Across the Fault Lines: Chinese Judicial Approaches to Injunctions and SEP’s

As has been noted in the media, on April 26, 2018, the Guangdong High People’s Court (GHC) promulgated the Trial Adjudication Guidance for Standard Essential Patent Dispute Cases (the “Guangdong Guidance”). The Guangdong Guidance adhered to the basic framework of Beijing Higher Court’s (BHC) Guidance for Patent Infringement Determination 2017 (the “Beijing Guidance”) which itself appears quite similar with the basic framework set forth by Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in its decision for Huawei v. ZTE, as well as in the recent decisions of Iwncomm v. Sony (see abridged English translation from the Comparative Patent Remedies blog here) in Beijing and Huawei v. Samsung in Shenzhen.  Taken together, these approaches depart from prior Supreme People’s Court (SPC) practices, and embody a “fault-based” conduct-evaluation framework. The Guangdong Guidance further suggests that courts which apply the fault-based conduct-evaluation framework may rely on a comparable license approach than other approaches to determine FRAND royalties.

At First the FRAND Licensor Is Barred from Seeking an Injunction

The earliest Chinese court’s attitude about determining injunctive relieves and royalties for standard-related patent infringement case can be found in the reply letter issued by the SPC on July 8, 2008 to the Liaoning High People’s Court (LHC).  The SPC instructed the LHC that once a patent holder participated in the standard setting process and agreed to have its patents adopted in the standard, the court shall deem the patent holder as having consented to license its patents to anyone who implements the standard.  The patent holder can charge the standard implementer for royalties, which, however, shall be less than the usual amount of royalty if a standard were not involved. The court would also implement the promise of a patentee to license on a royalty-free basis.

Subsequently, on October 16, 2013, the GHC upheld the Shenzhen Intermediate Court decision of Huawei v. InterDigital. In this case, the Chinese court held that once an implementer had indicated its willingness to conclude a license, a FRAND encumbered SEP owner shall have the obligation to make a FRAND offer to the implementer. The key to determining whether the offer was FRAND is the evaluation of the royalty rate. Their opinion may also be read to suggest that the courts might reject a FRAND-encumbered SEP owner’s petition for an injunction when an implementer expressed it willingness to conclude an agreement. However, the court did not address how to determine whether an implementer is willing to negotiate.

The SPC Picks up the Fault Factors First

On March 21, 2016, the Supreme People’s Court of China promulgated the Judicial Interpretation on Several Issues Regarding Legal Application in the Adjudication of Patent Infringement Cases II (the “Patent JI II). Article 24 of the interpretation stipulated that the Court shall not support the SEP owners’ petition for a permanent injunction if the SEP owner intentionally acted against its FRAND commitment made in the standardization process during the negotiation of licensing conditions with the accused infringer, and the infringer was not at “obvious fault” during the licensing negotiation. Paragraph 2 of this Article also provides that in determining licensing conditions, a court shall, in accordance with FRAND principles, comprehensively consider the contribution of the innovation and its role in the standard, the situation in the technical field of the standard, the nature of the standard, the scope of exploitation of the standard, the related licensing conditions and other factors. This Interpretation thus introduced the fault-based idea into Chinese courts’ consideration of whether to issue an injunction in a SEP related case. The types of standards referred by Article 24, according to its language, are limited to non-mandatory national, industrial and local standards. The promulgation of Patent JI II opened the gate for the Chinese courts to view FRAND obligations as imposing certain conduct behavior on both the SEP owner as well as the standard implementer.

One year later, with the promulgation of the Beijing Guidance, the BHC extended the fault-based test for determining an injunction from the SEP owner to the standard implementer. In the Beijing Guidance, BHC attempted to structure a more complete and balanced framework for SEP injunctions. Article 150 of the Guidelines stipulated that both parties shall negotiate in good faith during the SEP licensing negotiation. Article 152 of Beijing Guidance targets the situation in which both parties were not at obvious fault. It provides that if the infringer duly submitted the amount of royalty it offered or a deposit no less than that amount to the court, then the court shall not generally support the SEP owner’s petition for a permanent injunction. Article 152 also detailed the situations where the court can determine the SEP owner disobeyed its FRAND obligation. These principles were also articulated in Article 13 of the Guangdong Guidance with some difference in detail. Article 153 of the Beijing Guidance targets the situation in which the SEP owner disobeyed its FRAND obligation and simultaneously the accused infringer was also found acted at obvious fault during the negotiation. It provides that the decision to grant an injunction shall be based on which party is more blameworthy for the break-down of the negotiation. Article 153 also enumerated the situations by which a court can determine that the accused infringer acted at obvious fault, which is also articulated by Article 14 of the Guangdong Guidance with some difference in details.

