The 600 Billion Dollar China IP Echo Chamber

“Most people use statistics the way a drunkard uses a lamp post, more for support than illumination.”  Mark Twain

What are the losses due to “IP Theft” from China? On a recent trip to Washington, DC, I heard the range of $300 billion to $600 billion repeated from various sources without any critical gloss. These numbers have taken on a greater legitimacy than they likely deserve, in terms of capturing the scope of US concerns, the magnitude of the loss and shaping the Trump administration’s unilateral retaliation.

The 2017 and 2013 reports from the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property (the “Commission”) appear to be the origin of much of this data.  The data was also referred to in the Section 301 Report (p. 8) and in a subsequent White House report “How China’s Economic Aggression Threatens the Technologies and Intellectual Property of the United States and the World” (June 2018).

In 2017, the Commission found that “Chinese theft of American IP currently costs between $225 billion and $600 billion annually.” The Commission pulled together different sources of data, including sales of counterfeit and pirated goods ($29 billion), and that “the value of software pirated in 2015 alone exceeded $52 billion worldwide.” The Commission further noted that there was “a paucity of reliable data on the economic costs of patent infringement” and that American companies were most likely the leading victims of this “IP Theft.”  It estimated losses of at least 0.1% of the $18 trillion U.S. GDP.

The largest single loss contributor to the Commission’s estimate was based on data provided by create.org and later repeated by the White House, that trade secret theft cost between 1% and 3% of US GDP, and totaled between $180 billion and $540 billion.  One critic (Stephen S. Roach) of these loss figures recently noted that “the figures rest on flimsy evidence derived from dubious ‘proxy modeling’ that attempts to value stolen trade secrets via nefarious activities such as narcotics trafficking, corruption, occupational fraud, and illicit financial flows. The Chinese piece of this alleged theft comes from US Customs and Border Patrol data, which reported $1.35 billion in seizures of total counterfeit and pirated goods back in 2015.”  One area of overlapping concern I have with Mr. Roach is the use of Customs seizure data to justify allocating as much of 87% of global “IP Theft” to China. Seizures by US Customs of Chinese originating counterfeit and pirated goods are as high as 87% of global totals. However, this does not mean that China is the source of 87% of the world’s production of these goods, nor does it address trade secret infringement or patent infringement origination. See The 2017 Commission Report at p. 3.  Misunderstanding about the utility of Customs data contributes greatly to the weaknesses of many IP infringement loss estimates.

The 2013 Commission Report noted that “it is safe to say that dollar losses from IP theft are hundreds of billions per year, which is at least in the range of total exports to Asia in 2012 (valued at $320 billion).” This report pulled together several sources, including OECD data that estimated global trade in counterfeit and pirated goods as $200 billion in 2005 (p. 25).  All the studies to date, including this 2013 Report, have recognized the difficulties inherent in doing accurate loss estimations, although many have also not distanced themselves from sources, such as the OECD 2005 data which had not stood the test of time.

Remarkably, the loss data itself has been relatively consistent over approximately two decades despite different methodologies and varying definitions of what constitutes “IP Theft”. During my tenure at the US Embassy (2004-2008), the typical guestimate was $200 billion to $250 billion per year.  These guestimates enjoyed wide currency in Washington.  For example, Congressional Reports, such as H.R. 110-617 “Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008” stated: “[I]ncreasing intellectual property theft in the United States and globally threatens the future economic prosperity of our nation. Conservative estimates indicate that the United States economy loses between $200 and $250 billion per year, and has lost 750,000 jobs, due to intellectual property theft.”  This data was typically based on counterfeit and pirated goods “compris[ing] six to nine percent of all world trade, the bulk of which violates the intellectual property rights of United States businesses and entrepreneurs.”  (Id.). Six to nine percent, however, easily gets rounded up to 10 percent, as Congressman Donnelly from Indiana noted at about the same time:

“It is estimated that these [counterfeit] products comprise almost 10 percent of world trade, that they are costing American companies nearly $250 billion in revenue and an estimated 750,000 jobs.”

The number was also widely adopted by IP advocates. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in its report What Are Counterfeiting and Piracy Costing the U.S. Economy, (2004) circulated the 200- 250 billion dollar number, as did a National Geographic film. In fact, I used the $250 billion dollar figure when I was IP Attache in Beijing (2004-2008) to urge additional support for my elevation in diplomatic rank, as it seemed rather odd that I had been tasked with a problem costing nearly 750,000 jobs and I had no staff of my own. An article in Ars Technica (2008) noted that this earlier $250 billion/750,000 job number may have its origins in a Forbes magazine article from 1993. There are also references to loss calculations of 200 billion dollars per year appear from as early as 2002 in Congressional reports.   To the extent that these calculations rely upon a base estimate of “approximately” 10 percentage points of world trade being in counterfeit or pirated goods, this data point harkens back to an OECD estimate of world trade in counterfeit goods at 5% in 1998. That number was however revised downward to 1.95% in 2007, at an estimated value of $250 billion. The OECD data seems to be the origin of the $250 billion IP Theft loss figures current at that time.

