Further Trade-Responsive IP Legislative Developments May Be In the Works…

“When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The stranger living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt.” (Leviticus, Vayikra וַיִּקְרָא) .

He Jing of the Anjie law firm brought to my attention today an article in the April 21 Legal Daily which identifies proposed amendments to the Trademark Law, Anti-Unfair Competition Law and Administrative Licensing law that appear to be responsive to United States concerns over unfair treatment of Americans, “forced technology transfer” and IP protection in the current trade war.   Here is a copy of the Legal Daily article.

While we wait for the actual draft, I will place these proposed changes in context.

In my posting on good faith in IP-related trade issues,  I identified several issues which this legislation attempts to address, including warehousing of bad faith trademark registrations without intent to use; and  the removal of “employee” as a covered party (经营者) in China’s revised trade secret law (Anti Unfair Competition Law) which facilitates bad-faith employee behavior.   Actually, I am relieved that China may now be understanding how tolerance of bad faith behavior has had a wide spread impact on foreign perceptions of China’s willingness to protect IP.  These are important new steps.

Other provisions this legislation attempts to address also appear to address long-standing US concerns, such as requiring the destruction of counterfeit goods or materials and tools used for their manufacture.  The destruction of semi-finished counterfeit goods and materials and tools was a subject of DS-362, the China IP enforcement case, particularly regarding Customs’ disposal of goods outside the channels of commerce and the role of semi-finished goods in calculating criminal thresholds.

Other concerns raised in the legislation have been raised bilaterally.  Bad faith trademark registrations had long been discussed bilaterallyProtecting confidential information submitted by foreigners in administrative licensing has also been a long-standing concern of the United States and has been the subject of several JCCT discussions.

Although these changes are positive, I am reluctant to enthusiastically endorse them in the absence of corresponding measures ensuring their implementation.  As previously noted, newly amended provisions in the new Foreign Investment Law prohibiting forced technology transfer are likely to have little impact absent effective complaint and legal challenge procedures, such as the creation of a foreign investment ombudsman and/or appeals to the newly established IP court.  The inclusion of a non-discrimination position in administrative licensing procedures is also welcome news, although it may be similarly difficult to monitor and enforce.

China’s existing trademark law shows the limitations of forcing changes in behavior through legislation.  The trademark law and civil law have had provisions requiring “good faith” behavior, yet there has been little demonstrable impact on the flood of bad faith applications, which had increased to 7.3 million applications in 2018.  Chinese-origin bad faith and fraudulent applications are also causing USPTO to revise its own rules regarding pro se trademark applications from overseas.

As other examples, providing for treble or quintuple damages in patent or trademark proceedings is only useful in those still rare proceedings where statutory damages are not being used to calculate damages.  Similarly, the burden of proof reversals in IP cases, such as trade secrets can be useful but only if they are appropriately and effectively utilized and if motion practice in the courts is observable through online publication. Increasing penalties in administrative trade secret cases sound good on paper, but foreigners little use administrative trade secret enforcement proceedings.  Such proceedings have traditionally been an IP enforcement backwater.  According to the 2011 SAIC Yearbook (p. 855), there were only 57 reported administrative trade secret cases in that year, with an average 77,543 RMB average value and only 1,430,000 RMB (less than five thousand dollars) in fines.  The greatest focus of these cases were individuals, as 26 cases involved natural persons.  The data suggests to me that these cases largely involve employer/employee disputes over trade secret misappropriation, which should be resolvable in the courts.  Perhaps even more striking was the 35% decline in criminal trade secret prosecutions in 2017 to only 26 cases, which was also accompanied by a significant decline in criminal IP cases generally since 2012.   To address tolerance of trade secret theft (and IP infringement) by Chinese society, the most effective approach will be a commitment to criminal trade secret enforcement and an even greater commitment to civil remedies.  The proposed legislation only addresses part of this need.

Substantive changes can only be as effective as they can be monitored.  With respect to changes in substantive trademark and trade secret law, it would be especially useful if the full court dockets and more final cases were published.  If the data cannot be observed, it cannot be monitored for compliance.

