February 13 – 19 Updates

  1. Honda takes Chinese competitor to Beijing IP Court

Honda Motor has asserted two patents against Chinese carmaker Great Wall Motors, according to a recent announcement by the Beijing IP Court. The Beijing IP Court said it had accepted the two suits in a statement made on 31st January, but it appears that the cases may have been first filed as far back as October. The Japanese automaker is demanding over 200 million yuan ($32m) in damages for the infringement of two invention patents, both filed in 2006. The first is titled “Hatchback door structure for vehicles” and has just a Japanese counterpart. The second, covering “Garnish attachment structure of vehicle body”, has family members in the US and Europe as well.

It is not the first time that Honda asserted patents right in China. A design patent dispute against Shuang Huan Automobile it initiated in 2003 went  to the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), where Honda lost. (See judgment (2014)民三终字第8号)

  1. The China Dashboard 2018: Chinese Innovation Catching Up

Rhodium Group in partnership with the Asia Society Policy Institute released the Winter 2018 edition of the China Dashboard, a project designed to gauge China’s implementation of its self-stated reform goals in the 10 policy domains it judges essential to long-term growth potential. According to the report, Beijing continues to prioritize high growth by deferring implementation of its comprehensive economic reform program. The bulk of Chinese reform priorities – 8 out of 10 areas of the Dashboard – show little or no forward movement. However, “innovation continues to show positive movement, but by using industrial policies favoring domestic players that are fomenting strong push back from Western policymaking.”

The report predicts that Chinese innovation is rapidly catching up to US levels in its role in the domestic economy: “China will catch up to the 2011–2014 levels of U.S. contribution from innovative industries to the industrial structure in the quarters ahead. Based on our methodology, structural adjustment toward innovation is taking place in China, backstopped by serious policies for both promoting innovation and suppressing sunset industries.”  Of particular note were innovations in the auto sector, ICT and instruments and meters. More details on innovation policy reform are available here.

  1. 2017 Top 100 Global Blockchain Patent Holder: China is the leading country

IPRdaily, a Chinese site dedicated to IP news, together with incoPat, an innovation research indexing center, recently released a report on global blockchain patents. The report (in Chinese) shows Alibaba leaping to pole position for the number of patents publicly published globally in 2017 across all three patent types (invention, design, and utility). Out of the top 100 companies 49 were Chinese, 23 from the US.

In second place is Bank of America with 33 new patents taking its total to 44. Third place went to another Chinese organization, the PBoC’s Digital Currency Research Institute (中国人民银行数字货币研究所) which also published 33 patents despite only opening in June 2017.

4.The Status Quo of NPE Litigation in China

IPHouse, a leading product and service provider of IP law in China reported an article written by King & Wood Mallesons on the status quo of NPE litigation in China. The article describes the various types of NPE’s in China, including: research-based NPE, conversion NPE, intermediary NPE and litigation NPE. Of particular interest is  深圳中科院知识产权投资有限公司 (Translation: Shenzhen Chinese Academy of Sciences IP Investment Company Ltd.,  or CASIP) is a research-based NPE under the Chinese Academy of Sciences which aims to commercialize the intellectual property of Chinese Academy of Sciences. CASIP’s website may be suggestive of its goals:  “Cash IP” – http://www.caship.ac.cn/.  CASIP brought a patent infringement lawsuit against Cree last year. The article describes the case as a battle between the “great research capacity of the Chinese Academy of Sciences” and the American “LED industry giant” Cree. But overall, NPEs’ activities in China are minimum. The article’s author expects NPEs to become more active in China in the near future.   

Stealing IP from the Steel Sector?

Michael Komesaroff, a Sinologist and mining engineer based in Australia, has published an interesting article on the website of the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Make the Foreign Serve China: How Foreign Science and Technology Helped China Dominate Global Metallurgical Industries.”

