A Statistical Snapshot of IP Prosecution, Admin. Enforcement and Monetization for 2018

As reported by zhichanli, CNIPA (the new agency formed from SIPO, SAIC and AQSIQ’s – IP authorities within the State Administration for Market Regulation) held a news conference on January 10 to report on statistical developments for 2018.  Here are some of the highlights:

Explosive Patent Growth Continues: 1,542,5000 invention patent applications were received by CNIPA, an increase from 2017 when it was 1,381,594.  432,000 patents were granted.  Of these 346,000 were domestic patent applications (2017: 326,970).  This leaves 86,000 foreign applications for 2018 (2017: 93,174).  There was therefore an increase of  5.8% to 19,030 in Chinese domestic patent grants in 2018, while foreign grants appear to have dropped by 7.7% to 7,174.  Any drop in a growing economy and IP system can be indicative of a problem of some type.

In total 93.3% of the domestic invention patents were service inventions, which is one indicator of possibly increasing quality.    Huawei remained the lead domestic filer with 3,369 invention patent applications.

CNIPA had a busy year examining 808,000 invention patents, 1,874,000 utility model patents (an increase from 1,687,593), and 667,000 design patents (an increase from 420,144).  The PRB heard 38,000 cases, resolved 28,000 and invalidated 5,000 patents.

Comparative data on 2017 is drawn from this report.

Trademarks Too, on Overdrive: CNIPA received 7,337,1000 trademark applications (2017: 5,748,00) and registered 5,000,7000.  Of these, 4,797,000 were domestic applicants.  In aggregate, there were 18,049,000 trademarks registered in China (2017: 14,920,000).  The good news is that the rapid growth in TM applications is slowing.  In 2017, there had been a year-on-year increase of 55.7% in trademark applications. In 2018, the increase was “only” 31.8%.

Patent Administrative Enforcement Continues to Be the Focus:  CNIPA reported 77,000 administrative patent cases, with an increase of 15.9% over the previous year.  35,000 cases involved patents disputes, of which 34,000 involved infringement (an increase of 22.8%).  43,000 cases involved counterfeit patents, with an increase of 10.9%.  There were also 31,000 cases involving illegal trademark activities.  This was an increase from approximately 30,000 the year before, which was itself a decrease of 5.1% from the prior year.  The apparent administrative enforcement realignment to patents thus continues, despite recent moves to improve the civil patent system, including the establishment of a specialized IP court at the SPC level, and the relatively high historic utilization of the administrative trademark system by foreigners.

Another odd development: 2018 marked the launch of the first administrative case involving infringement of a registered semiconductor layout design.

TM’s Remain Number 1 in Geographical Indications: There were 67 sui generis GI registrations approved, presumably under the former AQSIQ system, and 961 GI trademarks registered.   The trademark-based GI system thus appears to be occupying a dominant role.

Cross-border Trade In IP – is it Growing:  CNIPA also reported that “usage fees” for IP rights in cross border trade increased to 35 billion USD.  Comparative data to prior years and breakout data with individual countries would be especially useful, in order to do year-on-year comparisons and to also compare with US data on licensing revenue.  As reported in an earlier blog, according to official Chinese statistics for 2013, technology import contracts into China were reported at 41 billion dollars, with patent licensing contracts constituting 15.4% of that total.  I don’t have comprehensive data to make even preliminary comparisons at this time – and such data would be highly useful.

Summary: Altogether, the report shows a rapidly growing huge IP system, with active government involvement, encouragement and planning.  The report also suggests that there may be a diminishing foreign role, relative and/or absolute, in certain areas.  Finally, this report is the first hint of how the combined CNIPA may report on its joint activities in patents, trademarks, semiconductor layout designs, GI’s and administrative enforcement.  Additional data is usually released around IP Week of each year (April 26).

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).

SO MANY CHINA IP CONFERENCES, SO LITTLE TIME…

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Here’s a rundown of some past events, and some upcoming ones.  I will provide an update on some of the legal developments at a later date (I know I have been a bit remiss).

