GAI’s Comments on AUCL

Ahead of schedule, George Mason University’s Global Antitrust Institute (“GAI”) has prepared its comments on the NPC’s proposed revisions to the Anti-Unfair Competition Law, available here. 

GAI commended the National People’s Congress for deleting Article 6 on abuse of superior bargaining position and recommended that any provisions that relate to conduct covered by China’s Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) be omitted entirely. GAI also strongly urged that Article 11 (which provides that “[b]usiness operators selling goods must not bundle the sale of goods against buyers’ wishes, and must not attach other unreasonable conditions”) be omitted in its entirety, as such conduct is already covered by Article 17(5) of the AML or at the very least, Article 11 should be revised to adopt an effects-based approach.

In my opinion, the argument that the AUCL shouldn’t duplicate the AML can also be said of other laws in China, notably the Technology Import / Export Regulations and Article 329 of the Contract Law regarding monopolization of technology.  Other laws, such as the Pricing Law also have a strong overlap with the AML, particularly as administered by NDRC. 

GAI’s comments on a prior State Council Legislative Affairs Office draft, along with the comments of the American Bar Association and American Intellectual Property Law Institute are available through this link.

I hope to post the comments of other organizations on the AUCL on this blog in the future. If you would like your organization’s comments to be considered for distributing here, please send your comments to me at: chinaipr@yahoo.com.

Comments on Draft Guidelines on Disgorgement and Fines in AML Matters

Attached are comments of the ABA Sections of Antitrust and International Law  (ABA) and the George Mason University Global Antitrust Institute (GAI) on the draft guidelines of the National Development and Reform Commission on Disgorgement and Fines in Antimonopoly Law matters. The ABA comments are bilingual and have the complete text of the draft guidelines included in the package that is being made available here.  The guidelines were published for public consultation on June 17, 2016.

The two sets of comments offer two slightly nuanced approaches in their understanding of the final drafting responsibilities for these guidelines.  The ABA comments are nominally  directed to the Antimonopoly Commission of the State Council, while the GAI’s Comments are more directed to the National Development and Reform Commission which released this draft for eventual adoption by the Antimonopoly Commission.  The relationship between these drafts and an official adoption by the AMC is not clear to me, as the NDRC announcement of the draft states that the drafting of the guidelines are in the work plan of the Antimonopoly Commission, and that NDRC undertook the research and drafting (根据国务院反垄断委员会的工作计划,我们研究起草了《关于认定经营者垄断行为违法所得和确定罚款的指南》(征求意见稿),现面向社会公开征求意见.). It does not explicitly say that this research and  drafting was undertaken on behalf of the AMC.  Moreover, comments are to be delivered to the Pricing Bureau of NDRC, not the NDRC itself, which may suggest that this is indeed a research project (发送到国家发展改革委(价监局).  It is my view that considering the continuing battle of drafting responsibility by Antimonopoly enforcement agencies + SIPO,  in the IP Abuse guidelines, which the State Council has recently said is the responsibility of these four agencies and the State Council Legislative Affairs Office, final drafting  responsibility for an interagency antimonopoly law guideline may not be easily assumed at this time.  If others in the antitrust community have more specific information, I welcome them posting it here.

Regardless of which agency is the lead, the sharing of drafts with this website and others helps to increase our understanding of the overall process through sharing of different commenters’ positions, for which I am grateful.  I hope that over time Chinese agencies will also make all non-confidential comments publicly available.