Other USG studies have shown a more cautious approach. A 2010 Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) study analyzed the economic effects of counterfeit and pirated goods and found that “it was not feasible to develop our own estimates [of the total value of counterfeit or pirated goods] or attempt to quantify the economic impact of counterfeiting and piracy on the U.S. economy.” Noting the lack of data as a primary challenge to quantifying the economic impacts of counterfeiting intellectual property and goods, the GAO concluded that “neither governments nor industry were able to provide solid assessments of their respective situations.”

The U.S. International Trade Commission in a well-researched report,  China: Effects of Intellectual Property Infringement and Indigenous Innovation Policies on the U.S. Economy, (2010) calculated that the theft of U.S. IP from China alone was equivalent in value to $48.2 billion in lost sales, royalties, and license fees. This estimate falls within a broad $14.2-billion to $90.5 billion range.  The breadth of this range is explained by the fact that many firms were unable to calculate their losses. Of the $48.2 billion in total reported losses, approximately $36.6 billion (75.9%) was attributable to lost sales, while the remaining $11.6 billion was attributable to a combination of lost royalty and license payments as well as other unspecified loss.

The current concerns around “IP Theft” as identified in the Section 301 Report include licensing of technology, an issue that is not covered by US Customs seizure data. Any calculation of losses due to IP Theft from non-payment of royalties should include estimates of lost royalties or license fees. Most of the current calculations do not include such data. Nonetheless, as I have noted elsewhere, accurately calculating lost royalties can be especially difficult as many licensors use tax haven jurisdictions to manage patent portfolios. There may be implied licenses in product purchases form OEM suppliers, and there can be valuation challenges. However, China’s relatively small role as a purchaser of US technology and its dominant role as an exporter of high tech or information technology products does suggest that it is a significantly under-licensed (infringing) economy. For example, China has leaped from exporting only 2% of the world’s information technology products in 1996, to 33% in 2015. Yet China has purchased very little technology directly from the US over the years, and its technology payments are a very small share of total trade. There is likely a huge shortfall in unpaid royalties from Chinese manufacturers.

Many discussions around IP theft have also declined to take into account cybercrime and other security threats. According to an often cited 2013 report by the International Data Corporation (IDC), direct costs to enterprises from dealing with malware from counterfeit software were estimated to hit $114 billion in 2013 and “potential losses from data breaches” might have reached nearly $350 billion.” However, data breaches are not necessarily a form of IP infringement, as they can be undertaken for other purposes, including simply injuring the computer system of a competitor through a denial of service attack.

Apart from differences in methodology, there are different definitions of “IP Theft” that should be affecting total loss calculations. The FBI currently  defines “Intellectual property theft” as “robbing people or companies of their ideas, inventions, and creative expressions—known as ‘intellectual property’—which can include everything from trade secrets and proprietary products and parts to movies, music, and software.” This definition notably would exclude any non-willful infringement, i.e., where there is no “robbing” as well as trademarks – which are not specifically enumerated.

In its 2013 Report, the Commission offered some examples of “IP Theft”, which also excluded trademark protection, and failed to discuss patent protection: “IP theft varies widely in both type and method. It ranges from more commonly known forms, such as software and music piracy, to more elaborate types, such as the use of economic espionage tactics to steal complex industrial trade secrets. Each type of IPR violation harms an economy in unique ways and brings with it a discrete set of challenges that make both deterrence and enforcement difficult.”

These approaches to “IP Theft” are different from the meanings advanced for the same term in the last decade. Victoria Espinel, who has had a long and distinguished career in IP and international IP issues, testified in Congress in 2005 when she was with USTR and spoke of “IP Theft”  in terms of the fight against ‘fakes’, declining to mention patents for inventions or trade secrets.   This was consistent with the focus at that time on criminal copyright and trademark focus of US government advocacy in China, including the bringing of a WTO case (DS362):

“Our companies report billions of dollars in lost revenue, irreparable harm to their brands and future sales, all of which ultimately affects U.S. workers who design and produce legitimate products forced to compete against Chinese fakes. We want and look forward to working closely with you and your staff in combating the theft of American IP in China.”

“IP Theft” of the prior decade certainly appears under-inclusive in not focusing on patent or trade secret infringement.  It also fails to reflect that most IP infringement is addressed by civil remedies, where questions of willfulness are secondary to the harm being caused. Criminal remedies, while important, are relatively rare in most legal systems. This approach is consistent with the TRIPS obligation to treat IP as a “private right.” Moreover, the TRIPS Agreement itself does not require member states to criminalize patent infringement or trade secret infringement.  Finally, there may be grey areas including market access barriers, investment restrictions, government procurement restrictions, informal government supported forced technology transfer, or aggressive use of antitrust laws that many would argue need to be included in the definition of “IP Theft”.  Many of these would also be very difficult to quantify.

