A Federal Circuit with Chinese Characteristics? – The Launch of China’s New National Appellate IP Court 中国特色的联邦巡回上诉法院?

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On December 27, 2018, the Supreme People’s Court released the Provisions on Certain Issues of the IP Court  (the “Provisions”), and the Standing Committee of the NPC  announced a first round name list of judges of the new IP court. These decisions follow an earlier announcement by the NPC Standing Committee  on October 26, 2018 authorizing the establishing of this new division of the SPC (officially translated as IP  Court of the Supreme Court of SPCIP, with the Chinese name 最高人民法院知识产权法庭). There were also indications that such a court was in the works that were previously reported in this blog in 2017.  The newly established IP Court is intended to function very similarly to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, with a national jurisdiction over technical civil IP cases as well as appeals of patent validity decisions. Trademark validity appeals are not currently specifically enumerated as being within the court’s jurisdiction (see photo below).

This is a much awaited, historic and potentially disruptive breakthrough in the China IP litigation system, that has been a focus of much discussion between US and Chinese experts over 20 or more years, notably between the SPC and former CAFC Chief Judge Rader, former USPTO Director Kappos, and others (including the author/owner of this blog).  The historic 2012 conference between the SPC and the CAFC at Renmin University was one such milestone event in these efforts.   China’s successful experiments in specialized IP courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou was another such milestone, as well as the language in the third plenum that facilitated their establishment. However, the engagement preceded this decade.  For example, an important conference on specialized IP courts was held with former Chief Judge Jiang Zhipei, and other Chinese IP judges in Washington, DC on Specialized IP courts in 2002, which involved over 130 judicial experts.   SIPO also exerted an important leadership role as well, through the National IP Strategy and various studies and conferences over the years.

The Provisions came into effect January 1, and the new Court held a kick-off ceremony on that same day.   Almost like clockwork, Judge Wang Chuang, the new deputy chief judge of this new tribunal was at the second US-China IP Summit in Shenzhen on January 3, 2019 (the “Summit”) presenting a bilingual PowerPoint (picture above) explaining the role of the Court, along with several other current and former judges, including Judges Jin Kesheng, former Beijing IP Court President Su Chi, former Guangdong IP Tribunal judge Ou Xiuping, former Beijing High Court Judge Cheng Yongshun, and others.  Considering the high-stakes trade dispute and interaction between China and the US right now, it is fair to say that the setup of the SPC’s IP Court is part of the bona fide effort to enhance IP protection in China which in fact predates the trade dispute.

What will be the impact of this court on foreign-related litigation? We believe that the impact is likely to be positive.  US academics have suggested that the CAFC has had a modest effect of correcting any anti-foreign bias  and the elevation of patent appeals to the SPC level is certain to similarly help direct national attention to important cases and defuse local pressure.  Moreover, the jurisdictional mandate of this court includes appeals from the Beijing IP Court of administrative patent cases, where foreigners constitute a significant cohort, partiuclarly if trademark cases are included (which appears unlikely). The Court also includes at least one judge from the foreign civil (no. 4) division of the SPC.   The recent decision by the SPC to rehear the Huawei v Interdigital case, where Zhu Li was a judge, may also be another signal.  Judge Zhu has since transferred to this new IP Tribunal, and the court has also sent a clear signal that it will be seeking a consistent and fair determinations of cases independent of local influence.   Many of the judges on the roster are well known to the foreign IP and antitrust communities, have met with foreign visitors or traveled overseas, and enjoy the respect of the foreign and Chinese bar.

Here are some of the most significant things that we know about this new Court.

Status of the SPC’s IP Court: It is part of the SPC, which generates some confusion. Given that the judgments, rulings, mediations and decisions made by the SPC’s IP Court are in the name of the Supreme Court, it enjoys a similar status to that of CAFC, whose job is to function as a national appellate court and whose decisions. are typically final.  But there has been and still will be an IP Tribunal (also known as 3rd Civil Tribunal) of the SPC, and a decision made by the SPC’s IP Court, which in normal practice should be final, is capable of been filed for retrial before the said IP Tribunal of the SPC.  In addition, non-technical IP cases will still be appealed according to pre-existing procedures ultimately to the 3d Civil Tribunal.

