New State Council Decision on Intellectual Property Strategy For China as a Strong IP Country

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On July 18, 2016, the State Council issued a new policy document,国务院关于新形势下加快知识产权强国建设的 若干意见-重点任务分工方案  — the “Opinion of the State Council on Accelerating the Construction of Intellectual Property Powers for China as an Intellectual Property Strong Country under the New Situation –Division of Tasks.”  Here’s a link to this action plan (docketed as State Council  Working Office No. 66)  , and a link to the machine translation, from which the world cloud above is drawn.   The action plan itself is drawn from a State Council document issued in 2015 on accelerating the establishment of a strong IP country in the context of a new situation.  This 2015 document identified such problems as China being a big country for IP, but not a strong country, protection was not adequately strict, infringement was easy and pervasive, and that these factors were affecting industry’s efforts to innovate.

As I discussed previously, the idea of China needing to become a strong IP country appears in the 2014-2020, National IPR Strategy Action Plan, which has the goal of “Striving to Build A Strong IPR Country”  (努力建设知识产权强国). While China indeed has become “big” on most scales: invention patent filings, trademark, utility models and design patents, intellectual property litigation, criminal IP litigation and administrative litigation, to name a few, “strong” suggests quality, which is much harder to judge.

Here are a few specific observations about this action plan:

  1. Much of the action plan repeats existing efforts, through the MofCOM IPR Leading Group and SIPO’s National IP Strategy Office, and their current efforts at analyzing and coordinating IP effort, as well as cooperative activities (Arts. 1, 3, 13, 15, 18, 21, 22, 25, 30, 44, 88, etc.).
  2. There are greater efforts to incorporate IP into macroeconomic strategies, such as in calculations regarding the national economy and national social welfare (Art. 9), as well as credit reporting (Art. 23).
  3. Increasing compensatory  and punitive damages are a focus (Arts. 14), which have also been an effort of China’s IP courts.  This is one of the key civil-law reform proposals in this plan.   There continues to be an undue emphasis on speed, which I assume is focused on patent administrative enforcement as a more rapid remedy (Art. 16).  China is already a fast moving IP environment.
  4. International cooperation in criminal enforcement is underscored (Arts. 19, 21, 22).
  5. Regarding trade secret protection, the focus is on revising trade secret laws, and protecting IP when employees change jobs (Art. 24).  Changes to China’s discovery regime and other appropriate measures which would greatly assist trade secret claimants, are not discussed.
  6. Geographical indications are a focus, including drafting a stand-alone GI law at “the appropriate time” (Art. 32), increasing the role of trademarks in promoting farmer prosperity (Art. 58), and promoting GI products (Art. 90).
  7. Regarding the long-delayed IP Abuse Guidelines, NDRC, MofCOM, SAIC and the State Council Legislative Affairs Office are all listed as being responsible for drafting “according to their responsibilities” (Art. 36).  Rules on standard essential patents that are based on FRAND licensing and “stopping infringement” are also noted (Art. 38), with the involvement of AQSIQ, SIPO, MIIT, and the Supreme People’s Court).  Encouraging standardization of Chinese patents also remains a priority (Arts. 61, 71).
  8. Service Invention Regulations, an area of some controversy are not specifically noted as a priority.  Encouragement is to be given to enterprises to set up appropriate invention recognition and reward programs in accordance with law (Art. 45), and research is to be undertaken in giving compensation for new scientific achievements (Art. 46).  The language may suggest that more flexibility will be given contractual arrangements and the market, as was agreed to bilaterally between China and the United States.   Relevant agencies involved in these efforts include SIPO, MoST, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture, SASAC, Chinese Academy of Sciences, MIIT, Ministry of Defense, etc.
  9. Chinese universities are also encouraged to become more actively engaged in commercialization of technology, through establishment of technology transfer offices (Art. 53) and other efforts.
  10. The impact of US efforts to study IP-intensive industries in the US economy is also apparent in this plan in terms of the government’s efforts to investigate promoting IP intensive industries in the Chinese economy, government procurement of products from IP intensive industries, and developing model districts for IP intensive industries (Arts. 55-56).  Interestingly, there is no specific reference to engaging economists on any of these efforts, despite the role of foreign economists in similar efforts, some of who have also directly engaged China on how to determine IP-intensity in an economy.
  11. There is discussion of using tax and financial policies to promote IP creation in China (Arts. 98, 99).  There is no explicit discussion of harmonization with OECD guidelines regarding patent boxes and other forms of international tax avoidance.
  12. The report discusses a number of strategies and plans to reduce overseas IP risks facing Chinese companies, including assisting Chinese companies in strategic planning, patenting and licensing (Arts. 72-76), developing information resources on risks and cases (Arts. 78-79), and – rather ominously – developing policies for countering large intellectual property cases overseas (with the support of MofCOM, Customs, SAIC, AQSIQ, NCA, and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade – “CCPIT”).   There is no discussion on any changes to current technology import regulations which impose onerous indemnity and non-grant back requirements on foreign licensors.
  13. The report directs research to be conducted of placing IP officials overseas in important countries, region and IP organizations.  Although China’s current IP attaché in the United States is a MofCOM employee, the responsible agencies for this effort include SIPO, NCA, SAIC, and CCPIT (Art. 85).  The first Chinese IP attaché was dispatched to the United States pursuant to a bilateral commitment of the  2005 Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade.
  14. The report notes that China will become more involved in promoting a more “fair and reasonable” international IP regime, through support of the Doha amendments to the TRIPS Agreement, the Convention on Biodiversity and various IP conventions.  The Hague Convention on Industrial Designs is noted, but not UPOV 1991.  Promotion of intangible heritage and folklore are also noted (Arts. 59. 87).
  15. IP talent creation and training are also key elements of the plan (103-105).