“IP Theft” is also slightly over-inclusive, as there are also certain forms of bad-faith behavior that may be sanctioned by the state and permissible under international IP rules. For example, rights holders in China face a significant burden of bad faith patent and trademark applications that entail costs of challenging and invalidating these rights, while US-based rights holders often complain about non-practicing entities and patent trolls.

Individuals who might suspect an exaggerated “IP Theft” loss estimate might be surprised to know that there are data points that have typically been omitted from these calculations. For example, US Customs data typically does not include the value of goods excluded from the US market under Section 337 exclusion orders. I am unaware of any methodology that attempted to extrapolate from US damage awards in US courts against Chinese infringers. USTR in its 301 report, was also unable to calculate the value of “forced technology transfers” in joint ventures or technology transfers. Certain rights, such as plant varieties and plant patents are typically not included in loss figures, nor are losses due to design infringements. Consequential damages (attorneys fees/court costs/losses to brand value/harm to public health or safety) are also often not included in the above calculations.

There are also factors that could reduce the loss figures that have often not been used.  Assumptions about the US being the overwhelming victim of “IP Theft” are hard to substantiate. I suspect that different countries and industries bear different costs in different markets. European companies, for example, likely suffer most from trademark and design infringements of luxury goods.  In the United States, over 50% of US patent applications originate with foreigners; logically this may mean that a substantial portion of the injury suffered by US companies overseas due to patent infringement may be attributable to innovations that occurred outside of the United States.

Calculating how much “IP Theft” originates from China also ignores whatever the “baseline” is for infringement in the US.  Historically, for example, the greatest value of software piracy losses were in the United States, According to BSA data for 2017, China’s piracy losses were 6.8 billion, while the US was 8.6 billion. In addition to other deficiencies, US Customs data is based largely on the pro-active behavior of US rightsholders and thereby considerable selection bias. As one example, if “IP Theft” priorities were based on Custom data, apparel, watches and footwear would be the major area of US trade concern with China, as there were the three categories of goods most seized by US Customs in 2017.

“IP Theft” losses also do not necessarily reflect losses due to unredeemed WTO commitments, nor are they based solely on violation of WTO disciplines.  The TRIPS Agreement, for example, does not require members to criminalize willful trade secret theft – which is likely a major contributor to the current calculations. Moreover, if the calculations were one that adhered to WTO procedures, then the various methodologies would also need to look to WTO jurisprudence in terms of calculating damages when a WTO member fails to implement a WTO decision involving IP. A good reference point might be the “Irish Music” (DS160), which the US lost, and where the US was required to pay 1.2 million euros per year as an arbitral award in the early 2000’s. Another reference is the Antigua/gambling dispute, where the island of Antigua was permitted to retaliate against US IP interests in the value of 21 million dollars per year, considerably less than a claim by Antigua of 3.44 billion dollars.

Tying tariffs to losses due to IP theft has other challenges.   While it may help address a sense of national outrage, the unilateral imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports is unlikely to benefit any US victim of IP theft, nor do the tariffs themselves appear to be geared to a particular loss threshold. Instead, the tariffs are loosely based on loss estimates but appear primarily oriented to forcing China to change its behaviors.

A cynical reader looking at the data might conclude that large loss numbers are self-serving and make compelling rhetoric in the echo chamber of Washington, DC. Someone looking over the history of the data might, however, view their weaknesses as due to such factors as difficulties in collecting data, the growth of the Chinese economy and changes in infringement practices, and changing technologies including the growth of the Internet as a vehicle for content and goods delivery. The current focus on “technology” in the scope of IP Theft might be viewed as a belated recognition of how the Chinese economy has become more technology-oriented in the past decade.

In my view the statistics do serve as more than a “support” of the type referred to by Mark Twain, above. They also help to “illuminate” a deeply felt and sustained injury that is otherwise hard to calculate.

Note: The author (Mark Cohen) has contributed to many of the reports noted above, typically in a private capacity.

Corrections to the above are welcomed.

April 24 – May 7, 2018 Summary

1.NPC Standing Committee Releases 2018 Legislative Plan. The NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) on Friday released its annual legislative plan for 2018. As usual, the plan is divided into two sections—the first listing specific legislative projects slated for discussion at the NPCSC’s remaining five sessions in 2018, and second setting forth general guiding principles for its legislative work this year. The plan divides the legislative projects into three categories: (1) those for continued deliberation (that is, those carried over from 2017); (2) those for initial deliberation (that is, bills first submitted in 2018); and (3) preparatory projects.

Below is a list of laws and amendments that implicate IP matters:

E-commerce Law 电子商务法: passed under initial deliberation and is set for continued deliberation. December 2016 draft, October 2017 draft. 

Patent Law (Revision) 专利法(修订): set for initial deliberation in June. Draft released for public comments by the State Council in December 2015.  There have been several blogs previously on the drafting process and controversial issues.

Foreign Investment Law 外商投资法: set for initial deliberation in December. Draft released by the State Council for public comments in January 2015

The 2018 legislative plan also includes a list of preparatory projects, most of which won’t be submitted for deliberation this year. That list includes an Atomic Energy Law and Export Control Law and revision/amendments to Copyright Law.

