Unpacking the Role of IP Legislation in the Trade War

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Here is my attempt to unpack recent legislation and their relevance to the on-going trade dispute.

In recent months, China has amended its Foreign Investment Law, the Technology Import/Export Regulations (“TIER”), the Anti-Unfair Competition Law regarding trade secrets, and the Trademark Law, with new provisions on bad faith filings and damages. A summary of the Trademark Law revisions provided by SIPS is found here. China also amended the Joint Venture Regulations provisions removing provisions that which limited a foreign licensor’s freedom to license technology beyond years or to restrict use of licensed technology after the 10 year period had elapsed.

With the revisions to the TIER and the JV regulations, much of the basis for the US and EU complaints against China at the WTO regarding de jure forced technology transfer may have evaporated (WTO Disputes DS542, and DS549). However, the public dockets do not indicate that the cases have been withdrawn.

China seems to have determined that it has crossed a line in how much it can accommodate US demands. Bloomberg reported on a commentary published after the imposition of escalated sanctions in the influential “China Voice” column of the People’s Daily which accused the US of fabricating forced technology transfer claims. The commentary is entitled “If you want to condemn somebody, don’t worry about the pretext”, with the sub-title, written in classical Chinese: “‘Forced Technology Transfer’ Should Stop!”. (欲加之罪,何患无辞 – “中国强制转让技术论”可以休矣). The title is a quotation from the Zuo Zhuan, a classic of Chinese history written around 400 B.C. that realistically describes the palace intrigues, military tactics, assassinations, etc. from the chaotic “Spring and Autumn” period from 771-476 B.C. The People’s Daily view is also shared by a number of scholars and observers who view the problem as exaggerated or mischaracterized (apart from the TIER and JV regulations). However, this view has been rejected by USTR Lighthizer, as was reported in a recent NPR interview (March 25, 2019):

“CHANG: Though a number of scholars believe the Trump administration is overstating how often forced technology transfers are happening.

LIGHTHIZER: Well, I guess I don’t know who those scholars are. We did an eight-month study on it, and I think it’s the very strong view of the people that we talked to that it’s a very serious problem and has been for a number of years.”

(Update of May 21, 2019: A recent EU Chamber survey in fact showed an increase in businesses reporting that FTT is a concern, from 10% two years ago to 20%.)

There have also been several IP legislative developments that may not be as directly linked to US government trade pressure. Perhaps the most important is the launch of China’s new national appellate IP Court effective January 1, 2019. The NPC has released a draft of the civil code provisions on personality rights (See this translation). Personality rights can be important tools in addressing trademark squatting, such as in the Michael Jordan case with Qiaodan. CNIPA also released Draft Provisions for Regulating Applications for Trademark Registration (关于规范商标申请注册行为的若干规定(征求意见稿) which addresses bad faith registrations. CNIPA released a draft rule for public comment on Protection of Foreign GI’s (国外地理标志产品保护办法 (修订征求意见稿)on February 28, 2019. The comments focus on generic terms and a GI expert committee for examination of foreign GI’s. Here are INTA’s comments on the trademark registration and GI proposed rules. CNIPA also proposed changes to patent examination guidelines on such issues as proof of inventive step and what constitutes “common knowledge.” Here are AIPLA’s comments from April 4, 2019.

Still pending are proposed amendments to the Drug Administration Law, with comments due by May 25, 2019. This is a second public comment draft released by the NPC. Ropes & Gray has provided a useful analysis. The proposed changes to the DAL also include increased punitive damages for counterfeit medicines, in line with increased penalties in the IP laws (Trademark, AUCL, etc.). There are also proposed changes to the patent law which was released for comment earlier this year. Of particular interest to the pharma sector in the proposed changes were provisions calling for patent term restoration. However, a hoped for inclusion of patent linkage through an “artificial infringement” provision to trigger an infringement challenge by reason of a pharmaceutical regulatory approval has not yet materialized. There were also rumors that China and USTR has scaled back regulatory data protection for biologics from the 12 years that had originally been proposed by China in 2018 to the 10 year period provided by the US Mexico Canada Free Trade Agreement.

What is the relationship between all these legislative changes and the trade war? Larry Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council, described the legislative snafu that caused the administration to reinstitute tariffs as follows:

“For many years, China trade, it was unfair, nonreciprocal, unbalanced, in many cases, unlawful. And so, we have to correct those and one of the sticking points right now as we would like to see these corrections in an agreement which is codified by law in China, not just the state council announcement. We need to see something much clearer. And until we do, we have to keep our tariffs on, that’s part of the enforcement process as far as we are concerned.”