On October 4, 2018, I spoke about China at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ program  on “Intellectual Property Enforcement at Trade Fairs.”   My observations: (a) China does not routinely great preliminary injunctions at trade fairs, despite heavy reliance on injunctive relief in final adjudication of IP infringements;  (b) The United States does have robust preliminary injunction/temporary restraining order trade fair remedies; (c) the use of sui generis administrative or quasi-administrative enforcement mechanisms for trade fair enforcement in China may be one reason that judicial remedies are not that common; (d) trade fairs do afford other opportunites – they are excellent evidence gathering opportunities, their use can help satisfy use requirements for a trademark, and they may constitute infringing conduct as an “offer for sale” under the patent law.  Please look through my  power point and tell me if you have any comments.

On November 2, 2018.  John Marshall Law School (JMLS) convened its 62nd annual IP conference I chaired a great breakout session on international developments, with Kira Alvarez, Peter Yu, Cynthia Ho, Tobias Hahn and Prof. Dennis Crouch.   The session discussed the state of global IP and China-specific IP negotiations in the Trump administration.   Kira Alvarez noted the success of the administration in negotiation trade secret commitments in the revised NAFTA.  The panel, along with the audience, also discussed the role of soft diplomacy, rather than trade disputes, to resolve IP-related trade conflicts.  Prof. Dennis Crouch attributed many of the changes in civil litigation globally to the work of former Chief Judge Rader “who was really using his gregarious nature to reach out and become close friends with the leading jurists around the world.”  This point was restated by many during the conference and thereafter.  The photo above is from the JMLS international IP panel with Kira to my right.

I also participated at the JMLS annual IP  conference in a plenary discussion on antitrust and IP developments, moderated by Prof. Hugh Hansen of Fordham with  Carlos Aboim, David Djavaherian, Suzanne Munck (FTC),  Prof. Ioannis Lianos, University College London and  Annsley Merelle Ward.   I looked at the evolution of Chinese judicial practice regarding SEPS, which are a remarkable set of steps in light of there being no substantive change in antitrust or patent law during this period, and likely reflect increased judicial experience as well as the impact of economic changes in China as an emerging licensor.  These developments were previously discussed in this blog.  I also discussed China’s historical reliance on civil law measures to deal with IP misuse, rather than remedies under the patent law or antitrust law, and how these compare with US practice.

On November 5, 2018, Dan Rosen (Rhodium Group) launched another path breaking paper “Missing Link – Corporate Governance in China’s State Sector” at the Asia Society of Northern California.  A copy can be found here.  The video of the launch can be found here.  The focus of my comments was on whether SOE’s can play a more active role in China’s innovation plans, and the awkward fit between SOE’s and global trading rules.  I believed that existing efforts to provide greater market accountability and transparency for SOE’s (and more broadly, China) have not achieved their intended outcomes despite  the extensive commitments negotiated with China at WTO accession.

I gave a talk at the IP Dealmakers Forum in NY on November 8, 2018 with several individuals involved in financing litigation, providing patent analytics, buying Chinese patents  – Roger Tu, Y. P. Jou,  Brian Yates, iPEL, and Bill Yuen.  Brian Yates’ company had just been the subject of a Chinese article regarding whether patent assertion entities will now be/should now be coming to China, that was posted by IPHouse.  I think many in the room shared my skepticism that China was now “ripe” for this type of activity, particularly for litigation by foreigners against Chinese.  There was however a general sense that the IP and litigation environment was improving.

In addition to these programs, here are some upcoming events;

November 12, 2018, I will be talking at NYU.  I have always greatly enjoyed the open discussions with Prof. Jerome Cohen (no relation), Ira Belkin and others, and I believe this upcoming event will be no different in my current role at UC Berkeley.

On November 13, 2018, I will be at Columbia University talking about “IP and the China Trade War: Long Overdue, a Pretext, or Both?”     I may be guided by the discussions around that topic at JMLS earlier in November, where many concurred that these actions on IP in China are both overdue and dwarfed by other concerns.

On December 2, 2018, I will be in Shenzhen. Peking University School of Transnational Law (“STL”) will be partnering with Berkeley to present an exciting program on “Legal and  Funding Issues for Successful Startups.”  Both the topics and speakers promise to make this an especially exciting launch event. Here’s the link to register.