2. New initiatives released by SIPO on World Intellectual Property Day. During a press conference for the World Intellectual Property Day, Shen Changyu, head of SIPO, made remarks of new initiatives planned by SIPO. According Shen, China is revising its Patent Law and establishing a punitive damages system for intellectual property infringement to increase the cost of illegal behavior and create a deterrent effect. In addition, China pledged to establish more intellectual property protection centers, in addition to the 19 intellectual property protection centers established nationwide. Meanwhile, SIPO planned to release a working guide for Anti-Monopoly law in the field of intellectual property. Should SIPO move ahead with this project, it may be an indication of an increased role for it in the newly reorganized government structure which it shares with China’s antitrust agencies.

As reported before, SIPO and other IP agencies are under reorganization. According to Shen, after the reorganization, SIPO will become the world’s biggest IP office. The new office will have 16000 staff, with 11000 patent examiners and more than 1500 trademark examiners.

3. China’s top court rules in favor of Dior in trademark case. In a judgement on World Intellectual Property day, China’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dior in a suit against the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board after a multi-year court battle. The board wrongly rejected a 2015 application by Dior to register a trademark of its tear drop shaped J’adore perfume bottle, the top court said in a statement on its website. Alert blog readers may remember that the Michael Jordan trademark case was similarly held on World IP Day in 2016.

4. Shanghai seizes U.S.-made microchip equipment over IPR. At the start of 2018, Chinese company Advanced Micro-Fabrication Equipment Inc (AMEC) learned that U.S. equipment suspected of infringing the company’s patents would arrive at Shanghai Pudong International Airport. Shanghai customs authorities then seized the suspected products, Jiefang Daily reported on Friday, citing customs officers. Customs suspended the clearance of the products worth 34 million yuan ($5.36 million). With Customs’ involvement, the U.S. company, whose name was not revealed, negotiated with AMEC. The two sides agreed to settle the dispute by offering cross licenses to each other. Chinese media reported that the case is a rare but important example of using Chinese Customs remedies to address imports of products infringing a Chinese patent to effect a cross-license.  The case appears to be a settlement of a long running dispute between Veeco Instruments of Plainview, NY and AMEC, which was reported in the western press, including the trade press, and also involved invalidity challenges, US court cases and an infringement law suit in Fujian province.   According to the western press on December 7, 2017 the Fujian High Court had granted AMEC’s motion for an injunction prohibiting Veeco Shanghai from importing, manufacturing, selling or offering for sale to any third party infringing an AMEC patent in China (revised June 4, 2018).

Other:

A summary of SPC’s IPR Report 2017 was released, but the whole report will be released in hard copy soon. Here’s the link to the summary.

January 16 – 29, 2018 Update

Jan 16 – 29, 2018 

Here are some updates on IP developments in China from past two weeks.