So what are the unenacted “laws” and what is the State Council “announcement” that Mr. Kudlow is referring to and which in his view launched this new trade war escalation? I doubt that Mr. Kudlow has read China’s Law on Legislation and understands the difference between a Law passed by the NPC and a State Council Regulation, particularly as US and European practice in recent months appears to be oblivious of legislative nomenclature and its role in determining what constitutes a legally binding document.

Perhaps Mr. Kudlow is talking about the NDRC 38 agency MOU published in late 2018 regarding punishments for serious patent infringement, including use of social credit system. The NDRC document is clearly inferior to a Law or State Council Regulation, but it was a directly promulgated document of a State Council agency. As the patent law amendments have not been enacted yet, he may be referring to this delay in enactment and the failure to increase damages for infringement as has been provided by other statutes. In my own view, the focus on punitive or even statutory damages is misguided as is increased administrative enforcement, as the primary reason that damages are low is the failure of most Chinese courts to impose fully compensatory damages and abide by priorities in law for establishing damages. But I hope to have more on that in another blog…

One thing is certain: China has been timing legislative developments with trade diplomacy. This may lead one to believe that China’s approach to the new laws was purely transactional, and/or there were other laws that the US was also expecting but that China has since declined to deliver. The previously mentioned NDRC 38 Agency MOU was enacted before the G-20 meeting but made publicly available shortly thereafter. The “Working Measures [sic] for Outbound Transfer of Intellectual Property Rights (For Trial Implementation), (State Council, Guo Ban Fa [2018] No. 19)” (知识产权对外转让有关工作办法(试行)) which was previously discussed here, appear to have been timed with the 301 announcement in March 2018. In addition, the revocation of TIER provisions, JV implementing regulations, and amendments to the Trademark Law and AUCL revisions all were enacted with incredible efficiency, often denying any opportunity for meaningful public comment in violation of prior procedural practices. A reasonable guess may be that there were some additional laws or regulations that the US was expecting but that China had determined it could not deliver, or deliver in the time frame provided. Nonetheless, the legislative track record thus far is quite impressive.

China’s improved environment for technology transfer and technology collaboration is coming at a time when the United States has tightened up its controls with China. The most notable legislation in this area is the John S. McCain Defense Authorization Act for 2018 (the “Act”), including the enactment of the Foreign Investment Risk Reduction Modernization Act and the Export Controls Act of 2018. These laws extended export control and foreign investment control authorities to foundational and emerging technologies, as well as to non-passive, non-controlling investments. Much of the technologies of concern overlap with Made in China 2025 and other Chinese industrial policy documents. Although the Act did not specifically create “black” and “white” countries as subjects of controls, the Congressional history did point to special concerns about China:

“Congress declares that long-term strategic competition with China is a principal priority for the United States that requires the integration of multiple elements of national power, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, law enforcement, and military elements, to protect and strengthen national [t]security, [including] … the use of economic tools, including market access and investment to gain access to sensitive United States industries.”

The most recent report which analyzes the impact of US and Chinese regulations on Chinese investment in the United States by Rhodium Group is found here (May 8, 2019). The report notes an “over 80% decline in Chinese FDI in the US to just $5 billion from $29 billion in 2017 and $46 billion in 2016. Accounting for asset divestitures, net 2018 Chinese FDI in the US was -$8 billion. Meanwhile, American FDI in China dropped only slightly to $13 billion in 2018 from $14 billion in 2017.” The Rhodium report also notes that “the chilling impact of politics on US FDI in China was mostly visible in the ICT space where new investment declined significantly last year.” Other countries have also been enacting similar restrictions on FDI in sensitive areas, as pointed out in a recent article by my Berkeley colleague Vinod K. Aggarawal. Note: I will be speaking at a forthcoming AIPLA webinar on export controls and IP strategies on May 23, 2019 as well as at forthcoming events in China (to be announced).

In addition to these legislative efforts, the US has undertaken steps to restrict H1B visas for talented scientists and engineers and the FBI has created a new working group to address economic espionage from China. The Committee of 100 released an important paper in 2017 showing that Asian Americans were more likely to be prosecuted for economic espionage than any other ethnic group, are also subject to higher sentences and were twice as likely as other groups to have cases against them dismissed. Some observers fear that overly broad regulation and enforcement by the United States may now be encouraging exactly what China has sought to do for decades: repatriate to China the vast talent pool of Chinese scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to contribute to the technological development of the motherland.