The complete general principles of deciding whether to issue permanent injunctions in SEP involved infringement cases was firstly laid out in the decision for Iwncomm v. Sony by BHC on March 28, 2018. The court reiterated that in a SEP licensing negotiation, both parties should negotiate in good faith. The decision to enter a permanent injunction should be based on which party is to blame for the break-down in negotiations by considering the performance of both parties during the process of negotiation as well as the substantial terms offered to conclude the agreement. The court enumerated four general situations:

  1. If the SEP owner intentionally acted against its FRAND commitment which led to the break-down of the negotiation, and the infringer was not at “obvious fault”, the court shall not support the SEP owner’s petition for permanent injunction;
  2. If the SEP owner was not at “obvious fault” during the negotiation, and instead, it was the infringer that at “obvious fault”, the SEP owner’s petition for permanent injunction shall be supported by a court;
  3. If evidence indicates that both parties were not at “obvious fault”,and the infringer duly submitted the amount of royalty he offered or a deposit no less than that amount to the court, the court shall not sustain the SEP owner’s petition for permanent injunction;
  4. If both parties are found acted at fault, the decision of whether to grant an injunction depends on an assessment of the faults of both parties.

Comparing these principles with the language in the Beijing Guidance, where the SEP owner acted at obvious fault while the accused infringer did not, it appears that submitting a deposit to a court is no longer the premise for the court to deny an injunction request. The deposit is only specifically required in the situation where both parties were not at “obvious fault.” In Iwncomm v. Sony, Sony, the accused infringer, was found to be intentionally engaging in delaying tactics and was therefore at obvious fault.  The BHC upheld the Beijing Intellectual Property Court’s decision of granting a permanent injunction. This case was also discussed in the Comparative Patent Remedies blog,

Huawei v Samsung And the Shenzhen Court Flexes its Muscles…

On January 4th, 2018, about two months before BHPC came to its conclusion on Iwncomm v. Sony, the Intellectual Property Division of the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court granted injunctions against Samsung in two separate decisions in Huawei v. Samsung. After detailed examination of the performance of both parties in the past licensing negotiation process and the court mediation process, the court then found Samsung was at “obvious fault” and that it acted against FRAND principles. Thus, a permanent injunction was granted. The court also ruled that in the light of the different nature of SEP and non-SEP cases, the two parties are allowed to continue negotiating licensing terms after the judgment, and the injunction will not be enforced on the condition that the parties reach an agreement later or Huawei consents not to enforce it.

The court’s injunction absent licensing-decisive negotiations or the probability of Huawei’s decision not to enforce the injunction was the basis for Judge Orrick’s Anti-Suit Injunction in the US counterpart case that enjoins Huawei from enforcing the Shenzhen Court’s injunction.

In Judge Orrick’s view, his court was the first to hear the case even if it were not the first to decide it, upon the petition of the same party (Huawei), and any decision to enjoin activity in Guangdong would undercut the possibility of a global settlement, which is the basis of Huawei’s claim before his court. Unlike the Chinese courts to date, Judge Orrick does undertake a lengthy comity analysis to justify his decision. Judge Orrick’s decision stands in stark contrast to another, earlier Shenzhen decision, Huawei v InterDigital (2013) which determined that InterDigital’s seeking an injunction (exclusion order) at the USITC was an abuse of its rights as a SEP holder, and arguably showed no deference to a previously initiated US litigation. Judge Orrick may have been taking prophylactic measures to ensure that US courts retain jurisdiction over disputes, and to deny a Chinese party “two bites” of the apple by undercutting a case that the Chinese plaintiff initiated at essentially the same time as a Chinese litigation.

The Guangdong Guidance was promulgated with all of the foregoing Chinese cases and judicial practices in mind. Article 10 of the Guidance explicitly reiterated that whether a permanent injunction is granted shall depend on whether the SEP owner or the implementer was at fault. Article 11 provides that when deciding whether the parties were at fault comparing with ordinary business practices, the factors that a court shall consider include: (1) the entire history of the negotiation; (2) the timing, tactic and content of negotiation of the parties; (3) the cause of deadlock, and; (4) other facts. Article 12 generally restates the principles of whether granting a permanent injunction set forth by the BHC in Iwncomm v. Sony. Article 13 and 14 followed the basic idea and structure of Article 152 and 153 of the Beijing Guidance for conduct-evaluation for both parties with some differences in detail.

Article 13 provides that if the SEP owner’s conduct met any one of the following situations, a court may determine the SEP owner disobeyed its FRAND obligation. The situations include: a SEP owner who (1) did not notify the implementer, or notified the implementer but didn’t list the scope of the patent in dispute according to the ordinary business practice; (2) did not provide the implementer with explanatory claim charts, patent lists and other patent information according to the ordinary business practice after the implementer had clearly expressed its willingness to negotiate the license; (3) did not provide the implementer with licensing conditions and the method of calculating the royalty, or provided obviously unreasonable licensing conditions, which result in failure to reach an agreement; (4) did not reply to the counter party within reasonable time; (5) impeded or interrupt the negotiation without justifiable reasons, and; (6) practiced other conduct at obvious fault.