  1. China criticizes US moves on intellectual property 商务部:缺少确凿证据无可信度 China on Thursday criticized recent moves by the U.S. targeting the sale of fake goods and Chinese telecoms equipment, saying Washington lacked “objectivity” in its approach to Chinese businesses. Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters the U.S. Trade Representative lacked direct conclusive evidence and supporting data in listing three Chinese online commerce platforms and six physical bazaars within China as “notorious markets” engaging in commercial-scale copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting. Meanwhile, Alibaba Group recently released a series of initiatives to strengthen its intellectual property rights protection. The event happened days after Taobao was put listed as notorious market. The ecommerce giant intends to gather as much information as they can and use the expertise of both brands and rights holder to create a much stronger database. It should effectively improve the algorithm that Alibaba uses to counteract the fakes and even gather evidence for offline investigations. Moreover, Preempting the 2017 USTR report’s publication by one day, the company has released the 2017 Alibaba Intellectual Property Protection Annual Report (in Chinese).
  2. Google announces patent agreement with Tencent amid China push Alphabet Inc’s Google has agreed to a patent licensing deal with Tencent Holdings Ltd as it looks for ways to expand in China where many of its products, such as app store, search engine and email service, are blocked by regulators. The agreement with the Chinese social media and gaming firm Tencent covers a broad range of products and paves the way for collaboration on technology in the future, Google said on Friday, without disclosing any financial terms of the deal. Additional articles are available here and here.
  3. China Publishes More Scientific Articles Than the U.S. For the first time, China has overtaken the United States in terms of the total number of science publications, according to statistics compiled by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). According to the report, China published more than 426,000 studies in 2016, or 18.6% of the total documented in Elsevier’s Scopus database. That compares with nearly 409,000 by the United States. India surpassed Japan, and the rest of the developing world continued its upward trend.
  4. SIPO Released Statistics Data on Major Work for 2017国家知识产权局公布2017年主要工作统计数据 SIPO recently released detailed breakdown of statistics on its work for 2017. Government data show that the number of annual applications for invention patents filed in the country topped 1.38 million in 2017, a 14.2 percent rise on the previous year. Beijing, Shanghai and Jiangsu are the top 3 provinces for number of patents per 10,000 people. State Grid Corporation of China, Huawei, and Sinopec are top companies with most patents granted.
  5. China’s trademark applications hit record high in 2017 China’s trademark applications exceeded 5.7 million last year, up 55.7 percent year on year, both setting record highs. At the end of 2017, China had 14.92 million qualified registered trademarks, the most of any country worldwide.
  6. “Jianwang [Swordnet] 2017” closed 2554 Pirated Websites“剑网2017”关闭侵权盗版网站2554个National Copyright Administration, State Internet Information Office, MIIT and Ministry of Public Security jointly held a conference on “Jianwang” special campaign recently. Since this special act being implemented in July 2017, 63,000 websites have been investigated and 2554 infringing websites have been closed. According to officer from National Copyright Administration, this special act had a focus on videos, news, mobile Internet applications (APP) and e-commerce platform.
  7. China Will Take the Lead in Promoting IP Protection Mechanism in Pilot Area我国将在全面创新改革试验区域推进知识产权保护改革率先突破 NDRC recently issued a notice to promote reform on IP protection mechanism in eight pilot areas, including Jing Jin Ji, Shanghai, Guangdong, Anhui, Sichuan, Wuhan, Xi’an, Shenyang. The government intends to promote integrated management of IP rights, explore new mechanism of IP protection, and establish a new mechanism to link administrative and criminal enforcement.
  8. U.S.-China IP Scholar Dialogue was Held中美知识产权学者对话举行 The Fourth U.S.-China IP Scholar Dialogue was held in Shanghai, China from January 17 to 18. Intellectual property is a key issue in the development of U.S.-China economic and trade relations. To increase cooperation and understanding, IP experts from both countries created this dialogue mechanism since 2013. This year’s dialogue emphasized on AI, biomedical innovation, technology licensing, trade secret law reform, IP judiciary protection and dispute settlement mechanism.
  9. US Commerce Secretary Ross says Beijing’s technology strategy is a “direct threat”; China demurs.  US trade authorities are investigating whether there is a case for taking action over China’s infringements of intellectual property, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said. China responds that it did not expect more trade disputes.
  10. China Customs reports seizing infringing goods worth 552 mln yuan in past three years.   China has seized infringing goods worth 552 million yuan (86.06 million U.S. dollars) in the past three years driven by a special act called “Qingfeng” (“Clear Breeze”), according to the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC). The three-year crackdown on intellectual property rights infringement discovered about 120 million infringing items, according to the General Administration of Customs.  Compare prior discussion on previous reports of GACC hereand here.
  11. Beijing to set up IPR center to better serve high-tech firms.  Beijing will establish a center this year dedicated to providing services to high-tech companies on intellectual property rights (IPR), officials said. The center will offer fast-track services for patent applications to companies in information technology and high-end equipment production, two areas with the highest demand.  This is part of an existing SIPO effort to fast track areas of concern to industrial development.  Compare, however, article 27 of TRIPS Agreement – patents shall be available and patent rights enjoyable without discrimination as to the place of invention, the field of technology and whether products are imported or locally produced.
  12. SIPO released a directory of industries that need IP support.  SIPO recently released the 2018 Intellectual Property Supporting Industries Directory (知识产权重点支持产业目录(2018年本)), which identified 10 industries where IP will be key. The government asked for efficient allocation of IP resources within these industries to promote industrial restructuring and upgrading.
  13. China’s Sinovel Convicted in U.S. of Stealing Trade Secrets.  A Chinese wind turbine maker, Sinovel Wind Group Co. was found guilty of orchestrating the theft in a rare trial in Wisconsin that continues to raises doubts over China’s commitment to fighting infringement of intellectual property and corporate espionage.  The case is U.S. v. Sinovel Wind Group Co. Ltd., 13-cr-00084, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin (Madison). The conviction was against Sinovel Wind Group.  Previously a former employee of the victim had been found guilty of theft of trade secrets in a criminal case in Austria. In addition, there are in total five civil cases in China between Sinovel and AMSC, with one closed and four pending. AMSC filed one separate trade secret case in China plus two copyright cases and an arbitration.
  14.   Five New Guiding Cases (English translation available).  Of the five newly released GCs, four are administrative cases and one centers on a dispute over the infringement of rights related to a new plant variety (Case No. 92). English translation of those guiding cases are made available by the China Guiding Case Project of Stanford Law School. More information about previous guiding cases available here and here.

We hope to be providing more updates in the year ahead from UC Berkeley.  As usual, the information herein does not necessarily represent the opinion of any government agency, company, individual or the University of California.

Updated: February 13, 2018

New State Council Decision on Intellectual Property Strategy For China as a Strong IP Country

Statecouncilwordlcoud.PNG

On July 18, 2016, the State Council issued a new policy document,国务院关于新形势下加快知识产权强国建设的 若干意见-重点任务分工方案  — the “Opinion of the State Council on Accelerating the Construction of Intellectual Property Powers for China as an Intellectual Property Strong Country under the New Situation –Division of Tasks.”  Here’s a link to this action plan (docketed as State Council  Working Office No. 66)  , and a link to the machine translation, from which the world cloud above is drawn.   The action plan itself is drawn from a State Council document issued in 2015 on accelerating the establishment of a strong IP country in the context of a new situation.  This 2015 document identified such problems as China being a big country for IP, but not a strong country, protection was not adequately strict, infringement was easy and pervasive, and that these factors were affecting industry’s efforts to innovate.