On December 3, 2018, I will be at IPBC  Asia moderating a session on “China’s Mandate to Innovate” and its impact on IP commercialization. IPBC has constituted a great panel, including former SPC Chief IP Judge Kong Xiangjun, now Dean at Jiaotong University Law School, and Prof. Yang Guohua of Tsinghua Law School (former Chinese IP Attaché in the US, and DDG of MOfCOM), as well as Liren Chen, from Qualcomm, Eeva Hakoranta from Nokia and Roger Tu from Marconi.

On December 4, I will be at Tsinghua University speaking at the first annual Tsinghua/Berkeley conference on “Transnational IP Litigation: Opportunities and Challenges”.  A copy of the agenda (Chinese) is found here.   We will also have some great speakers for this launch event which focuses, non-exclusively, on US developments.  The speakers include several Tsinghua and Berkeley professors, and leading attorneys from practice in the US and China.  The program will cover a full range of issues including empirical data on litigation trends, venue, jury trials, Section 337 litigation, antitrust, the role of expert witnesses, and licensing strategies to mitigate risk.

I have some other events upcoming in Taiwan in December – but that will be another posting, along with some overdue updates on Chinese IP developments.

Forthcoming Speaking Gigs

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The fall promises many opportunities to talk and exchange ideas on Chinese IP matters.  Here are a few of the upcoming speaking events that I will be speaking at:

On October 4, 2018, I will be speaking at the University of Nevada Las Vegas program on “Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement at Trade Fairs”.   USPTO Director Iancu will be keynoting, and I will also be joining my former USPTO colleague Conrad Wong at the event.  The seminar will be a great showcase for UNLV Prof. Marketa Trimble’s recent research on enforcement of intellectual property at trade fairs.  I am also looking forward to engaging with my fellow blogger, Prof. Thomas Cotter, who will be moderating my session.

Trade fairs, due to their short duration, their exhibition of leading edge technology, and their potential to disrupt customer and market patterns present unique challenges.  I have  followed China and US enforcement of IP at trade fairs on my blog, as well as when I was IP Attache in Beijing.   As IP Attaché, I helping a US company,  ABRO Industries of South Bend, Indiana, which detected extensive counterfeiting of its product at the Canton Trade Fair by a company called Hunan Magic.  At that time, about 10 years ago, there was a hope that judicial enforcement of IP at trade fairs in China might offer an opportunity to mitigate local protectionism in the court system by providing a judicial venue that is not where a trade fair exhibitor may have its principal place of business.  Several years later, I heard  Chinese companies were also complaining about US trade fair enforcement, and the US and China entered into a bilateral JCCT commitment on this topic.  The use of civil remedies to address trade fair infringements also implicates China’s rare use of preliminary injunctions, which has also been discussed here.

On October 9, 2018, Berkeley Law will be co-hosting the 12th Annual China Town Hall sponsored by the National Committee on US-China Relations, with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice joining the discussions being held virtually nation-wide. I will be joined by my colleagues Berkeley (Profs. Merges and Aggarwal) and the Asia Society of Northern California in the local discussions at UC Berkeley Law School.

On November 2, 2018,  I will be returning to John Marshall Law School to moderate a session on Global Issues in IP for its 62nd Annual IP Conference.

On November 6-8, 2018, I will be speaking at the 5th Annual IP Dealmakers Forum in New York City on “China – Has It Been a Boon for IP Licensing and Enforcement”.  I will also be giving talks at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute of NYU on November 12 and at Columbia Law School on November 13.

On December 1, 2018, I will be speaking in Shenzhen at the first joint Peking University/Transnational Law School / Berkeley Law program on “Entity Formation & Funding: Legal Fundamentals for Startups.”

On December 2, 2018,  I will be speaking in Shanghai at IPBC Asia’s conference on Maximizing  IP Value in Asia, where I will be addressing China’s licensing and enforcement environment.

On December 3-4, 2018, I will be speaking at Tsinghua Law School in Beijing at the first joint Berkeley/Tsinghua program on “Transnational IP Litigation.”  This program promises to have a solid line-up of academics, judges, officials and practitioners.  It is also a topic I have followed extensively here, and previously spoken on at Berkeley.