Article 14 enumerates the situations that the court may determine an implementer disobeyed its FRAND obligation accordingly. The situations include an implementer who (1) refused to receive the negotiation notice from the SEP owner, or did not respond to the SEP owner within a reasonable time after it had received the negotiation notice; (2) refused to sign a confidentiality agreement, and thus led to a deadlock in negotiation; (3) did not make a material response to the SEP owner within a reasonable time after the SEP owner had provided explanatory claim charts and patent lists; (4) did not make a material response to the SEP owner within a reasonable time after the SEP owner offered its licensing conditions; (5) provided obviously unreasonable licensing conditions, which resulted in failure to reach an agreement; (6) delayed to or refused to negotiation without justifiable reasons, and; (7) practiced other conduct at obvious fault.

While the Chinese fault-based conduct-evaluation frameworks borrowed ideas from the CJEU’s decision for Huawei v. ZTE, the starting point of the Chinese framework is in different from the CJEU framework. The direct objective of CJEU framework was to answer the question whether a SEP owner’s action for seeking injunction breaks EU competition laws, specifically the Article 102 of TFEU. Logically speaking, courts that follow the CJEU’s framework do not need to answer whether an injunction should be granted. On the other hand, the Chinese framework directly addresses whether an injunction should be granted without reference to antitrust principles.

A Break With Tradition and A Rush to Change?

After these various developments, it can be said that Chinese courts now view the FRAND commitments as a universal principle binding both the SEP owner and the implementer. This approach leaves open where the implementors’ obligations of negotiating in good faith come from and when and how such obligations are triggered. Historically, Chinese courts also do not consider the infringer’s state of mind when deciding whether to issue a permanent injunction, nor are such standards part of the Patent Law (Art. 118, 134) or the General Principles of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China (Art. 179 ) or the more recent General Rules of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China. The framework introduces new judicial doctrines to determine a permanent injunction into Chinese patent law practice, which is also atypical for Chinese legal practice.  However, as China is currently considering introducing punitive damages in next revision of the patent law, fault-based factors may become more important and, indeed, fault factors involving punitive damages and an implementer’s state of mind in SEP negotiations could conceivably overlap.

It also worth noting that the judicial evaluation of royalties still plays an important role in this fault-based conduct-evaluation framework.  In determining whether an offer or a counter offer are FRAND, the court may rely much more on the comparable license approach. Article 18 of the Guangdong Guidance provides that in determining SEP royalties, the methods a court may refer to include: (1) comparing the comparable licenses; (2) measuring the market value of the SEP in dispute; (3) comparing the licensing information of comparable patent pools, and; (4) other methods. Last but not least, Article 16 of the Guangdong Guidance also confers the courts with the jurisdiction of setting royalties beyond its jurisdictional territory under one party’s petition as long as the counter -party does not file an objection or the objection is found to be unjustified.

Chinese courts’ approach appears to reflect the increasing global experience in adjudicating FRAND-encumbered patent infringement matters.  The fault-based approach also helps address the problem of Chinese implementers delaying in taking licenses and using the FRAND obligation as a sword to deny a patentee access to judicial relief, at possible risk of a licensor being on the receiving end of an antimonopoly action.  The approach also appears to reflect Chinese, and especially Guangdong-based companies, rapidly growing role as both a patent implementer and a contributor to important emerging standards, such as 5G. Nonetheless it is concerning that the pioneering cases noted here ruling in favor of a licensor acting in good faith and being entitled to obtain injunctive relief have all occurred where the licensor was Chinese (Iwncomm v Sony, Huawei v Samsung).    This is a scenario not that different from what some observers thought was the problem behind the President taking the unusual step of denying relief to Samsung in the Apple vs Samsung 337 litigation in the US – the binary observation is that it seems to be easier to make precedent eroding/strengthening IP rights when the party adversely affected/benefitted is foreign/domestic. For previous information about the Obama administration’s refusal on USITC’s order, please see here, here, here, here and here.

Written by Yabing Cui, LLM of Berkeley Law 2018 and Ph.D. Candidate of Peking University Law with the the assistance of Mark Cohen.  Yabing can be contacted at cuiyabing@berkeley.edu.

April 10 – 16, 2018 Updates

1.New Policies for  Innovative Drugs in China.  Premier Li Keqiang held an executive meeting of the State Council on April 12, 2018 to adopt a series measures to encourage the importation of innovative medicines into the Chinese market, to enhance intellectual property protection, and to lower the price of medications. The measures involve the exemption of cancer drugs from customs duty, reduction of drug prices, expedition and optimization of the process for authorization on the commercialization of imported innovative medicines, enhancement in intellectual property protection and quality monitoring.

The measures on enhancement in intellectual property protection includes the 6-year maximum data exclusivity period for innovative chemical medicines.  Further, a maximum of 5 years’ compensation of patent term will be offered for innovative new medicines which are applied for commercialization on domestic and overseas markets simultaneously (which appears to be a patent term extension system). See more discussion of the original CFDA proposals which these these appear to draw on here.  It’s still unclear how such policies will be implemented, The specific policies announced by the official in English is available here.