According to Mr. Komesaroff, China is now the world leader in metallurgical technologies as it has the largest and technically most efficient plants in the world. This was achieved through a number of strategies commencing with the purchase of obsolete western plants and extending to reverse engineering including the infringement of IP rights.  As Michael notes at p. 11, Chinese practices “do not discriminate in their lack of respect for intellectual property; Chinese companies will infringe the proprietary technology of national champions as readily as they do to foreign competitors and the absence of an enforced intellectual property law accelerates diffusion of any new technology.”  Furthermore, “with an endless supply of smart engineers and scientists, why pay for technology, something that you cannot touch, see, taste, or smell.”  Michael’s points are especially interesting because they link innovation with  capital intensive industries and state support, China’s past practices of acquiring obsolete Western plants and China’s  IP practices and policies.

IP issues in the steel sector have also become more of a focus point with the institution in May of 2016 of a 337 litigation by US Steel against several Chinese steel companies, which alleges that Chinese steel companies have engaged in the “the misappropriation and use of U.S. Steel’s trade secrets” as well as “the false designation of origin or manufacturer, in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a).”  This is not the first such trade secret related action involving steel and China.  Two years prior to this 337 action, several PLA agents were indicted in a US court in Pittsburgh for cyber-espionage related activities, including trade secret theft, in several industries.  US Steel and other iron and steel industries, as well as Alcoa, were alleged to be victims of these efforts.

There have also been numerous trade-related concerns expressed concerning China’s metallurgical industries over the decades since 1979, including a “Section 406” investigation that I was briefly involved in before China’s WTO accession (1987), that involved tungsten, and, more recently, trade discussions on Chinese excess capacity in the steel industryA WTO case had also been brought by the United States against China regarding its export restrictions involving rare earth metals, including  tungsten and molybdenum in 2012 .  While the metallurgical industries have been a trade-sensitive area for some time, it now appears that IP-related issues have become of significant concern.

 

Action Plan for Further Implementation of the National IP Strategy (2014-2020) Approved

According to a Chinese Government website, on  December 29, the State Council reviewed and approved the Action Plan for Further Implementation of the National IP Strategy (2014-2020) (Action Plan). The Outline of the National IP Strategy (NIPS) had been implemented for 6 years.  Premier Li Keqiang, and SIPO Commissioner Shen are quoted in the this brief summary.

Chinese authorities have pointed to three key aspects of the NIPS Action Plan:

A.  First, to “Strive to Build A Strong IPR Country”  (努力建设知识产权强国).

B.  To improve IP utilization and protection (知识产权运用和保护).

C.  Practical new steps are to be announced, including plans to promote the development of IP intensive industries (知识产权密集型产业发展).  This  includes greater coordination amongst various branches of national and local government.  Interestingly, and perhaps of greater concern, it also includes “strengthening patent pilot projects,  joint utilization of patents and collective management of patents… to strengthen the competitive advantages of industries.” (强化专利导航、专利协同运用、专利集群管理等工作…增强产业竞争优势).

Here is how I read the tea leaves on this announcement:

First, the references to China becoming an IP “strong country” , and not merely an IP “big country” is a new concept in the NIPS, and likely reflects the observations and approaches of former Commissioner Tian Lipu.  In fact, many observers believe that too much patenting, particularly patenting of a low quality, can be harmful to innovation. I have often noted in this blog that patent quality is a continuing negative side effect of China’s metric-driven approaches to innovation.  In addition, innovation is largely a local phenomenon – China’s efforts to become a strong innovative country this time will also include programs to make strong IP provinces and cities in China.

Second, the reference to IP utilization directly quotes the negotiated language of the Third Plenum and its commitment to “Strengthen the Utilization and Protection of IP” (加 强知识产权的运用和保护).  This was also something that former Commissioner Tian discussed as a positive outcome of that meeting.

Third, the reference to IP intensive industries is new to China’s strategic planning, and, as noted by Commissioner Shen, reflects the influence of the influential US government  2012 report on Intellectual Property and the US Economy.   Reference is also made by Commissioner Shen to IP intensive industries being low on resource demands and low polluting.