The head of the new SPC’s IP Court, Mr. Luo Dongchuan, will at the same time continue to serve as Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the SPC, a rank higher than the head of the 3rd Civil Tribunal, which previously heard all IP cases.  Justice Luo effectively oversees IP litigation in China with Justice Tao Kaiyuan, which is a further elevation of the importance of IP to China’s judicial system.

Staffing the Court:  IP tribunal judges are typically amongst the best educated judges in China’s court system.  Many young judges made their name in IP related trials. The judicial personnel list of the court suggests that the court has been viewed as career enhancing for SPC judges, judges from regional courts, and former patent office examiners who have been selected as judges (see the list below).  However, due to the rapid establishment and staffing of this new Court, many of the judges are likely on detail from their prior jobs to the new Court, pending permanent transfer

Staffing of the Court

Name Position Former position
Luo Dongchuan 罗东川  Vice-president of SPC, Head of the Intellectual Property Court of SPC Vice-president of SPC, member of the Adjudication Committee of SPC,
Wang Chuang王闯 Deputy Chief Judge Deputy Chief Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of SPC
Zhou Xiang 周翔 Deputy Chief Judge Deputy Director General of the Enforcement Bureau of SPC
Li Jian 李剑 Deputy Chief Judge Presiding Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of SPC
Zhu Li 朱理 Judge Senior Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of SPC
Shen Hongyu 沈红雨 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No.4 of SPC (for foreign-related cases)
Luo Xia 罗霞 Judge Judge of the Administrative Division of SPC
Fu Lei 傅蕾 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of SPC
Wei Lei 魏磊 Judge Assistant Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of SPC
He Peng 何鹏 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of SPC
Jiao Yan 焦彦 Judge Deputy Chief Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of Beijing High People’s Court
Cen Hongyu 岑宏宇 Judge Assistant Judge and the Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of BHPC
Liu Xiaojun 刘晓军 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of Beijing High People’s Court
Cui Ning 崔 宁 Judge Judge of Beijing Intellectual Property Court
Deng Zhuo  邓 卓 Judge Judge of Beijing Intellectual Property Court
Ren Xiaolan 任晓兰 Judge Director of the No.1 Chemical Appeal Division of the Patent Reexamination Board of CNIPA
Gao Xue 高 雪 Judge Deputy Director of the Mobile Communicating Technology Appeal Department of the Patent Reexamination Board of CNIPA
Zhan Jingkang 詹靖康 Judge  Deputy Director of the Examination Guide Department of the Examination Management Division of the CNIPA
Xu Yanru 徐燕如 Judge Deputy Chief Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of ZHPC
Xu Zhuobin 徐卓斌 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of Shanghai High People’s Court
Ling Zongliang 凌宗亮 Judge Judge of the Intellectual Property Division No. 2 of Shanghai Intellectual Property Court
Zhang Xiaoyang 张晓阳 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of Jiangsu High People’s Court
Zhang Hongwei 张宏伟 Judge  Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of Fujian High People’s court
Liu Xiaomei 刘晓梅 Judge  Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of Shandong High People’s Court
Tong Haichao 童海超 Judge Deputy Chief Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of Hubei High People’s Court
Tang Xiaomei 唐小妹 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of HHPC
She Zhaoyang 佘朝阳 Judge Judge of Guangzhou Intellectual Property Court

Internet Courts, Circuit Courts, Specialized IP Courts: The types of courts in China has expanded and is potentially confusing to those unfamiliar with the new experiments.  The SPC had already established Circuit Courts, which are arms of the Supreme Court itself, except that they are in cities other than Beijing.  An example of such a court is the Shenzhen Circuit court which hears retrial cases from Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, and Hainan as well as cases relating to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.  The Specialized IP Courts, which will remain the same as before, are intermediate courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Jurisdiction, vested with jurisdiction over certain IP lawsuits. They will function all the same as before, but their decision will now be appealable to the SPC’s IP Court, rather than to High Court of the province where the Specialized Courts reside.  These IP Courts are in addition to other local IP tribunals and courts which localities have set up with the support of the SPC and have been experimenting in cross-district jurisdiction, and in combining civil, criminal and administrative adjudication.

The three Internet Courts, located in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, will function as before.  Their decisions are not likely to be appealed to the SPC’s IP Court given that the latter only hear patent, mask works, variety of plants, computer software and anti-trust cases.