While these legislative developments are underway, there is also word that the State Council continues to solicit opinions from the foreign business community on how IP issues are handled on their behalf.  This may also lead to welcome news.

There have also been two separate, non-IPR developments, which may have some bearing on the negotiations over the resolution of the trade war.  According to Bloomberg, the European Union is said to have won a dispute brought by China at the WTO seeking recognition of China’s market economy status (“MES”).    A similar case is pending involving the United States.  The lessons from these cases for IP should be that both the US and the EU should encourage more comprehensive and systemic treatment by China of IP as a private right if China is ever to achieve full MES.

In another development, a WTO panel ruled in favor of Russia in a dispute brought by Ukraine that the “national security” exception afforded by the WTO was not completely self-judging. The case could be read as a warning that the United States does not have unbridled discretion in deciding what constitutes a threat to its national security.  Taken together both cases affirm the WTO’s desire to remain relevant to changing circumstances in China and a changed perspective on international trade of the United States.

I wish everyone a happy Passover, Easter or spring holiday.

Buddha

 

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

 

 

Trade and Peace on Earth: Part 1

O ye who read this truthful rime From Flanders, kneel and say:
God speed the time when every day
Shall be as Christmas Day.

(Frederick Niven, “A Carol from Flanders”, regarding the WW I Xmas truce)

We are in the middle of the 90-day trade war truce, which was announced at the G-20 in Buenos Aires. Is there, however, an opportunity for a lasting trade peace?  Let’s look at developments to date…

Shortly after the Buenos Aires G-20 meeting on December 1, 2018 at which the 90 day truce was agreed to, USTR Robert Lighthizer gave an interview on Face the Nation where he  hinted at the pathway forward, noting: “We have had conversations ongoing.  We have had conversations ongoing for over a year.”  Lighthizer went on to say that we need structural changes and market opening “on this fundamental issue of non-economic technology transfer.”  Lighthizer’s focus was three-fold: forced technology transfer, cyber theft and state capitalism.  Lighthizer noted that tariffs will be raised in March unless a satisfactory solution is found.  In fact, USTR has announced on November 19 a deadline of March 2, at which time tariffs will be raised.  March 2 is 90 days after the December 1 meeting.

Notwithstanding LIghthizer’s assertions of on-going discussion, there have been several significant developments which suggest that there may not have been much real communication.  Typically, a new administration needs one to two years before adequately coming to terms with how China negotiates on IP and what may be the “low hanging fruit” in IP improvements that could have a durable impact.  This administration and China have not had anything approaching a “honeymoon” period.  It is not surprising, therefore, that some of the developments during this past year, as well as during the truce period appear, to be missing the mark.

If we dial back to the period when the 301 investigation was on-going, China failed to publicly disclose data on civil trade secret cases for 2018, and actually reduced its criminal trade secret prosecutions by approximately 35% to only 26 cases in that year. China’s revised trade secret law (Anti Unfair Competition Law) (eff. 1/1/18) also weakened trade secret protections by expanding the ambiguity around protections and procedures, where a non “business operator”, such as an employee, misappropriates trade secrets.

The United States also did not always engage comprehensively during this period. Although the United States filed a WTO case against China on March 23, 2018 (the day after the Section 301 Report was released) regarding compulsory licensing terms, the complaint does not specifically call out trade secrets (undisclosed information) as a form of technology licensing.  The European complaint, by contrast, more thoughtfully notes that “China imposes a different set of rules on the import of technology, including industrial property rights, other intellectual property rights and undisclosed information (“intellectual property rights”).”

Other recent efforts undertaken by China suggest that there may also have been some lack of understanding of US interests, including perhaps an undue emphasis on patent licensing.  NDRC, China’s powerful state planning agency,  announced a special Memorandum of Understanding/campaign mechanism involving 38 government agencies to address six types of “dishonest  conduct” by patenting enterprises and individuals.  The “MOU For Cooperation for Joint Disciplinary Actions Against Subjects of Serious Mistrust in the Field of Intellectual Property (patents).” 关于对知识产权(专利)领域严重失信主体开展联合惩戒的合作备忘录  is dated November 21 (before the G-20), but  was published on December 2 (immediately after).