2.China to introduce punitive damages for IP infringements. According to an interview with Shen Changyu on April 12, China will soon introduce punitive damages for IP infringements. Shen said a fourth revision of the Patent Law will come faster than expected. “We are introducing a punitive damages system for IPR infringement to ensure that offenders pay a big price.” Shen also called on foreign governments to improve protection of Chinese IPR.

3.Commerce Blocks China’s ZTE from Exporting Tech from U.S.  The U.S. blocked Chinese telecommunications-gear maker ZTE Corp. from exporting sensitive technology from America.  According to a statement by the Commerce Department, ZTE made false statements to the Bureau of Industry and Security in 2016 and 2017 related to “senior employee disciplinary actions the company said it was taking or had already taken.”. ZTE did not disclose the factthat it paid full bonuses to employees who engaged in illegal conduct, and failed to issue letters of reprimand, the Department said.  Alleged export control violations had also been implicated in the NDA dispute between Vringo and ZTE involving settlement of patent claims, which were previously discussed here.

4.Judge Orrick Issues Anti-suit Injunction Against Huawei.  In the continuing transpacific saga of Huawei v Samsung, Judge Orrick of the N.D. of California issued an anti-suit injunction against Huawei’s implementing a Shenzhen intermediate court’s injunction against Samsung for the same patents in suit.  A good summary from the essentialpatentblog is found here.  The redacted decision is here.   One possible explanation for Huawei’s strategy might be that Huawei was trying to get a quick decision from Shenzhen, its home court, on a matter also involving an overseas litigation, such as Huawei obtained in the Interdigital dispute, and is also a common enough Chinese litigation tactic.  Such a decision might have tied Judge Orrick’s hand on at least the Chinese patents in suit, as well as on licensing behavior.  Judge Orrick in fact noted that “Chinese injunctions would likely force [Samsung] to accept Huawei’s licensing terms, before any count has an opportunity to adjudicate the parties’ breach of contract claims.”  (p. 17). 

Although anti-suit injunctions may be more common in common law jurisdictions,  it is wrong to assume that Chinese courts take a strictly “hands-off” attitude towards foreign proceedings.  One aggressive Chinese response might be to borrow a page from a Chinese (Wuhan) maritime court decision of last year, where the Chinese court issued an anti-anti-suit injunction, ordering a foreign ship owner to withdraw an anti-suit injunction in Hong Kong.  Commentators have also suggested that generally Chinese courts more commonly ignore these injunctions entirely.  Another approach was taken by the Shenzhen court in Huawei v Interdigital,  where the court imposed imposed damages on a US party seeking injunctive relief (an exclusion order) in a US Section 337 proceeding involving FRAND-encumbered SEP’s.   This did not constitute an anti-suit injunction, but rather “anti-suit damages.”  These actions may be based more on notions of judicial sovereignty than comity.  Judge Orrick for his part, did undertaken a comity analysis in rendering his decision, which is part of the non-confidential order he signed.

Probably the best approach however is for the parties to amicably resolve their disputes through arbitration or mediation. After all, even Huawei and Interdigital were ultimately able to settle their differences.

Forthcoming Webinar on Developments in SEP Prosecution and Injunctive Relief in China

The Federal Circuit Bar Association and USPTO announced on July 17, 2017 that they are hosting a webinar on the latest research and developments in standards essential patents (SEPs) in China on July 25, 2017 from 9:00 to 11:30 AM, EST.  The draft agenda and suggested reading materials are available via the link here.  Registration is free and is required to participate in the program.  Some of the speakers will also be discussing live at USPTO, for which registration is also required.  The focus of the program is on developments and research in patent prosecution and injunctive relief for SEPs.

Collaboration vs Litigation in IP Licensing in China: 2016 Update

A string of articles and deals in the patent licensing sector are highlighting the increasing importance of collaborative licensing practices for foreigners to attract licensees.  Is such a collaborative approach to licensing necessary due to development, culture or other reasons?   

Let’s review some of the news from 2016:  VIA licensing, a subsidiary of Dolby has reportedly signed up Lenovo . as its newest member of the pool operated by Via for Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) patents.  IAM’s Jacob Schindler, quotes Ira Blumberg, Lenovo’s vice president for intellectual property, who praises negotiators on the other side for “recognizing and flexibly addressing unique market circumstances applicable to China and other emerging markets”. Speaking with IAM, VIA president Joe Siino confirmed that his company is focusing on win-win collaboration opportunities.  Paul Lin of Xiaomi, which has a licensing agreement with Microsoft, has  observed that many Western companies make the mistake of  importing their usual licensing approach to China wholesale, and that a collaborative element needs to be introduced.  Also in 2016, former arch enemies Huawei and Interdigital entered into an  agreement,  announcing a multi-year, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty bearing patent license agreement  to settle all proceedings.  The two companies (frenemies?)  put in place a “framework for discussions regarding joint research and development efforts”, including a “process for transfer of patents from Huawei to InterDigital”.