 

Often in looking at plans like these, it is also equally important to ask what is not being covered.   The plan does not focus enough on a China where there is greater scientific collaboration with foreign scientists and engineers, which are also result in an increasingly large number of co-invented patents.  Similarly, increasing Chinese investment in IP-intensive industries in the United States means that many Chinese companies will own substantial IP interests and may be less inclined to view IP issues as “us” vs “them.”  The relative under-emphasis on civil remedies for IP issues in this plan is also troubling, as the availability of adequate civil remedies is what drives IP commercialization.

The report also does not suggest increasing the role of economists in IP and antitrust agencies, despite a clear focus on increasing the IP-intensity of the Chinese economy. Gaps in Chinese law, such as denial of copyright protection for sports broadcasting, weak protection for trade dress, and “circular” litigation between the patent and trademark offices and the courts which may delay final adjudication on matters, controlling trademark squatting and subsidies for unexamined patents are not discussed.

Although there are many positive aspects of this plan, I believe that focusing on issues like compulsory licensing, the Doha Declaration and folklore, or what appears to be political solutions to overseas infringement may also not deliver as much value to the Chinese economy and China’s scientists, engineers, artists and entrepreneurs, as returning to core IP concepts which let the market govern IP creation and enforcement through such measures as improving the scope of rights that are protected under Chinese law, limiting government intervention, increasing the role of the civil judicial system, and promoting increased collaboration.

Justice Tao Kaiyuan and the Role of the Judiciary

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Justice Tao Kaiyuan of the Supreme People’s Court, who had been to the United States in 2015 delivering important speeches on rule of law, has recently published an article on “Giving Full Play to the Leading Role of Judicial Protection of IP Rights“ 充分发挥司法保护知识产权的主导作用”(Dec. 31, 2015).  The article is receiving considerable attention in China, as it was published by Qiu Shi, 求是(“Seeking Truth”), a bimonthly political theory published by the Central Party School and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.  The publication of the article appears to be timed with the release of the recent draft of the Patent Law Amendments, comments for which were due the day after publication (January 1).  The proposed patent amendments would strengthen the role of administrative agencies in IP enforcement, to the possible detriment of the judiciary.

The author of the article is no less important than its contents.  Madame Tao knows patents.  She was the former Director General of the Guangdong Patent Office and therefor once had “vertical” reporting responsibility to SIPO (see picture above taken by me of Madame Tao [on the right] with USPTO Director Michelle Lee taken in 2015).  Although the article was authored in her name, many in China were speculating that the article was approved by higher authorities – perhaps Zhou Qiang, the President of the Supreme People’s Court, with Madame Tao serving as an appropriate messenger.

The concerns about this draft on patent law enforcement are not that different from those in the earlier (2012) draft when I blogged in “Why the Proposed Amendments to the Patent Law Really Matter … and Maybe Not Just For Patents” that “the changes strike me as a rather sudden about face in China’s march towards better civil protection of IP.” Madame Tao takes this several steps further.