Although there have been few legislative efforts directed to making US science and technology more competitive in response to these perceived threats from China, there have been several general reports and proposals. The National Institute of Science and Technology recently released a green paper, “Return on Investment Initiative for Unleashing American Innovation” (April 2019) to improve federal technology transfer and entrepreneurship. There are increasing calls for Congress to fund the long defunct Office of Technology Assessment, which once played an active role in analyzing US-China technology trade.

Several trade organizations and think tanks have called for increased US funding in science and technology, among them is the recent report of the Task Force of American Innovation, “Second Place America – Increasing Challenges to America’s Scientific Leadership” (May 7, 2019). The R&D graph at the head of this blog showing China’s rapid growth in R&D is from that report. The report notes:

“America’s competitive edge is now at stake, as China and other countries are rapidly increasing investments in research and workforce development in order to assume positions of global leadership. Our nation risks falling perilously behind in the basic scientific research that drives innovation, as our global competitors increase support for cutting-edge research and push to the forefront in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, and the next generation of telecommunications networks.”

To round out this summary of legislative developments, there have been developments at the USPTO that impact US relations with China on IP. The USPTO published a proposed regulation which will regulate legal services for the rapidly increasing number of Chinese pro se trademark filers in the US (2/15/2019). This proposed regulation would require these applications to use a US licensed attorney. The purported purpose of this change in current practice is “instill greater confidence in the public that U.S. registrations that issue to foreign applicants are not subject to invalidation for reasons such as improper signatures and use claims and enable the USPTO to more effectively use available mechanisms to enforce foreign applicant compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements in trademark matters.” The rule also seems generally consistent with TRIPS Art. 3, which permits WTO members to require “the appointment of an agent within the jurisdiction of a Member … to secure compliance with laws and regulations which are not inconsistent with the provisions of [the TRIPS] Agreement”.

Another important development involves USPTO efforts to clarify subject matter eligibility under Sec. 101 of the patent act, and functional claim limitations for computer-enabled inventions under Section 112. The United States had been weakening and destabilizing protections in these important areas affecting artificial intelligence, fintech and biotech inventions at the precise time when China had been strengthening its protections. These are important steps towards strengthening predictability in our domestic IP system, which may be further strengthened by proposed legislative changes.

Ironically, China’s improvements in its investment and tech transfer environment are coming at a time of heightened concern over a Chinese technological threat and increased US and international regulatory scrutiny. It may be difficult, therefore, to perceive any immediate positive impact from changes in China’s investment environment. Indeed, the media has recently been reporting on decisions of different companies or entrepreneurs to close down R&D operations in each other’s markets. Hopefully, both countries may ultimately create the right mix of IP enforcement and protection, regulatory controls over collaboration and industrial policy to enable bilateral scientific collaboration to once again flourish and contribute to the global economy.

Still Time to Register: Practical Issues in CFIUS and Export Controls

The dramatic expansion of the scope of the CFIUS process and its complex interaction with changing export control regimes pose complex challenges to companies in the United States and throughout the world. This seminar will present practical insights on how to navigate these regimes.  If your company or clients are involved in technology collaboration overseas or in attracting foreign investment and talent to research in the United States, you may find this program invaluable.

​​Date: April 10, 2019

Location: Krutch Theatre, Clark Kerr Campus Conference Center, 2601 Warring St, Berkeley, CA 94720

This is the Google Maps link.

Time: 3:00 – 5:30

Cost: No Charge

Preregistration link.

Agenda

3:00 – 3:30 Registration

3:30 – 4:15 Latest Developments in US export controls, CFIUS, FIRRMA and agency implementation of the new regime, and best practices

Moderator: Mark Cohen, UC Berkeley

Discussants: Jeanette Chu (Pricewaterhouse Coopers), Lawrence Ward (Dorsey & Whitney).

4:30 – 5:15 Perspectives from “under the hood” (former officials involved in the CFIUS process and users of the export controls/CFIUS/ system)

Moderator: Mark Cohen

Discussants: Jim Mendenhall (Sidley & Austin) Justin Huff (Jones Day),   Ben Kostrzewa (Hogan Lovells), Greg Slater (Intel), Brian Warshawsky (U of California, Office of the President), Piin-fen Kok (Pacific Pension Institute/impact on portfolio investment),   Yvonne Cheng Yuanyuan (King & Wood Mallesons/Chinese investment perspectives),  Gabrielle Liu (Beijing IP Paragon Law Firm).

