Draft Civil Code Technology Contract Law Available for Comment

The NPC has released a draft of the contract chapter of the draft civil code for public comment.  According to the NPC Observer, this is the second draft with the final round scheduled for consideration as early as March 2020.  Comments are being accepted by the NPC through January 26, 2020.

Chapter 20 of the contract chapter deals with technology contracts.    Based on a quick read, several provisions are directed to long-standing concerns, such as ownership of service invention compensation, ownership of improvements (grant backs), indemnities from infringement, and the relationship of contract regulation to China’s Antimonopoly Law and the recently amended Technology Import Export Regulations.

Some Key Substantive Provisions

Articles 632 and 633 address  service invention (employee inventor) compensation, noting that  employers “shall extract a certain percentage [emphasis supplied] from the proceeds obtained from the use and transfer of the service technical achievements  and award or reward individuals who have completed the service technical achievements.”  The draft law thereby appears to carry forward the ambiguity and debate regarding what amount of compensation is required, if any, in addition to salary and other benefits.  This had also been a focus of previous bilateral discussions.

第六百三十二条 职务技术成果的使用权、转让权属于法人 或者非法人组织的,法人或者非法人组织可以就该项职务技术成 果订立技术合同。法人或者非法人组织应当从使用和转让该项职 务技术成果所取得的收益中提取一定比例,对完成该项职务技术 成果的个人给予奖励或者报酬。法人或者非法人组织订立技术合 同转让职务技术成果时,职务技术成果的完成人享有以同等条件 优先受让的权利。 职务技术成果是执行法人或者非法人组织的工作任务,或者 主要是利用法人或者非法人组织的物质技术条件所完成的技术成 果。

第六百三十三条 非职务技术成果的使用权、转让权属于完 成技术成果的个人,完成技术成果的个人可以就该项非职务技术 成果订立技术合同。 第六百三十四条 完成技术成果的个人有在有关技术成果文 件上写明自己是技术成果完成者的权利和取得荣誉证书、奖励的 权利。

Article 632 Where the right to use or transfer a service technical achievement belongs to a legal person or an unincorporated organization, the legal person or unincorporated organization may conclude a technical contract for the service technical achievement. A legal person or an unincorporated organization shall extract a certain percentage from the proceeds obtained from the use and transfer of the service technical achievements and award or reward individuals who have completed the service technical achievements. When a legal person or an unincorporated organization concludes a technology contract to transfer service technology achievements, the person who completed the service technology achievements has the right to receive priority transfer on equal terms. The service technical results are the technical results of performing the work tasks of a legal person or an unincorporated organization or mainly using the material and technical conditions of a legal person or an unincorporated organization.

Article 633 The right to use or transfer a non-service technical achievement belongs to the individual who completed the technology achievement, and the individual who completed the technology achievement may conclude a technology contract for the non-service technological achievement. 

Article 659 addresses ownership of improvements, providing further detail on the implications of the removal of Article 27  in the recently revised Administration of Technology Import Export Regulations (TIER). This provision also supports freedom of contract, by providing that the improving party owns the improvements unless the parties stipulate otherwise.

第六百五十九条 当事人可以按照互利的原则,在合同中约 定实施专利、使用技术秘密后续改进的技术成果的分享办法。没 有约定或者约定不明确,依照本法第三百零一条的规定仍不能确 定的,一方后续改进的技术成果,其他各方无权分享。

Article 659 The parties may agree in the contract in accordance with the principle of mutual benefit and determine how to share the technical results of implementing patents and using technological secrets for subsequent improvements. If there is no agreement or the agreement is not clear, and it is still uncertain according to the provisions of Article 301 of this Law 【regarding  supplemental contractual language】 then the technical results of subsequent improvement by one party shall not be shared by the other parties.

Article 658 also supports freedom of contract by providing for a default but negotiable indemnity against third party infringements or torts.   This language is consistent with the revised Art. 24 of the TIER

第六百五十八条 受让人或者被许可人按照约定实施专利、 使用技术秘密侵害他人合法权益的,由让与人或者许可人承担责 任,但是当事人另有约定的除外。

Article 658 Where the assignee or the licensee implements a patent or uses proprietary technology  to infringe upon the legal rights and interests of others, the assignor or the licensor shall be held liable unless the parties agree otherwise.

