal with foreign trademarked goods, and safeguard the rights of consumers. They should investigate and punish the network abuse, fraudulent, counterfeit agricultural products of geographical indications.   As for large-scale, cross-border complaints by trademark rights holders and consumer complaints involving centralized network typical cases of trademark infringement and counterfeiting, SAIC shall strengthen its attack on the production, sales of registered trademarks and other aspects of the work of the whole manufacturing chain.”

The courts have also not been shy at tackling difficult issues.  One of the most important decisions affecting exports of counterfeit goods in 2015 was the PRETUL decision at the SPC (Nov. 16, 2015).  This case held that unauthorized use of a mark in China constitutes infringement only if it can serve as an indicator of source of a product or service in the Chinese market. In appropriate circumstances, export sales by an OEM may not constitute infringement of the Chinese rights owner rights.

I welcome your comments and corrections!

SIPS Commentary on New TM Law Implementing Regulations

Simone IP Services (SIPS) has graciously made available their Memo on the PRC Trademark Law Implementing Regulations . The Implementing Regulations were adopted by the State Council on April 29, 2014 (国令第651号).

Among other notable provisions, the memorandum notes that the Regulations codify existing case law on contributory liability for landlords whose tenants sell counterfeit goods (Art. 75). ISP’s are also included on the list of targets for contributory liability. More specific guidelines are provided for calculating fines based on “illegal business amounts” for sales of counterfeit goods (Art. 78). These guidelines, along with the increased level of fines, may help to provide greater deterrence. However, the method of calculation for fines still remains different from the method of calculating relevant trademark criminal thresholds.

The Regulations also make adjustment to a number of filing guidelines and procedures. Although deadlines have generally been shortened, the revised Regulations maintain the three month period for filing supplemental submissions. An earlier draft had shortened this period from 90 days to 30 days, which would have been particularly burdensome for foreign rights holders. However, other shortened deadlines are maintained, including a 15 day time period to respond to requests from the CTMO for modifications or clarifications of applications (the previous time frame had been 30 days).