As I discussed previously, the idea of China needing to become a strong IP country appears in the 2014-2020, National IPR Strategy Action Plan, which has the goal of “Striving to Build A Strong IPR Country”  (努力建设知识产权强国). While China indeed has become “big” on most scales: invention patent filings, trademark, utility models and design patents, intellectual property litigation, criminal IP litigation and administrative litigation, to name a few, “strong” suggests quality, which is much harder to judge.

Here are a few specific observations about this action plan:

  1. Much of the action plan repeats existing efforts, through the MofCOM IPR Leading Group and SIPO’s National IP Strategy Office, and their current efforts at analyzing and coordinating IP effort, as well as cooperative activities (Arts. 1, 3, 13, 15, 18, 21, 22, 25, 30, 44, 88, etc.).
  2. There are greater efforts to incorporate IP into macroeconomic strategies, such as in calculations regarding the national economy and national social welfare (Art. 9), as well as credit reporting (Art. 23).
  3. Increasing compensatory  and punitive damages are a focus (Arts. 14), which have also been an effort of China’s IP courts.  This is one of the key civil-law reform proposals in this plan.   There continues to be an undue emphasis on speed, which I assume is focused on patent administrative enforcement as a more rapid remedy (Art. 16).  China is already a fast moving IP environment.
  4. International cooperation in criminal enforcement is underscored (Arts. 19, 21, 22).
  5. Regarding trade secret protection, the focus is on revising trade secret laws, and protecting IP when employees change jobs (Art. 24).  Changes to China’s discovery regime and other appropriate measures which would greatly assist trade secret claimants, are not discussed.
  6. Geographical indications are a focus, including drafting a stand-alone GI law at “the appropriate time” (Art. 32), increasing the role of trademarks in promoting farmer prosperity (Art. 58), and promoting GI products (Art. 90).
  7. Regarding the long-delayed IP Abuse Guidelines, NDRC, MofCOM, SAIC and the State Council Legislative Affairs Office are all listed as being responsible for drafting “according to their responsibilities” (Art. 36).  Rules on standard essential patents that are based on FRAND licensing and “stopping infringement” are also noted (Art. 38), with the involvement of AQSIQ, SIPO, MIIT, and the Supreme People’s Court).  Encouraging standardization of Chinese patents also remains a priority (Arts. 61, 71).
  8. Service Invention Regulations, an area of some controversy are not specifically noted as a priority.  Encouragement is to be given to enterprises to set up appropriate invention recognition and reward programs in accordance with law (Art. 45), and research is to be undertaken in giving compensation for new scientific achievements (Art. 46).  The language may suggest that more flexibility will be given contractual arrangements and the market, as was agreed to bilaterally between China and the United States.   Relevant agencies involved in these efforts include SIPO, MoST, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture, SASAC, Chinese Academy of Sciences, MIIT, Ministry of Defense, etc.
  9. Chinese universities are also encouraged to become more actively engaged in commercialization of technology, through establishment of technology transfer offices (Art. 53) and other efforts.
  10. The impact of US efforts to study IP-intensive industries in the US economy is also apparent in this plan in terms of the government’s efforts to investigate promoting IP intensive industries in the Chinese economy, government procurement of products from IP intensive industries, and developing model districts for IP intensive industries (Arts. 55-56).  Interestingly, there is no specific reference to engaging economists on any of these efforts, despite the role of foreign economists in similar efforts, some of who have also directly engaged China on how to determine IP-intensity in an economy.
  11. There is discussion of using tax and financial policies to promote IP creation in China (Arts. 98, 99).  There is no explicit discussion of harmonization with OECD guidelines regarding patent boxes and other forms of international tax avoidance.
  12. The report discusses a number of strategies and plans to reduce overseas IP risks facing Chinese companies, including assisting Chinese companies in strategic planning, patenting and licensing (Arts. 72-76), developing information resources on risks and cases (Arts. 78-79), and – rather ominously – developing policies for countering large intellectual property cases overseas (with the support of MofCOM, Customs, SAIC, AQSIQ, NCA, and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade – “CCPIT”).   There is no discussion on any changes to current technology import regulations which impose onerous indemnity and non-grant back requirements on foreign licensors.
  13. The report directs research to be conducted of placing IP officials overseas in important countries, region and IP organizations.  Although China’s current IP attaché in the United States is a MofCOM employee, the responsible agencies for this effort include SIPO, NCA, SAIC, and CCPIT (Art. 85).  The first Chinese IP attaché was dispatched to the United States pursuant to a bilateral commitment of the  2005 Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade.
  14. The report notes that China will become more involved in promoting a more “fair and reasonable” international IP regime, through support of the Doha amendments to the TRIPS Agreement, the Convention on Biodiversity and various IP conventions.  The Hague Convention on Industrial Designs is noted, but not UPOV 1991.  Promotion of intangible heritage and folklore are also noted (Arts. 59. 87).
  15. IP talent creation and training are also key elements of the plan (103-105).