The legislative basis for the National IP Strategy is the China Science and Technology Promotion Law (Dec 2007).  Article 7 of that law provides that China will establish a NIPS, in order to promote innovation, encourage indigenous innovation (激励自主创新), and raise the utilization protection and management of IP.  This 2007 law was famous for codifying the concept of indigenous innovation, which elicited considerable concern at the time over potential discrimination against the foreign technology community.  This Action Plan introduces several new and useful concepts which, if implemented fairly, will benefit foreign and domestic investors alike.

 

 

Outcomes of the Fifth US-China Innovation Dialogue

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recently released a blog on the results of the bilateral Innovation Dialogue with China with the Ministry of Science and Technology and other agencies: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/08/13/outcomes-fifth-us-china-innovation-dialogue.

Of particular note are the provisions regarding sanctity of contracts involving inventor compensation. According to the blog:

The United States and China resolved to protect the legal rights of inventors in accordance with their respective domestic laws and regulations, and in line with their domestic laws committed to respect the rules and policies developed by employers and/or legitimate contracts between employers and inventors concerning the awards and/or remuneration of inventors.

For further background see: https://chinaipr.com/2014/04/03/new-service-invention-draft-regulation-and-web-page/ .

Qualcomm Subject of AML Investigation – Other Developments on the Way

China’s use of the Antimonopoly Law to deal with pricing for royalties may have taken another turn with recent launch of an Antimonopoly Law investigation by the National Development and Reform Commission against Qualcomm. Although the exact basis for the investigation is unknown, the press reports speculate that the investigation is related to the forthcoming launch of TD-LTE by China Mobile in early 2014 as well as negotiations on chip and licensing pricing between Qualcomm and China-based companies.

Qualcomm announced the case on Monday November 25. The investigation has been covered in several articles in Reuters as well as other press sources, including the Chinese press. An NDRC spokesperson was quoted in China’s official press on Sunday November 24 that China’s AML authorities would focus on six areas of technology and pharmaceuticals. Some observers have also tied the case to the impactful recent Huawei-Interdigital case(https://chinaipr.com/2013/10/29/huaweiinterdigital-appeal-affirms-shenzhen-lower-court-on-standards-essential-patent) adjudicated in Guangdong, which also involved standards and royalties.

In separate developments, at a conference sponsored by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology that I attended in Beijing on November 13, it was announced that the State Administration for Industry and Commerce will be revising its rules on AML and Intellectual Property. Last August a draft revision to its IPR enforcement guidelines was floated selectively for public comment(https://chinaipr.com/2012/08/26/a-quick-read-of-the-aml-ipr-enforcement-guidelines-fifth-draft/). Additionally, at this November 13 conference, the Supreme People’s Court noted that it would be looking into revising its judicial interpretation on patent infringement regarding availability of injunctions, presumably to make injunctions less automatic (or presumably, denied) in the case of standards-essential patents.

There are some areas where there appear to be less momentum, at least for now. I am unaware of any public initiative to deny orders stopping infringement in the case of standards-essential patents and administrative patent enforcement. In addition, I am unaware of any public request to date for an administrative compulsory license of patents through the State Intellectual Property Office for an antitrust violation or a refusal to license. To judge by the recent MIIT conference, there is also no active discussion on patent “hold-out” for refusal of a licensee to take a license under a standards-essential patent, and what that would mean in the Chinese context, where damages are low in litigation, injunctions are almost always granted, the state plays an active role in standardization, the statute of limitations is short and China’s equities as a patent holder and manufacturer are in flux. Also, noticeably absent from the November 13 program was Ms. Dai Hong from the Standards Administration of China, who had been active on these issues for SAC – an agency which had been relatively active on these issues some years ago. Please send in your comments if you know of other developments.

Overall, China’s ramp-up on AML is not unlike its ramp up for other disruptive economic laws, such as the bankruptcy law. Frequently these laws are enacted for “trial implementation” or alternatively they are not actively enforced until after regulators and the public have had time to become familiar with the laws and their implications and/or the political timing is “ripe.” It will be very interesting to observe future developments.