Relationship with Other Laws

As indicated, the draft law must also be read in conjunction with the revisions of the Technology Import/Export Regulations and other laws and regulations.  As a higher level, more recent legislation, the Civil Code language would ultimately be more authoritative than the TIER in the event of any conflict.  Among the provisions that reference other laws and regulations is Article 660 which provides that these other laws shall normally govern.  However, Article 660 does not expressly restrict the Civil Code from  “gap-filling” these other laws and regulations.  It may thereby perpetuate the possibility of government intervention through vague language such as “mutual benefit”,  “hindering technological progress”, “certain percentage”  and default provisions that govern if another language is unclear.  If this provision is enacted as drafted, the immediate solution to this problem will be clear contractual drafting and/or revisions of prior license agreements.

第六百六十条 法律、行政法规对技术进出口合同或者专 利、专利申请合同另有规定的,依照其规

Article 660 If there are laws and administrative regulations on technology import and export contracts or contracts for patents or patent applications, such provisions shall be followed.

The draft law also contains vague references to competition and antimonopoly law.  Article 635 contains identical language to Article 329 of the Contract Law, and Article 648 is nearly identical to Article 343 of the Contract Law:

第六百三十五条 非法垄断技术、妨碍技术进步或者侵害他 人技术成果的技术合同无效

Article 635 A technology contract that illegally monopolizes technology, hinders technological progress, or infringes on the technological achievements of others is invalid.

第六百四十八条 技术转让合同和技术许可合同可以约定实 施专利或者使用技术秘密的范围,但是不得限制技术竞争和技术 发展。

Article 648 A technology transfer contract and a technology license contract may stipulate the scope of patent implementation or use of technology secrets, but they shall not restrict technology competition and technology development.

As with the prior Contract Law and TIER, the law does not clarify the difference between a covenant not to sue or a settlement of an infringement lawsuit on the one hand, and a patent license agreement.  Lawyers drafting such settlement agreements may wish to ensure that default provisions of the Civil Law, such as those regarding indemnities and ownership of improvements do not come into play.

These provisions also further underscore the importance of thorough monitoring of legislative changes on technology transfer from earlier in 2019 to ensure that they had the intended effect, particularly as operational implementation may now be more significant than legislative changes.

In addition to these revisions to China’s contract law in the proposed Civil Code, an Export Control Law has also been released for public comment by the NPC.  The draft law sets up a general export control system and specifically regulates both technologies and services (Art. 2).  Comments are also due January 26, 2020.

Happy New Year to all!

Note: all translations are based on machine translations with minor editing and are not intended to be authoritative.  Please provide any corrections or suggestions on these translations or any additional commentary to the author.

New CPC and State Council Opinions on Improving IP Protection

wordcloud

On November 24,  2019, the General Office of Communist Party of China and the State Council jointly released the Opinions Concerning Enhancing Intellectual Property Rights Protection (关于强化知识产权保护的意见).

It is often too easy to dismiss documents like these, that have typically delivered an ephemeral higher state of vigilance by the Chinese government.  Nonetheless, there are some useful statements in this document that may be an indicator of future durable improvements, including:

  1. It is jointly published by the CPC and the State Council and thus has high level political and executive branch support.
  2. It does address some long-standing concerns raised by industry, such as development of a patent linkage system, patent term extension and copyright protection for sports broadcasts.
  3. There continues to be a focus on punitive damages in litigation. However, this document does appropriately point out the need to increase actual damages.
  4. Improving criminal enforcement, including revising criminal judicial interpretations – is also addressed.  Along with revising the criminal code, revising criminal JI’s and their high criminal thresholds was a goal of the WTO case that the US filed against China over 10 years ago (DS362).  This task is long overdue.
  5. Improving coordination between administrative and criminal enforcement is once again highlighted. This is also a long-standing issue.  In light of numerous prior efforts and experiments, a more concrete explanation of how this might be accomplished to better enable prosecution of major criminal actors would be helpful in the future.
  6. Case guidance and public trial systems are highlighted. Hopefully, the case guidance system will add further momentum to successful case law experiments in IP at the Beijing IP Court.
  7. The introduction of technical assessors into administrative enforcement could suggest a continued enhanced role for patent administrative enforcement, which has been increasing even as trademark administrative enforcement has been declining. If so, it may not augur well for foreigners who have traditionally been heavy “consumers” of the administrative trademark system, but not the administrative patent system.
  8. Improvements in the “examination” of utility models and designs are noted as a goal. However, these rights are generally not examined for substance except in the case of “abnormal” applications.
  9. Continuing attention is paid to challenging markets, such as e-commerce platforms and trade fairs, as well as establishing faster protection mechanisms.
  10. There is a continuing focus on supporting Chinese rightsholders overseas.

This document arguably goes part-way in establishing an outline for addressing US concerns about IP theft.  However, it offers little to address such concerns as ensuring greater transparency in the courts, publishing foreign-related cases, or addressing certain trade-sensitive topics outlined in USTR’s Section 301 report, such as cyber intrusions or criminal trade secret misappropriation.