Yet, it was also apparent in 2016 that traditional, non-collaborative approaches, continue to have some vitality particularly where recalcitrant licensees are involved, such as the case Qualcomm brought against Meizu, a reported law suit by Dolby Labs against China’s Oppo and Vivo in India’s High Court of Delhi, or the SEP case brought by Wireless Future Technologies against Sony in Nanjing.  The high win rate for foreigners should also be acting as an additional incentive to use the Chinese litigation system, although foreigners continue to play a disproportionately small role of foreigners in IP litigation in China (about 1.3% of the docket).

There may, indeed, be greater incentives for foreign licensors to seek Chinese partners at this time.   One of these factors is of course the size of the Chinese market itself, including a greater reliance on the Chinese domestic market by potential Chinese licensees/infringers, which may provide incentives to licensors to find longer-term licensing mechanisms through close collaboration with a Chinese partner. In looking at IP-related partnerships, most Chinese companies have IP strategies that still tend to be inwardly focused, by having strong domestic portfolio supported by local subsidies, and thereby making them challenging adversaries for practicing foreign entities in domestic litigation.  At some point, these strong domestic portfolios may also encourage collaboration by a foreign company with a Chinese company as an effective way for the foreign company to boost its domestic Chinese portfolio.  Other factors include the greater intervention by the state in monetization of IP rights, which encourages development and ownership of core IP by Chinese companies, with state subsidies and banking support.  Another factor which encourages collaboration is the Technology Import/Export Regulations of China, which encourages related party licensing between the US and China to avoid mandatory indemnities and grant backs. 

There may also be disincentives for US companies from being too US-focused in conducting R&D and IP monetization at this time.  The AIA, legal uncertainties over the scope of patentable subject matter in the United States and changes in the litigation environment may also be weakening the value of patent rights and ultimately acting as a disincentive to investment in new IP-intensive enterprises.  At the same time, Chinese companies have been increasingly investing overseas, including within the United States, and have shown a willingness to bring law suits in the United States (such as Huawei’s suit against Samsung in California) and may have reciprocal needs for a US partnership, as they seek to license their rights in the United States and elsewhere.  Such a need may be at the heart of the Huawei/Interdigital deal, discussed above.

In my estimation, collaborative approaches to licensing are responses to market and legal challenges in China as well as part of China’s maturing engagement on IP issues, including its own talented labor pool and potential as an innovative economy.  Collaborative approaches to licensing are part of greater trends in collaborative IP creation with China.  In 2015, Qualcomm may have kicked off this current trend when it announced a 150 million USD investment fund in China around the same time as its settlement of its antitrust dispute with China.   In addition, we are seeing greater Chinese participation in cross border R&D.  The Global Innovation Index noted the increasing importance of such international collaboration to China last year and  that “the Chinese innovation system is now densely connected to sources of expertise everywhere.” (p. 93).  Chinese companies had “the 7th largest foreign footprint of all countries with 178 R&D centers set up or acquired outside China by year end 2015.”  USPTO data also shows greater co-inventorship in Chinese patent applications, there is also  greater Chinese participation in international standards setting, and greater Chinese co-authorship of scientific publications (now at about 15%). Hollywood is also seeing a high degree of collaboration, in the form of co-productions, investments, and other collaborative mechanisms.

Collaboration in IP creation is occurring in response to changing market circumstances – developmental, economic, legal and perhaps cultural.  It is no surprise that it is also appearing in licensing transactions.

Qualcomm’s Litigation Strategies and Recent IP Developments in China

反者道之動。弱者道之用。 (, Chap. 40) (Return is the movement of the Dao. Yielding is the way of the Dao.  Daodejing, Chap. 40.)

To the uninitiated, Qualcomm’s licensing practices in China must appear confusing.  Since paying a fine of 975 million USD to NDRC – about 50,000 times average patent damages according to the CIELA database for its Standards Essential Patent licensing practices, Qualcomm has entered into approximately 100  licensing settlements with Chinese companies.  How can the weak become so successful, so soon?

According to press accounts, Qualcomm has settled with the major cell phone manufacturers in China,  most recently with Chinese cell phone companies Vivo and Oppo.  Both deals came after Qualcomm decided to bring law suits against cell phone manufacturer Meizu in the Beijing and Shanghai intellectual property courts for damages that reportedly total about 520 million RMB.  The first law suit was filed by Qualcomm around June 23 at the Beijing Intellectual Property Court.   The complaint essentially sought to enforce an NDRC rectification plan imposed on Qualcomm against other infringers/potential licensees.  The original complaint, according to Qualcomm’s press release “requests rulings that the terms of a patent license offered by Qualcomm to Meizu comply with China’s Anti-Monopoly Law, and Qualcomm’s fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing obligations.  The complaint also seeks a ruling that the offered patent license terms should form the basis for a patent license with Meizu for Qualcomm’s fundamental technologies patented in China for use in mobile devices, including those relating to 3G (WCDMA and CDMA2000) and 4G (LTE) wireless communications standards.”  Since that filing, Qualcomm filed 17 new complaints were filed in Beijing and Shanghai.