GAI’s recommendations include that the Draft Guidelines be revised to limit the application of disgorgement (or the confiscating of illegal gain) and punitive fines to matters in which: (1) the antitrust violation is clear (i.e., if measured at the time the conduct is undertaken, and based on existing laws, rules, and regulations, a reasonable party should expect that the conduct at issue would likely be found to be illegal) and without any plausible efficiency justifications; (2) it is feasible to articulate and calculate the harm caused by the violation; (3) the measure of harm calculated is the basis for any fines or penalties imposed; and (4) there are no alternative remedies that would adequately deter future violations of the law.  In the alternative, and at the very least, the NDRC should expand the circumstances under which the Anti-Monopoly Enforcement Agencies (AMEAs) will not seek punitive sanctions such as disgorgement or fines to include two conduct categories that are widely recognized as having efficiency justifications: unilateral conduct such as refusals to deal and discriminatory dealing and vertical restraints such as exclusive dealing, tying and bundling, and resale price maintenance.

GAI also urges the NDRC to clarify how the total penalty, including disgorgement and fines, relate to the specific harm at issue and the theoretical optimal penalty.  According to GAI, economic analysis should determine the total optimal penalties, which includes any disgorgement and fines.  When fines are calculated consistent with the optimal penalty framework, disgorgement should be a component of the total fine as opposed to an additional penalty on top of an optimal fine.  If disgorgement is an additional penalty, then any fines should be reduced relative to the optimal penalty.

Finally, GAI recommends that the Anti-Monopoly Enforcement Agencies (AMEAs) rely on economic analysis to determine the harm caused by any violation.  When using proxies for the harm caused by the violation, such as using the illegal gains from the violations as the basis for fines or disgorgement, such calculations should be limited to those costs and revenues that are directly attributable to a clear violation.  This should be done in order to ensure that the resulting fines or disgorgement track the harms caused by the violation.  To that end, GAI recommends that the Draft Guidelines explicitly state that the AMEAs will use economic analysis to determine the but-for world, and will rely wherever possible on relevant market data.  When the calculation of illegal gain is unclear due to lack of relevant information, GAI strongly recommends that the AMEAs refrain from seeking disgorgement.

These comments are broader than IP-related antitrust.  One common theme they share with IP damage issues is the low utilization of economic calculations to determine damages, and unclear sensibility of when damages are adequate, deterrent or punitive.

The comments also do not address the relationship, if any, between low IP damages and high antitrust damages for IP abuse, except in the broadest sense that excessive damages may create over deterrence.  The Chinese government and academics are also increasingly focused on the problem of low IP damages, including possibilities of providing for punitive damages and higher compensatory damages,  the availability of discovery for damage calculations, such as in the trademark law and with experiments in increasing statutory damages or relying on alternative calculations such as actual or implied royalties such as occurred last year in Jiangsu (See 江苏固丰管桩集团有限公司诉宿迁华顺建筑预制构件有限公司侵害发明)专利权纠纷一案[(2015)苏知民终字第00038]), where an implied royalty was used for perhaps the first time in a patent case. The issue is also actively being discussed by academics. See, e.g., 刘自钦 , 著作权惩罚性赔偿制度在中国大陆的具体运用, Macau Law Review, No. 10, at p. 123 (Liu Zichen, Substantial Application of the Punitive Compensation System for Copyright in Chinese Mainland – Based on American Experience and the Chinese Reality).

­The current reality is that IP damages remain too low and non-deterrent.  To me this suggests a possible issue of disproportionality between IP protection and antitrust enforcement for IP abuse, or as I have often said one cannot have IP ‘abuse’ without having IP ‘use.’   On June 7, 2016 I had the pleasure in my official capacity of testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, where I discussed the issue of the large disparity between high antitrust damages and low patent infringement damages.   My testimony is also on the PTO website.  I recently calculated that the current ratio of average patent damages as determined on the www.ciela.cn database and the Qualcomm damage imposed by NDRC is about 50,000 to 1 (18,000 USD to 975 million USD); it is only somewhat lower if other databases are used.  As I noted in my testimony, antitrust damages and patent damages address different issues and thus may not always be directly comparable.  However, if the ratio is wildly disproportionate the ecosystem for innovation and technology transfer could erode.  Many companies already do not want to transfer technology to China, for fear that their IP will not be adequately protected.  As I have noted, the data already suggests that China is an under-licensed market.  Some companies may also now be avoiding China because damages are too low and/or antitrust risks are too high.  If antitrust damages become be too high in relationship to the actual value of a patent, incentives to disclose patentable inventions may erode – which itself may erode competition in the long run.  Moreover, China will suffer as it may not be able to obtain leading-edge technology.  I personally believe that antitrust and IP damages should not be wildly disproportionate, which should be another factor in antitrust damages, IP damages and in China’s efforts to become an IP “strong country.”