Note that some of the academic programs are not yet listed on sponsor websites, please reach out to the sponsors or organizers for further information.

Mark Cohen

Towards a Better Understanding of “Forced Technology Transfer” Policies in China and Their Strategic Implications

In August 2017, President Trump issued an executive order setting in motion an investigation of China’s trade policies including IP, technology transfer, and investment policies. The “Section 301” report on this investigation came out earlier this year. The Report itself uses the word “force” or “forced” 47 times and identifies a range of practices that result in “forced technology transfer.” However, there is a significant amount we still do not know regarding how these controversial Chinese policies actually work and the degree to which a technology owner’s behavior has in fact been compelled by state actors. A new paper by Dan Prud’homme, Max von Zedtwitz, Joachim Jan Thraen, and Martin Bader published in Technological Forecasting & Social Change explores this important issue.

The authors evaluate the ability of “forced technology transfer” (FTT) policies – which they define as policies meant to increase foreign-domestic technology transfer that simultaneously weaken appropriability of foreign innovations – to contribute to technology transfer. They draw on a survey of foreign firms, interviews with foreign firms, and case studies of Chinese firms.

The authors identify three categories of FTT policies that have significantly impacted foreign-Sino technology transfer in recent years:

(1) Policies which risk market loss (including market access preconditioned on meeting technology transfer requirements),

(2)  Policies that offer no choice regarding compliance (including unfair court rulings in IP civil litigation), and

(3) Policies that are based on legal obligations (including provisions in the technology import-export regulations; and certain policies related to the intersection of anti-trust and IP, and IP and technical standards).

Several other controversial policies were also identified, including disclosure of confidential business information through regulatory approvals, pharma patent issues, and certain tax schemes and subsidies.

The authors find that, with the exception of no-choice policies, foreign firms are allowed some flexibility to decide whether or not they want to comply with China’s FTT policies. Therefore, even though non-compliance with the policies is always met with consequences, the technology is not actually “forced” against a party’s will. After noting this limitation of the term, the authors explain that they retain the term “FTT policies” in their research for readability and because it is part of well-established lingo, but only use it to the extent that it meets their aforementioned definition.

Much of the research focuses on foreign-Sino transfer of frontier technology, i.e. the most advanced technology emerging from research and development which is generally not at the point of mass commercial adoption. According to the authors, not only the design of FTT policies per se helps determine if they exert substantial leverage over (i.e., force) frontier technology transfer, but the environment in which they are deployed is equally important. The authors find that FTT policies appear to exert the most leverage over frontier technology transfer when accompanied by seven conditions: (1) strong state support for industrial growth; (2) oligopoly competition; (3) other policies closely complementing FTT policies; (4) high technological uncertainty; (5) policy mode of operation offering basic appropriability and tailored to industrial  structure; (6) reform avoidance by the state, and (7) stringent policy compliance mechanisms.

Based on each of these conditions, the authors developed an FTT Strategy & Risk Forecasting Matrix with corresponding strategies the state may adopt to fully exploit, i.e. maximize the leverage of, FTT policies.

The authors’ analysis has several possible implications for technology transfer policymaking. In the authors’ view, Chinese FTT policies may enable domestic acquisition of frontier foreign technology if all seven conditions determining policy leverage are fully exploited by the state. However, if the state does not fully exploit all seven conditions, the FTT policies have less leverage. Moreover, if the state exploits none or only a few of the conditions, the FTT policies may result in a lose-lose game where foreign firms are discouraged from transferring valuable technology and domestic firms’ acquisition of new technology is made more difficult.

With this analysis, the authors provide evidence that can be used to appeal to the Chinese authorities to change some of their FTT policies: some of the policies are actually counterproductive in meeting their aims. The risks of loss of technology acquisition posed by Chinese policies is an important phenomenon which this blog has also identified, particularly as an unintended consequence of China’s Technology Import/Export Regulations (especially for start-ups and litigation-prone technologies, but also for technological collaboration) and which has been mentioned by the US Chamber of Commerce in its IP Index and its report on licensing.