Given the risks to Qualcomm posed by seeking injunctive relief for standards essential patents, Qualcomm appears to have initially launched its litigation campaign against Meizu by enforcing the NDRC approved licensing terms against one hold out company who might thereafter be left with an unfair competitive advantage.   Qualcomm appears to be reducing its antitrust risks by first getting “immunized” by NDRC, and then enforcing the terms of the NDRC “rectification plan” and couching its patent infringement litigation in terms of promoting fair competition.  This in effect has turned the tables on recalcitrant licensees who have previously relied on Qualcomm’s FRAND commitments to reduce the risk of being sued by Qualcomm by threatening an antitrust counterclaim.  What remains to be seen, however, is the legal status the court affords the rectification plan given the often unclear relationships between judicial and administrative decision making.

Qualcomm’s GC, Don Rosenberg said Qualcomm is taking legal action out of a sense of fairness to other companies that are paying what they owe.  In addition, the case represents a vote of confidence by Qualcomm in the court system.  As Don Rosenberg noted “”We’re putting our faith in the court system there and we wouldn’t do that if we didn’t think we were in capable hands.”  Qualcomm may no doubt have been inspired by the success of its licensing program as well as the perfect or near perfect win rate in the sixty five infringement cases filed by foreigners in 2015 in the Beijing IP court.  As I have noted repeatedly on this blog, foreigners do win IP cases in China.

In China’s current legal environment,  where licensing is burdened by seemingly contradictory norms – e.g., where the Chinese government sets prices for license transactions in antitrust cases, restricts the freedom to negotiate of foreigners, provides tax incentives for licensing in to China for high tech enterprises, sets national goals for licensing transactions, and where the courts seem to have difficulty imposing damages based on actual or implied royalties, Qualcomm appears to be turning the 975 million dollars of “lemons” of the  NDRC fine, into a vat of lemonade.

Qualcomm’s vote of confidence in the courts in a high stakes case may also help set an important model for other foreign and Chinese rightsholders, potentially by highlighting such important issues as: Yes, foreigners win cases in China, the importance of actual or explicit license agreements for determining damages (already being tried in some jurisdictions, see: 江苏固丰管桩集团有限公司 vs 宿迁华顺建筑预制构件有限公司 (Jiangsu, 2015), and the respective roles of patent law,  antitrust law, the courts and administrative agencies, in obtaining SEP licenses in China.

Qualcomm and China both have a lot at stake in the handling of SEP issues.   A recent report by Thomson Reuters (The Evolving Landscape of Standard Essential Patents: Keeping What is Essential, Sawant and Oak), showed that Qualcomm owns 17% of the patent declarations before the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, followed by Nokia, Huawei, and InterDigital.   Decisions in Europe such as Huawei vs. ZTE may also have underscored the importance of looking at whether a putative licensee/infringer is in fact negotiating in good faith with a FRAND encumbered licensor.

Judges such as  Zhu Li of the SPC have noted some of these changes publicly.  As Zhu Li said in a recent blog:

…标准必要专利权作出FRAND承诺即自愿放弃了在任何情况下寻求禁令救济的选择,更不意味着其寻求禁令救济一定产生反竞争的效果。因此,作出FRAND承诺的标准必要专利权利人寻求禁令救济的反竞争效果仍然需要具体分析判断。

[T]he owner of standard essential patent FRAND commitment that is made voluntarily does not give up under all circumstances the choice of seeking injunctive relief.  Furthermore, it does not mean seeking injunctive relief must produce anti-competitive effects. Therefore, when a holder of a FRAND encumbered SEP seeks injunctive relief, the anti-competitive effects still need specific analysis and judgment。

The evolving practice appears to be that the evidentiary burden to demonstrate that the infringers have refused to pay a license fee is on the licensor and, as Zhu Li noted,  a monopoly is not necessarily constituted when an injunction is requested by SEP owners.

The State Council’s recent opinion on how China should become a “strong” IP country, also highlighted how China needs to draft rules on standard essential patents that are based on FRAND licensing and “stopping infringement” (Art. 38) (with the involvement of AQSIQ, SIPO, MIIT, and the Supreme People’s Court) and that encouraging standardization of Chinese patents also remains a priority (Arts. 61, 71).

As I indicated elsewhere, a key question for China is “What circumstances exist to suggest that a prospective licensee is engaged in patent hold-out, i.e., refusing to license in good faith which might suspend the licensor’s F/RAND obligation…”  Hopefully China is beginning to ask the better questions that are suitable for its licensing environment and its efforts to become a “strong” IP economy.

What are you observing in this hot area? Please post your comments and corrections!