SIPO’s 2012 “Report on the Situation Regarding National Patent Strength”

SIPO’s recently released its  “Report on the Situation Regarding National Patent Strength”, (Chinese: “2012年全国专利实力状况报告”)This report provides a glimpse into the various measures that SIPO uses to quantify how local patent offices are being rated by SIPO.  Knowing these data can be very useful in understanding what the incentives are for evaluating innovation and patent protection in China’s various localities and, accordingly, can help in how a foreign company approaches a local IP office to better enlist their support.  In theory, it should also help in identifying the regions that are affording better patent protection in China to foreigners. 

 The report  is intended to be based on certain objective, common, sustainable, and easy to obtain data.  Some of the data that is used are:

(a)    Number of invention patents in effect held per capita.  This is the first item listed by SIPO and it does not include utility model and design patents, which are not substantively examined. 

(b)   Other patent data: including Patent Cooperation Treaty patent filings; patent maintenance rates; patent abandonment rates (as a negative factor).

(c)    Type of patent applicant data: service invention patent rates; patents filed by large and medium sized enterprises.

(d)   Commercialization data: ratio of R&D to patents filed; hypothecation of patents; licensing contracts for patents; patents that are being used in commercial production (based on a ratio of new products from high tech industries and patent applications from high tech industries); and awards for high quality patents.

(e)   Litigation and enforcement data: First instance patent cases in the courts; settlement rates for patent litigation; data on patent “passing off”; data on cross-boundary cooperation on administrative patent disputes; data on human resources in administrative patent enforcement, use of administrative complaint lines, and expenses for special enforcement campaigns.

(f)     Legal and administrative structure: SIPO is trying to encourage local patent offices to be active and independent of other agencies, such as Science and Technology Bureaus, in which some local patent offices are located.  In addition, SIPO is encouraging promulgation of local legislation on patents, including incorporation of the national IP strategy and economic plans into local level policy and actions.

(g)     Cooperation with SIPO on national projects: including recognition as a model locality for IP protection, or the presence of model enterprises for IP protection.

(h)   Services and civil society: presence of in-house IP departments in companies; presence and availability of Patent Agents; use of electronic filing mechanisms for patents and electronic information services; presence of public service organizations for patents (typically government-organized non-governmental organizations); participation in SIPO training programs (including distance learning programs).

The overall leaders in this statistically-intensive report: Guangdong, Beijing, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai (in that order).   Comparative data to last year and to individual benchmarks are also provided.  These five leaders are not necessarily the leaders in other areas, including those that may be of concern to foreigners.  For example, in IP protection, the leaders were: Guangdong, Shandong, Hunan, Sichuan and Jiangsu.  Beijing and Shanghai were a more distant 11th and 16th place, respectively.  Beijing, Guangdong and Shanghai were also the top three jurisdictions for IP services.

The report should be used cautiously by foreign investors and rigthsholders as there is much  of concern to foreigners that is not utilized in the report, for example: numbers of foreign-related civil or administrative cases, availability of provisional measures, receptivity and accessibility of local complaint centers (including trade fairs) to  foreign complainants, availability of expert foreign language lawyers and service providers,  presence and engagement  of foreign-related civil society (INTA, QBPC, RDPAC, AmCham’s, etc.),  existence of policies that on their face discriminate or support foreign rights holders ,  availability of criminal remedies for IP infringement,  existence of “notorious markets” for IP infringing products, and evaluation of the locality by other reports on IP protection (e.g, annual Chamber reports, Section 301 reports).  In addition, as indicated above, the priorities that SIPO assigns to different factors would be different for foreigners.  Nonetheless, this is a useful report that can help foreigners in determining how “patent-friendly” different jurisdictions in China are, and can also assist in compiling a more narrowly focused report that highlights issues of concern to foreigners regarding IP protection in different regions of China.  

I also personally commend SIPO for its transparency in making this available on line.