SAIC Announces Its Latest Draft of IP Abuse Guidelines

“[T]he word transparency [is] the ‘most opaque in the trade policy lexicon.’” Sylvia Ostry

On Feb. 4, 2016, SAIC published for public comment its draft Guidelines On Anti-Trust Enforcement Against IP Abuse, dated February 2, 2016,  <关于滥用知识产权的反垄断执法指南(国家工商总局第七稿>公开征求意见的公告> .  SAIC advises that this is their seventh draft. The deadline for SAIC’s receiving comments is February 23, 2016.   The draft is also accompanied by an explanation, which briefly reviews the earlier drafts and notes that the numbers of comments received throughout the commenting process, which was first initiated in 2009.

This guideline draft is in addition to the IP abuse rules that SAIC promulgated in 2015, with an effective date of August 1, 2015.  Unlike the guidelines, which will be adopted under the auspices of the Antimonopoly Commission of the State Council, the rules were adopted pursuant to SAIC’s own legislative authority.  It will be interesting to compare the guidelines with the rules.  If both rules and guidelines ultimately co-exist, and there are differences in wording and policy, there will inevitably be concerns over how these differences will be enforced.

I have previously discussed NDRC’s drafting process here, and on a non-public SAIC draft here.  In fact, my comments on the SAIC fifth draft go back nearly to the time this blog was established, in 2012. As noted in the book I co-authored with Steve Harris and others, Anti-Monopoly Law and Practice in China (2011), SAIC’s engagement on IP abuse dates back to 2004 – before the AML was itself enacted — when it published a paper “The Competition Restricting Measures of Multinational Companies in China and Counter Measures.”

SIPO is also reportedly involved in drafting or commenting on IP abuse guidelines.  As with SAIC, SIPO’s involvement goes way back.  SIPO’s 2009 IPR Action Plan specifically contemplated that it would “step up research on abuse of IP rights, and strengthen communication and negotiation with relevant foreign government authorities on this issue.”

When I wrote the chapter on IP for my book, in fact there were various copies of the IP Abuse Guidelines of SAIC circulating, but none had been made available for public comment.   Much has changed since then.  In recent years, many laws and regulations have been subject to multiple opportunities for commenting at different stages of legislative drafting. Along with copyright law amendments, these guidelines have been very long in the making with many such commenting opportunities.  As with the copyright law amendments, I also believe that comments on these IP abuse guidelines are not only intended to enhance the quality of the subject legislation, but also intended to show support for legislation that may be subject to claims of different agencies.

 The current AML policy environment is also suggestive of the type of IP environment that Martin Dimitrov outlined in his book Piracy and the State: The Politics of Intellectual Property Rights in China, where he attributed China’s inconsistent enforcement to campaign based, redundant approaches, responsive to external pressures, and unduly complex.  I previously blogged that one important step might be for the State Council to take a more active role in this area, consistent with current plans to reform China’s legislative process.  Another, small positive first step might be for the AML-related agencies to publish an annual report which outlines their policy and enforcement mechanisms, much as is currently done for other areas, such as intellectual property, and which forces a degree of coordination.

I hope to post comments from others on this draft later on this blog.

Another positive note: SAIC has also made it site available in large type and with audio accompaniment for those who have visual impairments.

Updated: 2/8/2016

 

 

GAI’S Comments on NDRC’s IP Abuse Guidelines

 “[T]he code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules” (Barbossa, Pirates of the Carribean, The Curse of the Black Pearl).

Attached find the comments of the Global Antitrust Institute of George Mason University (GAI) on the recently released public comment draft of NDRC’s IP Abuse Guidelines.

GAI’s excellent comments suggest that NDRC adopt a more compliance-based approach to ensure predictability to commercial actors.  In its view, the Draft Guidelines do not explain the significance of each of four factors enumerated by NDRC or how they will be weighed in Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) agencies’ overall decision-making process.  This approach allows the AML agencies broad discretion in enforcement decision-making without providing the guidance stakeholders need to protect incentives to innovate and transfer technology that could be subject to AML jurisdiction.  GAI also recommends that the NDRC include throughout the Guidelines examples similar to those found in the U.S. antitrust agencies’ 1995 Antitrust Guidelines for the Licensing of Intellectual Property to illustrate how the AML agencies will apply the basic principles.  GAI also provided specific line-edit proposed edits on four provisions: general analysis, charging “unfairly high” royalties, discriminatory treatment, and injunctive relief.

Anyone keeping a list of all the legislative activity in this area is likely to be bewildered.  I have previously released other comments of the GAI, including their recent comments on SAIC’s draft of the IP Abuse Guidelines, and an earlier draft of the NDRC IP Abuse Guidelines.  I also commented on NDRC’s questionnaire regarding the guidelines, and published the ABA’s comment on the questionnaire.  Activity on IP Abuse guidelines now stretches back several years.  Indeed. there were already SAIC several drafts when I helped author a chapter on IP and China’s antimonopoly region in Antimonopoly Law and Practice in China  (2011).   Additionally, the AML itself is reportedly under consideration for revision by the NPC, and related legislation, a draft of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law, has reportedly recently been submitted to the State Council for its consideration (it was listed for preparatory work in the State Council’s 2015 legislation plan).

One saving grace: the final guidelines would likely need to be adopted by the Antimonopoly Commission which, according to the AML itself, is in charge of “organizing, coordinating, and guiding anti-monopoly work.” In the interim, the large number of drafts by different administrative agencies, lack of clear legislative or judicial guidance, the overhang of active enforcement activities and large damage/international administrative and judicial decisions (such as Qualcomm and Interdigital), the “exporting” of AML cases overseas (such as in Huawei vs. ZTE), SIPO’s effort to address standardization issues in the patent law revision, etc., all suggest that a situation where agencies could be using rulemaking to both address voids in legislation but also enhance their position in a multi-agency turf battle.

During my trip to China last week, I also repeatedly heard concerns expressed about current practice of Chinese agencies drafting legislation that may be used to enhance their administrative power or enhance their influence, with calls for greater direct legislation by the State Council or National People’s Congress (here’s one article on this topic involving educational legislative work).  Despite the heavy work load of the State Council, it seems to me that the IP Abuse Guidelines are increasingly becoming more ripe for the already planned consideration by the Antimonopoly Commission or the State Council Legislative Affairs Office itself.

(Updated Jan. 21, 2016)