The preceding is the author’s personal opinion only.

lemonade

Slouching Towards Innovation – A Survey of the Surveys on China’s IP Environment

Here is a summary of the business surveys on IP protection in China, drawn from the European Chamber of Commerce in China, Business Confidence Survey 2015 (June, 2015), the US China Business Councils’ 2015 USCBC China Business Environment Member Survey (Sept. 2015), the American Chamber of Commerce 2016 Business Climate Survey (“Amcham China” Report, Jan. 2016), and Amcham Shanghai’s 2016 China Business Report (“Amcham Shanghai” Report, Jan. 2016), and others.

IP Issues a Core Concern

While IP issues are less dominant than in recent years, businesses report that IP is still critical to them. When Amcham China respondents in all sectors addressed what they considered their competitive advantage versus Chinese domestic entities, three of their top four perceived advantages were IP-related: Brands (74%), Technology & IP (63%), and Development and Innovation (59%). USCBC respondents listed IP concerns in a number four priority slot, having dropped from number 2 in 2014. However IP issues have averaged as a number 4.5 priority over the past ten years, so the drop is not that significant. According to Amcham Shanghai’s survey, 49% of respondents believed that lack of IPR protection and enforcement constrains their investment in innovation and R&D in China.

Still different IP concerns vary in their impact on different businesses. For example, tech companies in the USCBC survey noted the following IP-related issues in their top 10 challenges: Innovation policies (number 2), IPR enforcement (number 5), cybersecurity (number 6), government procurement policies (number 7), standards and conformity assessment (number 8) and antitrust/antimonopoly law (number 10).

IPR Enforcement is Improving

On the brighter side, 91% of respondents of the Amcham survey indicated that IPR enforcement had improved over the past five years, a view that was generally shared by USCBC respondents (38% reported some improvement over the past year).

USCBC’s survey addressed the most viable options for IP enforcement: administrative enforcement had a slight edge in terms of viability in some or most cases (78%), followed by civil cases (70%) and criminal courts (57%).

The data also suggests that trade secrets will be of continuing concern. Amcham China respondents were least satisfied with trade secrets legislation and enforcement (45/40%).  Amcham China respondents were most satisfied with patent legislation and patent enforcement (66%/54%), followed by trademarks (62%/51%) and copyrights (57%/48%). USCBC respondents similarly rated trade secrets as their top area of concern (32%) followed by trademarks (28%), patents (22%), and copyright (9%).

Of particular importance for trade secret protection are challenges noted in responses to surveys in attracting and retaining talent.   According to the Amcham survey, among the principal challenges in attracting the right talent were competition from local businesses (45%), and competition from other foreign businesses (34%). Data security and cybersecurity were also identified as concerns by many surveys.

China’s Efforts to Innovate Leads to More Foreign R&D in China

Innovating in China has clearly become a priority for the foreign business community. The EU Chamber notes that China R&D centers are increasingly achieving global levels of innovation, although a large percentage (42%) are primarily focused on product localization. According to USCBC, about 43% of large member companies had established an R&D center.

European companies viewed innovation as one of five most critical drivers needed to move the Chinese economy up the value chain. The USCBC report notes that more than 9 out of 10 US companies believe that innovation in China will be critical to their company’s future in China, with 40% of the companies reporting that that half their profits came from products designed, developed or tailored to local requirements (an increase from 32% last year). Companies prioritizing investment in R&D, according to the Amcham Shanghai survey, were in hardware, software and services (81%), automotive (65%), industrial manufacturing (55%) and health care (35%).

Continuing Concerns about Technology Transfer

USCBC reported that 59% of respondents expressed concern about transferring technology to China. Twenty three percent of USCBC respondents advised that their company had been asked to transfer technology to China and that central or local governments had requested the technology transfer 60% percent of the time. Concerns about technology transfer included maintaining protection of the proprietary information during certification/ approval (83%), protection of IP (75%), enforcing license agreements (51%) and the government dictating or influencing licensing negotiations (32%). Nonetheless, according to USCBC, technology transfer concerns fell out of the top twenty this year, to number 23 out of 30. However the USCBC noted that the companies impacted by this issue felt it “very acutely”.

Innovation Policies Not All Positive

Thirty two percent of technology and other R&D Intensive industries that responded to the Amcham China survey indicated that China’s increasing capability for innovation presented an important opportunity for their business. However, as the preceding data suggests, not all of China’s innovation and IP policies have been perceived to be positive by foreign industry. Fifty-five percent of USCBC tech companies stated that China’s innovation promotion policies had a significant negative impact on sales to date, or had a significant negative impact on sales or operation. Also of note was that 75% of USCBC respondents indicated that they limited the products that they introduced into China because of IPR concerns. In addition, 37% of USCBC respondents indicated that China’s level of IPR enforcement limited R&D activities in China, as well as limited products co-manufactured or licensed in China. The Amcham China survey also noted that 83% of technology R&D intensive companies feel less welcome than before.