Madame Tao’s article is divided into three parts: (1) The important meaning of giving full play to the leading role of the judicial protection of IP rights; (2) The key factors that constrain the leading use role of judicial protection of IP; and (3) Key measures in giving full play to the leading role of judicial protection of IP rights.   Here are some of the points she makes:

Madame Tao refers back to the National IP Strategy and related documents, such as the Third Plenum, the NPC’s decision to establish IP courts, and the Action Plan for the National IP Strategy to underscore the well-established, leading role of the courts in enforcing IP.

Her article compares certain key elements of judicial protection versus administrative protection.  In her view, judicial enforcement can curtail abuses of administrative enforcement.  It also has other advantages.  It has clear rules.  It is transparent.  It can help establish guidance for businesses by establishing clear standards for similar disputes (a possible nod to efforts at developing case law/guiding cases).  Moreover, civil enforcement comports with notions of private ownership and the development of markets and creation of a fair competitive environment in China.  Madame Tao especially underscores the role of the courts in supervising administrative agencies.  As I have noted, this is also an important part of the foreign IP docket in China.  Madame Tao states that the judiciary should also actively guide administrative law enforcement in investigation and review of evidence, and determination of infringements.

Madame Tao also calls for greater coordination in administrative and judicial roles in IP protection, noting that administrative enforcement played an important leading role in the beginning of China’s IP enforcement environment.  Administrative enforcement has “in a short time met the need for building effective IP protection.”  However, the “growing maturity” of the judicial system has caused increasing problems in the coordination process.

Madame Tao also calls for specific policy initiatives, many of which are already underway.  She calls for greater deterrent civil damages, including by revising patent, copyright and unfair competition laws based on experience of the trademark law revisions.   She also suggests that a discovery system should be considered.  Civil and criminal divisions in IP should be unified.  She suggests that a specialized national IP court should be researched and promoted, and she calls for the unification of technical appellate cases, perhaps like the CAFC.  She also notes that the division between infringement and validity determinations in the courts in patents and trademarks should be addressed, and calls for improvements in the availability of provisional measures.

She calls for greater improvements in judicial protective measures, including in obtaining evidence and the convenience and effectiveness of remedies.  Among other specific judicial reforms, she also suggests exploring intellectual property case law, improving judicial accountability and developing judicial professionalism.  Finally, Madame Tao also calls for expanding international awareness by IP judges to better protect national interests and to increase China’s IP influence.

Altogether, a tour de force.

Here’s what her speech looks like in a machine-translated wordcloud:taowordcloud

 

 

 

Synergies and Contrasts Between The National IP Strategy Action Plan and Fourth Plenum (with contrasting wordclouds)

 

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Here is an unofficial translation of the English language translation of the Action plan of the National IP Strategy (2014 -2020) (NIPS), about which I previously blogged. A wordcloud from this English translation is above – with an obvious focus on “management,” “strengthening,” “promotion” and “enforcement” and some mentioning of the “market.”  As the NIPS was released just weeks after the Fourth Plenum, it make a useful point of contrast on where China is headed on IP, including IP-related rule of law. An annotated version of the Fourth Plenum decision is available here for comparison.   For those with short attention span, or a strong visual orientation a wordcloud of the Fourth Plenum decision is found at the end of this post.  In short, the Fourth Plenum is emphasizing the “market,” “law” and “enforcement.”  The NIPS, however, seems to be all about strengthening the IP system.

The NIPS contains some interesting general goals, particularly in terms of developing IP intensive industries, including developing Chinese patent pools and Chinese cultural industries. promoting IP services, integration of IP into state science and technology plans, and expanding cooperation.   Some sticky issues, such as involving China’s multiple track system of protecting geographical indications will be changed into a unified system of some kind.  The NIPS also calls for a Chinese-type Section 337 remedy, as was originally contemplated in China’s Foreign Trade Law, ie., to “carry out investigations on infringement of Chinese IPR by imported products and other unfair competition acts in import trade.”