The word cloud, above, is drawn from a machine translation of this document.  The original Chinese language and my redlining of a machine translation are found here.

Addendum of November 26, 2019:

Susan Finder in her Supreme People’s Court Monitor blog, reported on Judicial Interpretation drafting by the SPC for next year, some of which are referenced in the recently released Opinions.  According to that blog, on 29 April 2019, the SPC’s General Office issued a document setting out a list of 47 judicial interpretation projects, 36  with an end of 2019 deadline.  Several of these involve IP-related issues, including issues addressed in the joint CPC and State Council Opinions, including:

  1. Interpretation Concerning the Application of Law in Cases of Disputes over the Infringement of Trade Secrets (关于审理侵犯商业秘密纠纷案件应用法律若干问题的解释). Responsibility of the #3 Civil (IP) Division.
  2. Interpretation on Several Issues Concerning Punitive Damages for Intellectual Property Infringement (关于知识产权侵权惩罚性赔偿适用法律若干问题的解释). Responsibility of the #3 Civil (IP) Division.
  3. Provisions on Issues Concerning the Application of the Foreign Investment Law of the People’s Republic of China (I) (关于适用《中华人民共和国外商投资法》若干问题的规定(一)). Responsibility of the #4 Civil Division. The Foreign Investment Law and the recently released draft implementing regulations contain provisions protecting the intellectual property of foreign investors, including prohibiting forced technology transfers and enhancing the availability of punitive damages.

These draft JI’s have a due date of the first half of 2020.  Susan Finder notes in her blog that given the worldwide attention on the issues set forth in these three judicial interpretations, she expects that they will be released for public comment.  I hasten to add that the IP Division of the Court has generally taken a positive attitude towards soliciting public comment on its draft judicial interpretations, and I hope that they maintain this tradition.

It was also noted by Susan Finder that certain JI’s were due by year-end 2019, including:

  1. Intellectual Property Rights Evidence Rules (关于知识产权民事诉讼证据的若干规定).  Responsibility of the #3 Civil (IPR) Division. This draft was discussed at a conference hosted by the SPC in Hangzhou in 2018.  As Chinese courts experiment with more expanded discovery, evidence preservation and burden of proof reversals, clearer rules regarding the obligations of parties to produce evidence are becoming more critical.  A particular notable example of such a reversal is found in the recent amendments to the trade secret law (Article 32), whereby  a rights holder that has preliminarily proven that it  has taken reasonable confidentiality measures on the claimed trade secrets and has preliminary evidence reasonably demonstrating that its trade secrets have been infringed upon, can shift the burden of proof (BOP) to the infringer to prove that the trade secrets claimed by the right holder do not belong to those as prescribed in this law.
  2. Judicial interpretation on administrative cases involving patent authorization and confirmation (关于审理专利授权确权行政案件若干问题的解释). Responsibility of the #3 Civil IPR) Division. Another interpretation that previously had a 2018 year-end deadline.  A draft was issued for public comment in the summer of 2018; see my earlier blog.

Addendum of November 27, 2019:

Another China law blog, the NPC Observer also expects that some of the IP legislation flagged in the Opinions for revision may be considered as early as late December of 2019t.  According to the NPC Observer:

We expect the session to review a … draft amendment to the Patent Law [专利法] …The session may additionally consider the following bills: …

I have previously blogged about proposed revisions to the Patent and Copyright Law.

Addendum of January 9, 2020: Here is a translation of the Opinions from China Law translate.

State Council Legislative Affairs Office Releases NCA Draft of Copyright Law for Public Comment

On June 6, 2014 the State Council Legislative Affairs Office (SCLAO) released the entire draft and explanation of the copyright law revision that had previously been submitted by the National Copyright Administration (NCA) to the SCLAO for public comment.

This draft is likely the version that had been submitted to the SCLAO in late 2012, although no public comment period was offered for this revision at that time.

After State Council review, it will need to be submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for its consideration.

The immediately prior draft had received over 1800 comments when NCA made it available for public comment.

Overall, this is likely a welcome effort to move along what some had perceived as a stalled drafting effort.

Comments on this draft were due at the State Council by July 5, 2014.  This is the link for the draft and explanation of the draft.

Updates of October 1, 2019:

The NPC Observer has listed this draft as in the preparatory stages for 2019.  No public draft is available beyond the 2014 State Council draft.  An English translation of the State Council draft is found here.  Since the 2014 draft, there has been a governmental reorganization which has transferred legislative drafting authority to the Ministry of Justice and the NCA to the Party publicity department.  In 2017, a five-year plan was announced by NCA for the copyright industries, which included revising the copyright law.