 

Often in looking at plans like these, it is also equally important to ask what is not being covered.   The plan does not focus enough on a China where there is greater scientific collaboration with foreign scientists and engineers, which are also result in an increasingly large number of co-invented patents.  Similarly, increasing Chinese investment in IP-intensive industries in the United States means that many Chinese companies will own substantial IP interests and may be less inclined to view IP issues as “us” vs “them.”  The relative under-emphasis on civil remedies for IP issues in this plan is also troubling, as the availability of adequate civil remedies is what drives IP commercialization.

The report also does not suggest increasing the role of economists in IP and antitrust agencies, despite a clear focus on increasing the IP-intensity of the Chinese economy. Gaps in Chinese law, such as denial of copyright protection for sports broadcasting, weak protection for trade dress, and “circular” litigation between the patent and trademark offices and the courts which may delay final adjudication on matters, controlling trademark squatting and subsidies for unexamined patents are not discussed.

Although there are many positive aspects of this plan, I believe that focusing on issues like compulsory licensing, the Doha Declaration and folklore, or what appears to be political solutions to overseas infringement may also not deliver as much value to the Chinese economy and China’s scientists, engineers, artists and entrepreneurs, as returning to core IP concepts which let the market govern IP creation and enforcement through such measures as improving the scope of rights that are protected under Chinese law, limiting government intervention, increasing the role of the civil judicial system, and promoting increased collaboration.

US and China Customs Data Compared

The following are some reflections on what Customs-related enforcement activity in the US and China last year.   The data generally shows the continuing problem of a high level of exports of counterfeit goods from China, difficulties in addressing online and border measures for patents, and the need to work with Customs officials to secure enforcement.

Both US and Chinese data generally showed an increase in Customs activity, especially in Sino-US trade, for 2015.  According to US  Fiscal Year 2015 data, the number of IPR seizures increased nearly 25 percent to 28,865 from 23,140 in FY 2014.  The total estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of the seized goods, had they been genuine, increased 10 percent to $1,352,495,341.  China and Hong Kong together at 87% of seizures, versus 88% for 2014.

China Customs also released its data in late April 2015.  Chinese data shows that the United States rose from the number 5 slot to the number one slot in terms of destination of batches of shipments.  However, the US was number 29 in numbers of seized items (suggesting a relatively small quantity in each batch of seizure for export to the US).   Postal shipments accounted for 84% of overall seizures, an increase of 2.7% from last year.  There was however a drop in seizures upon export from 23,019 to 22,000, which is contrary to the US experience – since increasing on-line sales in particular should likely result in more seizures, presumably at less value.

Iran was the export destination from China with the most goods seized, holding the number one place in 2014 and 2015.  As discussed last year, 2014 showed a diversification in destinations of China’s export destinations for counterfeit goods, which continued for this year.

There was also a change in the mix of China and Hong Kong origin seizures coming into US ports.  China origin seizures by US Customs dropped by 11% in 2015 and Hong Kong picked up the slack (10%).

Why was there such a dramatic “migration” of counterfeits to Hong Kong?  One other odd trend is that trademark litigation in Southern China (Guangdong)  actually dropped by 4.11%, according to data from the Guangdong High Court.   Any downward trend in Chinese IP statistics is often a warning sign – by comparison, the Supreme People’s court noted in its 2015 White Paper that national civil TM cases increased nationwide by 13.14% during this time frame to 24,168 cases.   The data might suggest that Guangdong is becoming less important as a place for enforce trademarks and/or that transshipment through Hong Kong is becoming more important, but it is too early to tell.

US data shows that the three largest categories by numbers of seizures were wearing apparel, consumer electronics and pharmaceuticals/personal care for 2015.  China reported that cosmetics, tobacco products, and machinery were amongst the major categories of seized products.  Cosmetics, jewelry, medical devices, and watches showed the greatest levels of increases in Chinese seizures.

Chinese Customs data also shows that the number of articles seized based on ex officio actions dropped dramatically (65% vs. 98%) comparing 2015 to 2014, suggesting the need for increased engagement by rightsholders with Chinese Customs to alert them to suspected infringing shipments.

Interestingly, China reported a noticeable increase in seizures on behalf of its domestic IP rights owners, which included 1939 batches with a value of more than 55,900,000 RMB.

As with the United States, Chinese Customs’ emphasized seizing trademark infringing goods over other rights.   In 2014,  TM’s occupied 96.86% of total items seized, with only 1.94% related to patent.  In 2015, TM related seizures increased to 98% of total items seized; copyright and patent combined were about 2% of the items seized.

