Former SIPO DG Yin Xintian Has Passed Away

Several sources in China have told me that Yin Xintian 尹新天 , the former Director General of the Law and Treaty Department of the State Intellectual Property Office, passed away this week. 

I have known DG Yin for approximately 20 years.  We worked closely when I was IP Attaché at the US Embassy in Beijing (2004-2008), and later when I was in private practice and teaching.  He was most recently associated with the IP policy consulting arm of the Wanhuida law firm.

There were several matters that we worked on together.  DG Yin was the first Chinese official to talk to me about proposals for a national IP strategy, which I believe was an idea that he actively promoted and perhaps first proposed.  We talked at length at a conference in Kunming on IP and development, about the national IP strategies of various nations, and how much he believed that a National IP Strategy would help China’s development.  This was about 15 years ago.  He later invited me to speak twice before the National Strategy Office (NIPSO): once as a foreign diplomat, and a second time as an IP expert. 

I also vividly recall a dinner with Judge Rader during those years at SIPO, at which time DG Yin spoke at length with Judge Rader about the significance of recent CAFC opinions, including dissenting opinions and even footnotes.

When I discussed foreign concerns in the proposed 2008 patent law, DG Yin was also quick to suggest that his office, the US Embassy and the Quality Brands Protection Committee host a joint discussion around the various issues of concern.  The subsequent meeting was highly successful.   His guide to the earlier revisions to the patent law, 新专利法详解, was an important resource on this topic.

Although I  disagreed with DG Yin from time to time, he never took ill-informed or indefensible positions.  It was for this reason that I also thoroughly supported the choice of DG Yin as the first patent expert on the Chinese side of the­­­ US-China IP Cooperation Dialogue, which was proposed by me and continues to be run by the US Chamber of Commerce.  He was succeeded by his former colleague, former SIPO Commissioner Gao Lulin, who still serves in that role.

My condolences to his family, his colleagues at Wanhuida, his former colleagues at SIPO, and the many friends and students he has left behind.  May his memory be a blessing.

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100 Priority IP Projects for 2020

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What does the recently released CNIPA document listing “100  Projects in 2020  to Deeply implement the National Intellectual Property Strategy to Accelerate the Construction of the Intellectual Property Powerful Country Promotion Plan” (2020年加快建设知识产权强国推进计划提出 100项具体措施) (the “100 Project List”) (May 28, 2020) add to the discussion around where China is headed on IP?

The projects reveal much more than its lengthy, bureaucratic-sounding title might indicate. There are several  themes worth noting:

  1. It is ambitious. It includes doing many things over a short period of time, including reducing patent examination time for “high value” patents to 16 months and trademark examinations to 4 months (Projects 55-56).
  2. China is paying attention to its IP quality vs quantity dilemma. This document calls for ending local subsidies for utility model and design patents, as well as trademark (task 59).  It also discusses problems with incentives that are intended to encourage high quality patenting in universities and research institutions, SOE’s, and major government projects (Projects 3, 4, 5, 12, 55, 60 -61, 66, 77-79, 93, 96-97).
  3. There is increased attention to defense patenting. The word “defense” appears 17 times.  Defense patenting also occupies a greater role than in prior plans of type (Projects 6-10, 25, 80).
  4. Trade secrets as well as improving the criminal IP process play important roles (Projects 24, 44, 49, 51-54).
  5. We can expect some important developments in plant variety protection (Projects 26, 47, 57, 92).
  6. There is no attention to innovative pharma IP challenges. There are tasks related to generic medicines and traditional Chinese medicine (Projects 38, 73).  Patent linkage does not appear in this list of tasks.  These omissions could suggest a lack of CNIPA commitment to Phase 1 pharmaceutical IP reforms.
  7. There is a big focus on improving IP-related services (Projects 1, 2, 62, 72, 74, 77, 86).
  8. China reiterates its commitment to plurilateral IP policy (Projects 82, 87).
  9. The drafters are committed to the  Phase 1 Agreement.  China is also doing a lot more on IP than what the Phase 1 Agreement requires (Projects 24, 49, 51, 83, 87, and others).

The word cloud above is drawn from a machine translation of the 100 Project List.

Further background: I have been blogging about China’s national IP plans for years now, including in  2014,  2015 , 2016 as well as in my discussions on the National IP Strategy.  Readers may wish to compare this document with some of the prior strategy documents.

 

Is It In There – CNIPA’s “Phase 1” IP Action Plan?

CNIPA released on April 20, 2020, its  2020-2021 Implementation of the “Opinions on Strengthening the Protection of Intellectual Property” Promotion Plan” (2020—2021年贯彻落实《关于强化知识产权保护的意见》推进计划) (the “Promotion Plan”).  Attached are a copy of the Promotion Plan from the CNIPA website and a machine translation, as well as a bilingual translation provided by the USPTO. All translations are provided for readers’ convenience only, are unofficial and do not carry any representations as to accuracy.  Please review them carefully before committing to any course of action based on the translation, and please bring any errors to our attention.  We greatly appreciate USPTO,  China Law Translate, and the numerous trade associations and law firms that have made translations publicly available over the years.