Regrettably, the NIPS keeps some of the failed metrics of its first implementation in place.  Patent filings will increase from 4 per 10,000 people in 2013, to 14 per 10,000 in 2020.  This means that SIPO will be receiving in excess of 6 million patent applications per year. In an implicit recognition of the problem I have noted that patent maintenance  is at least as important as patent applications, the NIPS also wants to increase the average maintenance period for invention patents from 5.8  years to 9.0  by 2020.  However this data point doesn’t resolve the problem of low maintenance rates for utility models and designs and it is to be hoped that in all cases, maintenance rates expand due to growth in the market and not due to the kinds of artificial subsidies that already plague China’s patent applications.   Among the market oriented targets, export growth in IP rights is also slated to grow from 1.36 billion USD in 2013 to 8 billion USD in 2020.  Commercialization-related goals reflect the goals of the Third Plenum, to increase IP utilization generally.

Here’s what the NIPS says about the judiciary:

“Strengthen.. the criminal law enforcement and the judicial protection of IP. We will intensify the investigation of IP crime cases and supervise the handling of key cases; persist in the combination of fight and prevention to gradually bring special campaigns onto the track of normalized law enforcement; strengthen the linkup between the administrative law enforcement of IP and criminal justice and intensify the handover of cases of suspected crimes; strengthen the trail of IP-violating criminal cases according to law, intensify the application of pecuniary penalty to deprive infringers of the capability and conditions for committing crimes again; strengthen the civil and administrative trial of IP to create a good innovation environment; provide human, financial and material guarantee and support for the establishment and operation of IP court according to the plan for establishment thereof.”

The NIPS seems to be following the lead of other agencies in judicially-related efforts.  In administrative law, it also supports  the State Council’s effort to promote administrative transparency, including extending it to credit reporting systems:

“We will … solidly push forward the disclosure of information on cases of administrative punishment of IP infringement to deter law violators and, in the meantime, promote standardized, just and civilized law enforcement by enforcers; incorporate the disclosure of case information into the scope of statistical notification of the efforts of cracking down on infringement and counterfeits and strengthen examination; explore the establishment of the credit standard related to IP protection to include acts of mala fide infringement in the social credit evaluation system, disclose the relevant information to credit reporting agencies and raise the social credit level for IP protection.”

However, regarding IPR-related commercial rule of law, one needs to focus a bit more on the Fourth Plenum.  Here are some of the significant judicial reforms that will affect IP:

Reform systems for judicial organs’ personnel and finance management, explore the implementation of separating courts’ and procuratorates’ judicial administrative management affairs and adjudication or procuratorate powers.

The Supreme People’s Court will establish circuit courts, to hearing major administrative and civil cases that cross administrative regions. Explore the establishment of People’s Courts and people’s procuratorates that cross administrative districts and handle cross-regional cases…

Reform systems for court acceptance of cases, change the case filing review system to a case filing registration system, and in cases that should be accepted by the People’s Courts, ensure parties’ procedural rights by requiring filing when there is a case, and requiring acceptance where there is a lawsuit…

Perfect systems for witnesses and experts appearing in court, ensure that courtroom hearings play a decisive role in ascertaining the facts, identifying the evidence, protecting the right of action, and adjudicating impartially.”

More broadly, here’s what the Fourth Plenum says about IP:

“Perfect a property rights system and an intellectual property rights system that encourage innovation, and structures and mechanisms to stimulate the transformation of scientific and technological achievements. Strengthen the construction of a legal system for the market, compile a civil code, … stimulate the free circulation, fair exchange and equal use of commercial products and factors, strengthen and improve macro-level coordination and market supervision according to the law, oppose monopolies, stimulate reasonable competition, safeguard a market order of fair competition. ”

Conclusion: It should come as no surprise that the Fourth Plenum, although more general, may more greatly impact IP-related judicial / legislative issues.  Based on a recent trip to Beijing, I understand that work is already underway to draft IP provisions of a civil code.  The new chief judge of the Supreme People’s Court IP tribunal (Song), the new Chief Judge of the Beijing IP Court (Su), the new Vice President of the SPC with authority over the IP tribunal  (Tao) all have civil law backgrounds.  In addition, consideration is being given to the specialized IP courts having a circuit court type role.  New technology assessors in the IP courts will affect the way that evidence is considered and will likely enhance the independence and professionalism of the courts. 

Will the Fourth Plenum further push China towards a more market-oriented approach to IP?  I personally believe that for the NIPS to work effectively, the decisive factors has to be the market.  Metrics for IP creation are meaningless unless there is utilization of IP.  Hopefully the Fourth Plenum will push the NIPS implementation even further in a market orientation, which is a key factor of the Fourth Plenum, as this wordcloud shows…

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