5:15 – 5:30 Q&A

5:30  Reception

 

Upcoming CFIUS and Export Controls Program at Berkeley Law

Practical Issues in CFIUS and Export Controls:
A Discussion Among Practitioners and Users​

The dramatic expansion of the scope of the CFIUS process and its complex interaction with traditional and evolving export regimes pose complex challenges to companies in the United States and throughout the world. This seminar will present practical insights on how to navigate these regimes and their impact on tech innovation and trade. We are expecting a great group of speakers and participants on both topics – watch this website.  There is no charge to attend this program.

​​

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

3:30 – 5:30 P.M.
(3:00 P.M. Registration)
Clark Kerr Conference Center, Krutch Theater
2601 Warring Street
Berkeley, CA
 

Reception to follow

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).

Updates for March 27 – April 2, 2018 – China steps up control over technology exports

China steps up scrutiny of IP transfers to foreign firms on national security grounds: Under new regulations issued by the State Council on Thursday, technology transfers include IP transfers that are part of acquisitions made by foreign firms involving patents, integrated circuit layout design, computer software copyright and plant varieties. Such transfers will be assessed in terms of their impact on national security and the country’s “key technology innovation capability in key areas,” said the document.

This move is not intended to “upset foreign investors” but rather to formulate “concrete measures to secure a better business environment,” said Zhang Zhicheng, director of the Protection and Coordination Department at SIPO. Zhang also noted the importance for China to strictly review core IP transfers.
Our preliminary observations: Some observers believe the measures are drafted in retaliation to the Section 301 report of the US government which addresses Chinese investment in the United States as well as the US request of China for consultations of China over the Technology Import / Export Regulations, which are also referred to in these regulations. We are also unclear at this point if these regulations were previously “in the works” or otherwise accelerated in response to the Section 301 investigation.
Companies should consider consulting counsel on the impact of these regulations. First, it appears likely that a foreign-invested company’s acquisition of Chinese technology is an IP ‘transfer’ for purposes of these regulations. Under US law, these might be considered a “deemed export if a foreign national obtains technology while in the United States These regulations do not use this terminology. The regulations may impact foreign companies based on their source of capital rather than the presence of foreign nationals. For example, the regulation’s scope appears to include transfers that occur wholly within China, as they refer to transfers “to foreigners” of Chinese IP, and earlier regulations, by contrast, focused on transfers to enterprises overseas. .(本办法所述知识产权对外转让,是指中国单位或者个人将其境内知识产权转让给外国企业、个人或者其他组织.)    Compare with the Provisional Regulations on the Administration of Technology Exports 技术出口管理·暂行办法 (对外经贸部/国家科委) (June 26, 1990) (本办法所称的技术出口是中国境内的 公司, 企业, 研究机构以及其·他组织或者个人(不包括外商投资企业, 外国在中国公司。。。。)向境外的公司。。。。).  Further clarification on this important issue would be helpful.

Another issue requiring clarification is the difference between technology transfer and an assignment or licensing of a patent. This distinction has been confusing for some time, and these regulations carry this confusion forward. The earlier 1990 regulations also regulated the transfer of patents, as well as registered trademarks (!) as a form of “technology transfer” (Art. 2).  However, in most cases, any “leakage” of technology arising from a patent application occurred at the time of the publication of the patent application or grant. An added complication is that China already has procedures in place for regulating foreign filings of patents for national security purposes. Article 20.1 of the Chinese Patent Law provides for confidentiality examination of these applications. These measures may be redundant with these procedures, particularly in regulating the transfer of patent applications to foreigners.

Until further clarity is established by implementing rules, these regulations could have an impact of disrupting existing foreign-invested R&D or cooperation across national borders. Two questions come immediately to mind: if, for example, a Chinese national is under contract to conduct R&D for a foreign-invested company, or is an employee of that company, is the transfer in ownership of the patent application, from the employee to employer a “transfer of technology” for purposes of these regulations? Another question is what is the standard that applies to determine whether an invention created by individuals in China and overseas was “created in China” and is transfer is subject to these regulations? It is also worth noting that the 1990 regulations specifically exempted bilateral scientific cooperation (Article 2). These do not.
In a separate development, the State Council released measures this week to strengthen the security management of scientific data. The measures, which prioritize data security and focus on data sharing, order strengthening supervision of the use and sharing of scientific data with both domestic and foreign parties.

Finally, this blog and its preliminary observations are not a substitute for legal counsel for better understanding and actionable steps towards compliance with China’s export control regime.

Please advise of any necessary corrections.