The authors argue that in order to increase the chance that FTT policies will spur sustained transfer of frontier technology, Chinese regulators should not deprive foreign firms of  minimum level of appropriability. The policies should also allow foreign firms to benefit in at least minor ways from technology transfer arrangements.

The research also has important implications for technology strategy formulation and risk management. The authors’ FTT Strategy & Risk Forecasting Matrix can guide foreign firms to anticipate risks associated with FTT policies and serve as a starting point for understanding how to further quantify or mitigate these risks. The risks are of course compounded by potential trade secret theft, cyber intrusions, and less formal pressure points on foreign licensors to assign or transfer their technology in China. And these risks must be considered alongside major rising challenges to doing business in China, which Prud’homme and Zedtwitz have also discussed (in MIT Sloan Management Review), including: problematic areas of regulation in China and rising competition from Chinese rivals in terms of their recruiting and retaining top talent, more large-scale and strategic use of intellectual property, and ever faster time-to-market of products and services. Mitigating these many risks requires carefully integrated intellectual property, innovation, non-market, and human capital strategies, alongside yet other responses.

Edited of June 23, 2018:  An interview with Prof. Liu Chuntian of Renmin U. Law School on this same topic of forced technology transfer is found on page 2 of the People’s Daily (June 22, 2018, 2nd edition) (reporter Wang Yu)   A machine translation by Google is found here.  Liu focuses primarily on market access as a separate discpline from intellectual property under the WTO and as being essentially voluntary; he does not support formal and informal incentives in place (including the Technology Import/Export Regulations as noted in the article by Dan Prud’homme).

Edit of July 15, 2018: Here’s a link to Prof Prud’homme’s article outside of a paywall.  It may only be available for a short period of time.

What the EU and US WTO IP Disputes Reveal About Trade Diplomacy

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Two contrasting approaches to using the WTO for China-related IP issues involving technology licensing and forced technology transfer are now pending at the WTO.

The United States initiated a WTO dispute on China’s licensing practices by filing a  consultation request on March 23, 2018.  Shortly after the filing of that case, Japan, the European Union, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Chinese Taipei requested to join the consultations.  The European Union additionally filed its own parallel WTO consultation request on June 1, 2018, with a broader scope. It is too soon to tell which countries will join the EU request.

Both countries timed their requests in conjunction with other trade actions. The WTO case was filed by the United States one day after the Section 301 report  was released. The European Union simultaneously filed its case against China with a WTO case against the United States regarding US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

The EU’s approach to this IP case is markedly different from the last time the US filed a WTO dispute involving China’s IP practices (DS/362).   At the time that the US filed a request for IP-related cases from China, the EU declined to make a similar transparency request.  It also did not join the US as a co-complainant in the ensuing WTO case, nor did it file a parallel complaint, but it did participate as a third-party.  By contrast, the EU approach in the current dispute is to both support the US and dig deeper.

The US consultation request was portrayed by USTR as addressing “technology licensing requirements.”  The thrust of the complaint involves China  “denying foreign patent holders, including U.S. companies, basic patent rights to stop a Chinese entity from using the technology after a licensing contract ends.”  The consultation request is therefor somewhat narrow.  The US complaint does not specifically address other technology-oriented rights, such as trade secret protection or undisclosed data, nor does it take on the topics set forth in the Section 301 report involving “IP theft.”   The consultation request is now numbered WT/DS542/1.

The EU complaint (WT/DS549/1), cites several Chinese measures in addition to those identified in the United States’ consultation request, and invokes more expansive WTO principles and procedures. The additionally cited measures include 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.  The Chinese promulgation of these interim Regulations only five days after the US filed its consultation request, looks to some like another act of synchronized trade diplomacy — in this case as a possible retaliatory act for the 301 report and the WTO case.  My guess is that the EU, by referring to these new largely untested regulations is however seeking to address the legality of controls China has additionally imposed on foreigners’ transferring IP out of China.