Standardization of Trial Rules: A mission of the SPC’s IP Court is to formulate judicial standards and trial rules based on their investigation and research of relevant practices, and such standards and rules shall be followed by the lower courts. This may suggest that the SPC’s IP Court will take over the responsibility of formulating certain judicial interpretations and selecting guiding cases. Wang Chuang noted at the Summit that the Court is considering judicial interpretations on such topics as technology assessors and trade secret protection.  Thus, we could expect a more consistent guidance, both procedural and substantive, from the Supreme Court over IP cases, especially when involving technical matters.  Judge Su Chi (retired) of the Beijing IP Court, also noted at the Summit that he expected that some of his work on development of a case law system would likely be taken over by this Court as well.

Extended Jurisdictional Scope of the Court:  The SPC’s IP Court is empowered to hear major and complicated cases of first instance on a national scale. This implies that some plaintiffs may bring high-profile lawsuits to the Supreme Court directly. This kind of arrangement is very rare in China’s judicial system. The only case we are aware of before this time is the trial of the Gang of Four in 1980. This could be good news for patentees facing difficult issues of local protectionism. It may also have profound impacts on society, and thereby raise the IP awareness of the public.  The Federal Circuit had a similar impact on US society when it decided major cases such as Polaroid v Kodak early in its tenure, which in the US signaled “a new period in which patents regained their importance as intellectual property protection for technology companies.”  The SPC’s IP Court will likely have discretion to determine whether a case belongs to a major and complicated one. There are various factors to be taken into consideration, such as the damages claimed, the nature of the subject matter, the parties concerned, the relevant technicality, the social impacts, and so on.  In addition to this area, the court will also retrial cases arising from application by any party of interest and protest by the Supreme Procuratorate as mentioned (Article 2(5) and Article 11 of the Provisions).

For Chinese IP practitioners and regional IP judges this is also a major game changer.  Chinese patent firms that were once focusing on establishing offices throughout China may now need to think about reinforcing their staff in Beijing.  Chinese judges from various localities may also wonder why certain appellate jurisdiction was removed from their courts.  The answer to that last issue likely lies in the desire of the SPC to establish greater uniformity and predictability throughout China in important technology-related IP cases, as was explained at the Summit.

At the Summit, Judge Wang Chuang noted that four goals of this new court are: boosting technological innovation; testing fields of judicial reform; being a bellwether for patent trials and becoming a preferred court for international patent litigation.  These goals are laudable, not surprising, consistent with the current directions of judicial reform and can help inspire confidence of the foreign business community.  In view of the goal of increasing China’s role as a center for international IP litigation, it is not surprising that so many judges attended the Summit.

In all, the establishment of the SPC’s IP Court is exciting news in Chinese IP community.

Written by Mark Cohen, Harry Fang 方春晖, Steve Song 宋献涛 and Jerry Liu 刘良勇attorneys with the Deheng law firm北京德和衡律师事务所.

Mark Cohen excercised final editorial control and is responsible for any errors. Photograph of Judge Wang Chuang  by Mark Cohen from the Summit.  All rights reserved.

Please write in with your observations on this important development!

flowchartofnewcourt
Updated January 8, 2019 to clarify uncertainty over jurisdiction over trademark administrative appeals, and on January 9 to add a photo of the flow chart for litigation from the Summit which does not include trademarks  (above).

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).

Developments in Foreign-Related Cases, IP and Otherwise

Here’s an excellent posting from a “sister blog”, Susan Finder’s Supreme People’s Court Monitor, on developments in foreign-related cases in China.   The blog points to legal reforms in process that could result in a more activist role of China’s judiciary in international affairs, including by participating in international norms setting, strengthening judicial cooperation with Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, and perfecting judicial assistance.  The court also noted that it would also “vigorously” assert jurisdiction in international matters, (this was briefly discussed on this blog in the Huawei vs Interdigital case).

Judge Luo Dongchuan,  chief judge of the number four civil tribunal, and a respected former IP judge, is cited by Susan Finder, as suggesting four areas of additional engagement by the courts:

  • “Establishing an electronic platform for service of legal process outside of the jurisdiction (intended to mean Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, as well as foreign countries);
  • Investigating and obtaining evidence …
  • Determining foreign law, through establishing a database of experts (Chinese and foreign).
  • Restricting parties to litigation from leaving China”

Clearly, international engagement by the courts is on the increase.  Transnational IP could be greatly influenced by these developments.