Aggressive Antimonopoly Enforcement of Concern to Foreign Companies

Eighty percent of USCBC respondents were concerned about antimonopoly law enforcement in China. Among the key substantive issues were: (a) lack of transparency in AML cases (55%), excessive focus on foreign companies (50%), lack of clarity on key criteria and definitions (49%), lack of due process (29%), and inability to have legal counsel (26%).

Rule of Law: Another Overarching Concern

One common thread amongst antimonopoly and IP concerns was rule of law. The EU Chamber Report contains the most information on desires of foreign companies for the Chinese government to improve the rule of law, with 39% of European businesses rating the Chinese government’s efforts in 2015 as “below expectations”, and rule of law perceived as the main driver of future economic growth by 78% of respondents. For Amcham China, 57% of respondents believed that inconsistent regulatory interpretation and unclear laws were their top business challenge in China. Legal reforms were identified as the top reform priority by Amcham Shanghai members.  USCBC respondents rated uneven enforcement of Chinese laws, as their number nine challenge, however companies reported that the problems are persistent and worsened in the last year.

Putting China in Context: Not All That Patents Is Innovative

There are other reports that have been released have recently been released that also place China in a comparative perspective. The Information Technology & Innovation Forum, for example, recently issued a report Contributors and Detractors: Ranking Countries’ Impact on Global Innovation, which ranked 56 nations on how much they contribute or detract from global innovation. China ranked 44, and was classified as an “innovation mercantilist” that “significantly balkanize[s] both global production and consumption markets” and has “generally weaker protection” for intellectual property than the global norm. However, China does perform better than “innovation follower” countries in contributing to the global innovation ecosystem, largely due to investments in STEM fields and high numbers of graduates in those areas. China ranked twenty eight out of fifty six in terms of contributions, and was among the top five detractors from global innovation, according to this report (behind Thailand but ahead of India, Argentina and Russia).

Thomson Reuters in its China’s IQ (Innovation Quotient) Report (December 2015) analyzed China patent filings. The IQ Report noted that citations of Chinese patents had increased. In data processing patents, China had forward citation data of 1.17 This was much less than the United States (6.72), but comparable to Japan (1.82), and Europe (1.31), and better than South Korea (.78). Interestingly, another Thomson Reuters report on the top 100 innovators (2015), declined to include a single Chinese company. Huawei did appear as a top innovator in 2014. Its antitrust adversary, InterDigital, was considered a top innovator in 2015.

Policy Outcomes

The USCBC’s Board of Directors recently outlined its priorities for the year, which included: strengthening IP enforcement, including deterrent civil and criminal remedies; improving enforcement against online infringements; strengthening trade secret protections; harmonize patent examination practices; reforming China’s system of innovation incentives (HNTE incentives/service inventions). Other USCBC recommendations in transparency, antimonopoly law, and ecommerce also have IP-related implications.

Summary

There may be a number of reasons for the repetition in these reports, including a common core of concerns, a focus on issues in the media and bilateral relations, and common membership among the organizations. The location and membership of each organization can still result in different perceptions. Moreover, certain rights, such as copyrights, tend to be of core concern to fewer industries some of which, such as the entertainment sector, may be less extensively invested in China. As such, the surveys reflect concerns and priorities, and may not necessarily represent researched approaches to resolving specific problems of concern to all American industries. The surveys may also not align well with China’s own surveys such as on software piracy, where China has offered a counter-survey that counts other incidences of piracy, or on satisfaction with China’s IP system. As for satisfaction at least, it is all subjective. In some cases, the survey data likely aligns well with other factual or empirical data, such as licensing revenues, damages in antimonopoly law cases, IP enforcement activity, etc.

Here’s what this survey of the surveys suggests to me:

  1. China’s IP laws are generally good and its enforcement is improving but still problematic.
  2. China has become deeply interested in patents and innovation, which will present important strategic opportunities over time.
  3. There remains a low level of confidence in trade secret protection in China, which can be a significant impediment to China’s innovative ecosystem.
  4. China’s innovation environment has become increasingly complex and nationalistic, leaving many foreign tech companies with a sense that they are less welcome.
  5. Reforms in the legal system and antitrust enforcement are a high priority.

The US Chamber will be issuing its latest International IP Index February 10 in Washington, DC. Let’s see how China stacks up there…

Any corrections or comments? Something I have missed? Please write us!

 

Federal Circuit Affirms Findings of Non-Infringement and Invalidity in Interdigital 337 Appeal

In a non-precedential opinion authored by Chief Judge Prost and released today, the Federal Circuit  affirmed findings of non-infringement or invalidity in the five patents asserted by InterDigital in Certain Wireless Devices with 3G Capabilities and Components  thereof,Inv. No. 337-TA-800 (Dec. 19, 2013), in which Huawei and ZTE, amongst others, were respondents.  Huawei initiated  law suits in China in response to InterDigital’s original 337 filing, including claims for prospective damages for abuse of dominance by reason of InterDigital’s seeking an exclusion order at the ITC for claimed standards essential patents.