SAMR Releases Draft Trade Secret Rules for Public Comment

On September 4, 2020, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) released Draft Trade Secret Protection Rules for public comment  [商业秘密保护规定(征求意见稿)] including an accompanying explanation. Comments are due by October 18, 2020. 

SAMR announced its intention to draft these rules in its 2020 legislative work plan.   As with the earlier rules that these supersede, they are directed towards handling of trade secret administrative enforcement by SAMR.  The earlier rules had been criticized for only providing protections for Chinese citizens and not foreign nationals in Article 2, which provided that  “the term ‘rights holder’ in these regulations refers to citizens, legal persons or other organizations that have ownership or use rights over trade secrets according to law. ” 本规定所称权利人,是指依法对商业秘密享有所有权或者使用权的公 民、法人或者其他组织.  This apparent discrimination against foreigners was identified to the Chinese delegation at the WTO in 2002. See WTO, IP/C/W/374, Sept. 10, 2002, “Review of Legislation” at p. 44.   These new rules appear to be far more comprehensive, and do not carry the same regrettable language about citizens. 

Statistics generally show a low level of utilization of the trade secret administrative enforcement mechanism.  In 2011, for example, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce yearbook (predecessor agency to SAMR), revealed that SAIC had only brought 57 administrative trade secret cases, with 2, 579 RMB in average fines (about $390.00) (SAIC Yearbook, at p. 855).  Notwithstanding this low level of utilization of the administrative enforcement system and discriminatory language in the earlier rules,  improving administrative enforcement of trade secrets was agreed to bilaterally in the 2012 Strategic and Economic Dialogue, by which China committed to place trade secret protection in the “2012 Annual Work Plan of the State Council Leading Group on Intellectual Property Enforcement.”  About that time, the State Council Leading Group had been especially active in coordinating and improving administrative enforcement.  One problem posed by this commitment is that trade secret enforcement is especially not susceptible to the kind of investigations of virtual or physical markets that SAMR (or SAIC) have historically excelled in.  It is therefore not surprising that despite the commitments by China in the Phase 1 Agreement on several IP-related special administrative campaigns involving various markets, the trade secret provisions focus on civil and criminal enforcement.  Perhaps the caseload will increase with the additional powers granted to SAMR and the increased focus on trade secret enforcement by China.  However, many people, including myself, believe that trade secret protection may be best handled by the courts.  Moreover, if the subject of the trade secret infringement involves technology, the IP courts may be best equipped to handle those matters.

Aaron Wininger has written a useful general overview of the draft which is available here.