The EU has also swept in other measures into its complaint, including China’s trade secret law (the Anti-Unfair Competition Law), the Anti-Monopoly Law, the Regulations [sic] of State Administration for Industry and Commerce Administrations on the Prohibition of Abuse of Dominant Market Position, and the Regulation [sic] on the Prohibition of Conduct Eliminating or Restricting Competition by Abusing Intellectual Property Rights.  The nomenclature the EU uses for these various legal documents appears imprecise.  The March 2018 “measures” may properly be classified as “regulations” 法规 issued by the State Council. The SAIC “regulations” should properly be classified as “rules” 部门规章 issued by an administrative agency. This is the nomenclature China set forth in the Report of the Working Party on the Accession of China (WT/ACC/CHN/49), paragraph 66 ( the “Protocols of Accession“).  The Working Party Report nomenclature establishes clear legislative hierarchies pursuant to China’s Law on Legislation.

The EU also argues that China’s appears to directly or indirectly “nullifying or impairing” the benefits accruing to the European Union and its Member States that were expected by China’s WTO accession, thereby opening the door to broader arguments regarding how China may deprive WTO members of the benefits they legitimately expected while at the same time not violating the literal language of any commitment (See, e.g., Art. 64 of the TRIPS Agreement).  These arguments have been subject to a moratorium and have historically been difficult to assert, but in my estimation have some relevance to the current situation in China.  The EU is also seeking to utilize provisions in the WTO that address the “impartial and reasonable application and administration of its laws, regulations and other measures” (Article X.3(a) of the GATT 1994 and Paragraph 2(A)2 of the Protocol on the Accession of the People’s Republic of China to the WTO).  The “impartial administration” requirement, as found in the Protocols of Accession requires China to “apply and administer in a uniform, impartial and reasonable manner all its laws, regulations and other measures … pertaining to or affecting …  trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (“TRIPS”)” (p. 74).

Contrasting the actions of the US and the EU, the EU complaint urges a legalistic and multilateral resolution of trade disputes, using doctrine that has proven difficult to assert.  The approach also appears to reflect a waning confidence by some that China today in fact has an effective and independent legal and political system which “impartially administers its laws”.   My former colleague at Fordham, Prof. Carl Minzner describes some of these political reversals in his recent book  End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining Its Rise (2018).

The US approach, by contrast, uses the 301 report to point to perceived technological threats, manifested through industrial plans, vague laws, industrial espionage and unfairly adjudicated cases, to make the point that the WTO might be inappropriate to resolve its concerns. In a sense, the US assumed in the Section 301 report that in the party- and plan-controlled China of today, with a resurgent state sector, there aren’t many “laws, regulations and other measures” to administer impartially.  The United States therefor pays scant attention in the 301 to the numerous legal reforms and civil adjudication in intellectual property that have taken place in recent years.  The United States approach is also more broadly consistent with the perspectives of Prof. Mark Wu at Harvard Law School who prophetically pointed out in his article “The ‘China, Inc.’ Challenge to Global Trade Governance”  that “the WTO faces a challenge: can the institution craft a predictable and fair set of legal rules to address new trade-distortive behavior arising out of China, Inc.? If not, key countries may turn away from the WTO to address these issues.”

While the EU and the US likely have common goals with respect to China’s IP regime, I believe that they likely could also learn something from each other in their strategies and perhaps they will as these cases progress.

 

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Bottom photo by Mark Cohen of Charleston, SC United States Custom House.

 

US Files Consultation Request at WTO on Chinese Technology Licensing Practices

Fresh on the heels of the Section 301 announcement, USTR on March 23, 2018 made a  consultation request  of China regarding China’s discriminatory licensing practices.  This is the first step in initiation of  a WTO dispute.  Here is a link to the press announcement.

The consultation request broadly speaking alleges discriminatory treatment in licensing pursuant to China’s joint venture regime as well as the  Administration of Technology Import/Export Regulations (“TIER”), as compared to provisions under China’s contract law that may govern purely domestic technology transfers or Chinese exports of technology.  The complaint is based on the National Treatment provisions of the TRIPS agreement as well as Article 28.2, which provides that “Patent owners shall also have the right to assign, or transfer by succession, the patent and to conclude licensing contracts.”  The Section 301 Report of USTR also discusses these issues.

Update of June 2, 2018:  On June 1, the EU filed its own complaint against China at the WTO involving China’s technology licensing practices, including the TIER.  A copy of the request for consultations, which appears somewhat more extensive is available here.