The Promotion Plan specifically references and appears to be a further implementation of the CPC/State Council  Opinion on Strengthening the Protection of Intellectual Property, released in November 2019 (关于强化知识产权保护的意见) (CPC/State Council Opinion), which I blogged about here. In November I described this CPC/State Council Opinion as going “part way” in addressing US concerns about IP theft that were being raised by the Trump Administration. This Promotion Plan issued by CNIPA is more comprehensive and more directly reflects the Phase 1 Trade Agreement between the US and China that the CPC/State Council Opinion, including setting specific timetables and interagency responsibilities. However, it is being promulgated at a considerably lower level of governmental authority than the CPC/SC Opinion. CNIPA is a division within a ministry-level agency (SAMR) and is arguably weaker and less independent today than when SIPO was a separate agency. In this respect, the Promotion Plan is also weaker than previous action plans promulgated under MofCOM’s leadership. MofCOM and its predecessor agencies were ministries. In a sense, it harkens back to action plans from the 1990s.  The IPR Leading Group was chaired in the 1990s often by a Vice Minister, including Wu Yi, who later became Vice Premier. One may wonder: is this “déjà vu all over again”?.

Some caution also needs to be maintained in approaching this document. First and foremost, are all the Phase 1 commitments, in the words of a once famous  commercial for spaghetti sauce – “in there”? Please write to me with your observations.  A second issue involves CNIPA’s authority. Although this document sets out plans for the courts, procuracy, and legislative branches, Chinese state council government agencies do not have the authority to bind these other branches of government.  Nonetheless, these agencies often coordinate their activities together, including through national and local leading groups and coordinating bodies. The puzzle deepens further, however, as the Promotion Plan itself does not indicate the authority by which it has been enacted. Rumor had been that the Promotion Plan was delayed because NPC approval was needed.

To an experienced reader, this Promotion Plan also has the “look” and “feel” of the National IP Strategy Implementation Plan (NIPS Implementation Plan) with its extensive, specific commitments. I  blogged about the NIPS Implementation Plan here.  The NIPS Implementation Plan has a statutory basis in the China Science and Technology Promotion Law (2007). Moreover, the NIPS Implementation Plan similarly has a focus on China becoming a “strong” IP country.

One difference between a NIPS Implementation Plan and an implementation plan from MofCOM in the past is that a NIPS Implementation Plan would have likely needed more local coordinating entities to be implemented nationwide. MofCOM had such authority through its coordination of the former State Council leading groups on IP.  While serving in the Embassy (2004-2008), I visited many of the local IP coordination offices to discuss local IP coordination and enforcement issues. This plan, if it is to be rolled out locally through new mechanisms, will need the support of the CPC and State Council, or local CNIPA offices, or through other local structures.

Several friends have been asking me this morning if this is the Chinese IPR “Action Plan” as required by the Phase 1 Agreement.  The Phase 1 Agreement provided that “Within 30 working days after the date of entry into force of this Agreement, China will promulgate an Action Plan to strengthen intellectual property protection aimed at promoting its high-quality growth. This Action Plan shall include, but not be limited to, measures that China will take to implement its obligations under this Chapter and the date by which each measure will go into effect.”

On the first review,  this Promotion Plan appears to directly reflect the commitments made by China in the Phase 1 Agreement. What the US has called “high-quality growth” might be its misapprehension of China’s recent mantra of building a “strong IP economy.” There are many action items in the Promotion Plan that are focused on strengthening China’s IP resources. Considering the current pandemic, the timing for the release of the Promotion Plan is also about right. Moreover, it makes sense for China to release this document as part of the flurry of announcements surrounding April 26 (World IP Day). CNIPA releasing this document also does not contradict any explicit commitment in the Phase 1 Agreement. The negotiators of the Phase 1 Agreement did not apparently agree to nominate which Chinese agency would issue the Action Plan.

Based on a quick read, this Promotion Plan also appears to share the same weaknesses of the Phase 1 Agreement, with its selective focus, under-emphasis on the courts, lack of clarity around “patent linkage” (including “artificial infringement” determinations by the courts), continuing emphasis on ministry action plans and administrative enforcement, lack of historical context or data to ensure that the Promotion Plan actually delivers results, “old wine in a new bottle” commitments in Customs, criminal thresholds and other areas, and lack of any commitment to increasing administrative and judicial transparency.  The lack of strong commitments to increasing judicial and administrative transparency remains the most troubling of all and makes the agreement difficult for governments and rightsholders to adequately apprehend, including making sure that concrete improvements are not only “in there” but being fully implemented.  If the Phase 1 commitments implemented in the 133 action items of the Promotion Plan are the “Action Plan” it is a further indication that any forthcoming changes in China’s IP regime that arose from the trade war are likely to be significant, but not necessarily the kind of  “structural change” that would dramatically mandate more market reform through less government intervention in China’s IP regime.