This blog remains my academic, personal and non-official observations and should not be construed as the opinion of the US government, or any former client or third party or even any academic institution with which I am affiliated.  Corrects and comments in English or Chinese are most welcome!

 

 

 

 

GAI and ABA Publish Their AUCL Comments

Attached are the comments of the American Bar Association Sections on International Law and Antitrust Law  on the proposed draft revisions of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law (AUCL)  as well as comments of the Global Antitrust Institute of George Mason University.

The ABA’s comments are comprehensive – addressing IP issues (including trade secret and trade dress), advertising law, competition law issues and commercial bribery.  GAI’s  comments are focused on the interface between the AUCL and the Antimonopoly Law.

Regarding the overlap with the AML, the GAI advocates that “any provisions in the AUCL that relate to conduct covered by traditional antitrust laws, or conduct covered by China’s Anti-Monopoly Law, be either omitted entirely or revised to limit liability to situations when there is substantial evidence of harm to competition.  … The AUCL should be implemented in a manner consistent with these objectives of competition policy.”  The same argument might be applied to other laws in China, such as Section 329 of the contract law, which deals with monopolization of technology.   In fact, China has a long history of industrial policy regulation of competition, much of which was enacted prior to China’s antimonopoly law.

Neither set of comments fully addresses a core concern of the proponents of this draft,  “that the administrative law enforcement is dispersed, that law enforcement standard is not unified, that the legal responsibility system is not perfect, and that the punishment is too lenient.”  Prior experience of administrative trade secret enforcement of the AUCL has shown that foreigners have not been a significant beneficiary, despite high level political attention paid to increased trade secret protection.   In the trademark context, SAIC’s foreign-related docket is several multiples of all foreign-related civil IP cases.  Increased administrative enforcement authorities raise several complicated concerns:  will these authorities be used fairly on behalf of Chinese and foreigners alike,  will trade secrets be protected by administrative agencies, are the courts better situated to adjudicate the various divergent issues,  what priority will AUCL enforcement assume in SAIC’s vast bureaucracy,  how will these expanded authorities be coordinated with criminal law enforcement and the courts, etc.

Update of March 16, 2017:  Attached are the  Comments of the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

 

 

ABA Comments on draft NDRC IPR Abuse Guidelines

Attached is the package submitted by the ABA Sections of Antitrust Law, IP Law, and International Law, commenting on the draft IP Misuse Antitrust Guidelines of the National Development and Reform Commission.

The comments of the Global Antitrust Institute of George Mason University were previously discussed here.

 

GMU Comments on Questionnaire of China University of Politics and Law on AML Revisions

roosevelt-and-the-trusts

Although the ink has not yet been fixed on guidelines for IP abuse in antitrust matters in China, the preparatory work on revisions to China’s Antimonopoly Law (AML) are always underway.   In that connection, the Global Antitrust Institute (GAI) at George Mason University School of Law submitted the attached response to the Questionnaire on AML Revisions  that had been prepared by the China University of Political Science and Law.