US Customs reports that there was also a big increase in exclusion orders issues and enforced on behalf of the International Trade Commission, typically involving patents, with a 13-fold increase in shipments seized from 2 to 26.   In China, on-line enforcement against articles that infringe patents is also attracting more attention from Chinese regulators, with the Chinese patent law amendments also looking at an increased scope of liability for online service providers (Art. 63).

While on-line enforcement is getting more attention,  the Federal Circuit decided last year in ClearCorrect v. Align that the USITC Section 337 jurisdiction over the importation of “articles that infringe” does not extend to the “electronic transmission of digital data”, which may reduce the ITC’s role in the digital environment, particularly those involving patents.  This otherwise appears to be a trend that is contrary to an increased focus on on-line infringement.

IP in the Xi-Obama Meeting – Following the Data Stream

There wasn’t much IP in the recent meeting of the Chinese and US heads of State at APEC in Beijing, nor should one expect more than a brief mentioning amongst all the other issues that the U.S. and Chinese leadership have to discuss. However there were two points of reference.  One was in the Chinese tabulation of the list of agreed outcomes which stated:

七、双方同意于2015年初举行中国公安部和美国国土安全部部级会晤。双方将利用这一契机深入探讨加强反恐、执法等相关领域合作。双方同意继续在追逃追赃、遣返非法移民、禁毒、打击网络犯罪、加强知识产权执法等领域开展对话与合作。

Essentially this commits the Ministry of Public Security and the Department of Homeland Security to their first Ministerial-level meetings in 2015 to discuss deepening cooperation in enforcement related actions. In addition they agree to dialogue and cooperation in addressing including online crimes and strengthening intellectual property enforcement.

President Obama also noted in the joint press conference that he “stressed the importance of protecting intellectual property as well as trade secrets, especially against cyber-threats [with Xi Jinping].”

This is one instance where the statistical back story supports the respective statements of the leadership.

In China, there has been a big increase in domestic criminal IP cases in China during 2014. In the first half of 2014, the number of all the intellectual property-related criminal cases of the first instance was 5,429,r ising 29.35% over the same period of last year.

In 2013, intellectual property-related criminal cases. of first instance handled by local courts, were reduced by 28.79% to 9,331 cases, including 5,021 infringement cases (3,473 involved infringement of registered trademarks, such as use of counterfeit marks, and 1,484 cases involved copyright infringement).  This drop of 35.96% from the prior year was probably due to the end of a special campaign.

The multi-year trend clearly shows continuing increases in criminal enforcement. Wang Yu(王瑜),an IP lawyer, tabulated the number of IP cases in a recent blog (Oct. 29, 2014), translated here.

From the above chart, the IP-related criminal cases appear to be rising again.  Copyright cases are also rising fast, from 0.6% of 2010 to 39% of 2013.  Trade secret cases, however, are a small percentage and hover around 50 total.

USDOJ data shows that there were about 168 and 178  federal cases filed in 2011 and 2012 respectively. As the data shows, the US federal government has a much smaller litigated criminal IP docket than China.

The data suggests that: (a) China has a comparatively large, and rising docket of criminal IP cases, and (b) the numbers and proportion of Chinese criminal trade secret cases are rather few. The above data, of course, does now reveal qualitative differences, plea bargaining, or how many cases were international in nature, amongst other important differences between the US and Chinese systems..

In sum, after looking at the data, if I were Mr. Obama, I might ask Mr. Xi about improving trade secret enforcement. If I were the Chinese leader, I might ask Mr. Obama about cooperation on criminal IP cases.

And that’s what they appeared to do.

Ministry of Commerce IP Program in DC December 5

Chen Fuli, IP Attaché at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC the morning of December 5.   The program is free of charge, but seating may be limited.   You should RSVP at: lishuai@mofcom.gov.cn.

The topics are all ones that I have actively followed in this blog.  Here is the tentative agenda:

International High Level IPR Cooperation Forum

Dec 5,  Georgetown Holiday Inn

2101 Wisconsin Ave, NW, 20007, Washington DC

 9:00-9:20  Opening remarks, by Both China and U.S. Representatives

 9:20-9:40   New developments in IP enforcement in China, by Director Jing Zhang from the Office of Fighting Against IPR Infringing and Making or Selling Counterfeit and Shoddy Products under the State Council

9:40-10:00  New amended Chinese Trademark Law, by Deputy Director General Qing Xia from CTMO

 10:00-10:15 Q & A

 10:15-10:30 Coffee Break

 10:30-10:50  Amending of Chinese Copyright Law by Deputy Director Ping Hu from NCAC

10:50-11:10  Amending of Chinese Patent Law and Regulation on Service Invention by director Yanhong Wang from SIPO

11:10-11:30  New practice of IP trials after the amendment of Chinese Civil Procedure Law by Judge Yuanming Qin from SPC

11:30-11:50 Q & A

11:50-12:00 Closing Remarks

—————-

12:00-13:30                    Lunch (hosted by China for all the participants)

In addition to the speakers noted above, there will also be Chinese official participants from public security, Customs, procuratorate, AQSIQ and other agencies, which should help make for lively discussion and interaction.  I hope to see you there!