How effective will this MOU be?  For some time, the academic data has suggested that such special campaigns have rarely brought any durable progress.  In fact, China suggested a special campaign for three months at the beginning of the 301 investigation. My response on the record to that suggestion was:

“Many scholars think that these short campaigns have limited duration and effect . . .. So, I’d like to know why is this particular program any different from other ones before it? Why not extend it or make it permanent? Or perhaps should the focus be on judicial reform or other areas?”

The data also shows that foreigners rarely use the administrative patent system and, as I have pointed out, along with former Chief Judge Rader and former PTO Director Kappos, vesting the administrative agency in charge of granting patents with the ability to bring infringement actions and special campaigns may not be conducive to independent adjudication of rights.

Another “truce-responsive” legislative effort appears to be in the works from China’s National People’s Congress, where a first reading of a new “Foreign Investment Law” is reportedly  now under consideration. The law would combine existing laws regarding foreign investment into one statute and is intended to insure that foreigners are accorded national treatment and can participate in government procurement and standards setting, as well as insure that transfer technology is on voluntary terms.  It  hopefully may address some aspects of forced technology transfer that have been identified by USTR in its 301 Report.

There have also been two other significant developments that could affect the landscape for technology transfer and IP protection in China that have a longer history and could be helpful to foreigners facing IP issues in China.  One of these is China’s proposed draft patent law amendments which have also been submitted to the NPC and have gone through its first reading.  The draft offers some improvement on judicial procedures and remedies (including discovery for calculation of damages, and improved damage calculations).  This latest draft also strengthens administrative enforcement, and extends the term for design patents to 15 years (in anticipation of accession to the Hague Agreement on the International Registration of Industrial Designs), provides for enhanced protection of patents in e-commerce, extends patent term for innovative pharmaceutical patents by five years.  However, it may also have weakened protections for pharmaceutical patents, as press reports thus far omit any reference to patent linkage, continuing a trend since this past August.

In my estimation, the most positive development is the establishment of a new specialized appellate circuit IP  tribunal attached to China’s Supreme People’s Court and under the direction of long time IP judge, Luo Dongchuan, now Justice of the SPC.  The new circuit tribunal will have national jurisdiction over technologically complex IP cases and will open for business January 1, 2019.   This court could also have an important impact on technical trade secret cases, patent disputes in key areas, such as semiconductors and pharma cases, appeals from China’s patent office, in insuring consistency of decision making across various intermediate courts, and in other areas.

Interestingly, none of these changes address Lighthizer’s other goals of addressing cyber theft and state capitalism.

There have been other changes in how the US engages with China that suggest some modifications in the bilateral relationship are permanent.  US companies have now begun wondering how they can take advantage of US Customs rules regarding determinations of country of origin of products with Chinese content, to minimize the potential application of 25% punitive tariffs.   They are busy revisiting Customs doctrines regarding “substantial transformation, including the progeny of cases and rulings since the landmark decision in Anheuser Busch v. United States 207 U.S. 556 (1907), in order to see how they might restructure manufacturing in China through conducting more assembly or finishing outside of China.  For Customs lawyers this must be a boon period.  At the same time, the US Department of Commerce has published new, potentially restrictive rules on “foundational” and “emerging” technologies, which may be targeted towards China, and the Treasury Department/Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is conducting a pilot program that could restrict “passive, non-controlling” foreign investments in technology.  Meanwhile, Huawei’s CFO was arrested pending extradition to the United States, and Fujian Jinhua is banned from acquiring US technology, as it has been determined to be a threat to US national security.  It is clear to me that even if this stage of the trade war were to end, a new normal in trade relations with China has emerged and significant steps will need to be taken to reestablish trust.

My next blog will offer some ideas for reducing the bilateral temperature.

Christmas Day, 2018 (rev. 5:00 PM).