I have summarized below some of the key IP-related concerns:

  • Deleting References to Use of Non-Competition Factors in Competition Analysis. The GAI recommended that references to non-competition goals such as “promoting the healthy development of the socialist market economy” be deleted.  This request reflects similar efforts made by the US government in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue where an outcome was the mutual recognition that “the objective of competition policy is to promote consumer welfare and economic efficiency, rather than to promote individual competitors or industries, and . . . enforcement of its competition law should be fair, objective, transparent, and nondiscriminatory.”
  • Deleting Exemptions for State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). The GAI recommended that SOEs be fully subject to the AML, including liability and fines.  I have often wondered what the effect of additional competition would be on content creators who rely on state-owned entities such as China Film Group (for imports) or China Mobile and China Unicom (for music ring tones). Possibly due to weak competition, a study cited by IFPI noted in that in 2012 in China the estimated total value of the digital music sector in China at RMB30 billion (US$4.9 billion), but the study estimated that a very small share of that revenue (less than 3 per cent) was being shared with the copyright holder.
  • Deleting the Prohibition on Charging “Unfairly High” or Purchasing at “Unfairly Low” Prices. The GAI recommended that this prohibition be deleted in its entirety or, at the very least, revised to explicitly provide an exception for matters involving intellectual property rights.  Among other things, the GAI explained that price regulation risks punishing vigorous competition and government imposed prices that are too high or too low encourage misallocation of resources, soften incentives to engage in efficient conduct, reduce incentives to innovate, and distort markets. These risks are especially acute for IPR’s, because “the very purpose for which nations create and protect IPRs is to induce investment in risky and costly research and development. To achieve a balance between innovation and the protection of competition, monopoly prices should only be unlawful if they are the result of conduct that is unlawful on other grounds.” The most recent 2015 JCCT also specifically requires that China should “take into account the pro-competitive effects of intellectual property,” which arguably also suggests some degree of caution should be exercised in looking solely at prices charged for licensing IP rights.
  • Limiting the Prohibition on Refusals to Deal to Conduct that Creates or Maintains a Monopoly. The GAI explained that, without such a limitation, the prohibition could be interpreted to impose an antitrust-based duty to deal on firms, to micromanage the terms of trade between firms, and to require courts and agencies to administer a burdensome remedy with substantial risk of causing more harm to competition and to consumers than benefits.  Apart from consistency of forced licensing with the Paris Convention, TRIPS and other agreements, through erosion of the right to exclude inherent in a patent, the competition law IP risks to licensors are also underscored by GAI: “potential inventors may be less likely to undertake the research and development that lead to an invention if the inventor’s reward for its efforts is reduced by having to share its technology or goods. Conversely, if businesses know they can easily gain access to the goods or technology of other firms, then they have less incentive to innovate and more incentive instead to free-ride on the risky and expensive research of others.”
  • Specifying that the Legitimate Use of Intellectual Property Rights Includes the Right to Exclude. The GAI has suggested revising Article 55 of the AML, which deals with abuse of IP as follows:

 This Law [the AML] is not applicable to undertakings who exercise their intellectual property rights in accordance with the laws and administrative regulations on intellectual property rights, which includes the right to exclude; however, the Law shall be applicable to undertakings who eliminate or restrict market competition by abusing their intellectual property rights. This Article does not create a standalone violation for the abuse of intellectual property rights. Conduct will only be found to violate this Law if it constitutes a violation of Articles 13 or 14.

As GAI notes “If the government is too willing to step in and appropriate the gains from innovation and dynamic competition, then potential innovators anticipating such interventions will have weak incentives to risk investment in new inventions. Likewise, if the laws governing abuse of IPRs is uncertain or unpredictable (which they would be if the prohibition of “unfairly high pricing” is applied to IPRs), potential innovators will also have weak incentives to innovate.” As I previously noted in addressing NDRC’s IP abuse drafting effort: “the starting point of that discussion … is the incentive afforded by the patent system to disclose technology in order to exclude others and ultimately contribute to the public domain of technology when the patent lapses.”

 A special thanks to Koren W. Wong-Ervin, Director, Global Antitrust Institute, George Mason University School of Law, for sharing these comments and her summary which I have adopted in light of my knowledge of some of the  IP issues in Chinese antitrust enforcement.