Updates for March 27 – April 2, 2018 – China steps up control over technology exports

China steps up scrutiny of IP transfers to foreign firms on national security grounds Under new regulations issued by the State Council on Thursday, technology transfers include IP transfers that are part of acquisitions made by foreign firms involving patents, integrated circuit layout design, computer software copyright and plant varieties. Such transfers will be assessed in terms of their impact on national security and the country’s “key technology innovation capability in key areas,” said the document.

This move is not intended to “upset foreign investors” but rather to formulate “concrete measures to secure a better business environment,” said Zhang Zhicheng, director of the Protection and Coordination Department at SIPO. Zhang also noted the importance for China to strictly review core IP transfers.
Our preliminary observations: Some observers believe the measures are drafted in retaliation to the Section 301 report of the US government which addresses Chinese investment in the United States as well as the US request of China for consultations of China over the Technology Import / Export Regulations, which are also referred to in these regulations. We are also unclear at this point if these regulations were previously “in the works” or otherwise accelerated in response to the Section 301 investigation.
Companies should consider consulting counsel on the impact of these regulations. First, it appears likely that a foreign-invested company’s acquisition of Chinese technology is an IP ‘transfer’ for purposes of these regulations. Under US law, these might be considered a “deemed export if a foreign national obtains technology while in the United States These regulations do not use this terminology. The regulations may impact foreign companies based on their source of capital rather than the presence of foreign nationals. For example, the regulation’s scope appears to include transfers that occur wholly within China, as they refer to transfers “to foreigners” of Chinese IP, and earlier regulations, by contrast, focused on transfers to enterprises overseas. .(本办法所述知识产权对外转让,是指中国单位或者个人将其境内知识产权转让给外国企业、个人或者其他组织.)Compare with the Provisional Regulations on the Administration of Technology Exports 技术出口管理·暂行办法 (对外经贸部/国家科委) (June 26, 1990) (本办法所称的技术出口是中国境内的 公司, 企业, 研究机构以及其·他组织或者个人(不包括外商投资企业, 外国在中国公司。。。。)向境外的公司。。。。). Further clarification on this important issue would be helpful.
Another issue requiring clarification is the difference between technology transfer from an assignment or licensing of a patent. This has been a subject of confusion under Chinese law for some time, and these regulations appear to carry that forward. The earlier 1990 regulations also regulated the transfer of patents, as well as registered trademarks (!) as a form of “technology transfer” (Art. 2). However, in most cases, any “leakage” of technology arising from a patent application occurred at the time of the publication of the patent application or grant. An added complication is that China already has procedures in place for regulating foreign filings of patents for national security purposes. Article 20.1 of the Chinese Patent Law provides for confidentiality examination of these applications. These measures be redundant with these procedures, particularly in regulating the transfer of patent applications to foreigners.
Until further clarity is established by implementing rules, these regulations could therefor have an impact of disrupting existing foreign invested R&D or cooperation across national borders. Two questions come immediately to mind: if, for example, a Chinese national is under contract to conduct R&D for a foreign invested company, or is an employee of that company, is the transfer in ownership of the patent application, from the employee to employer a “transfer of technology” for purposes of these regulations? Another question might be what is the standard applies to determine whether an invention created by individuals in China and overseas was created was created in China and its transfer is subject to these regulations? It is also worth noting that the 1990 regulations specifically exempted bilateral scientific cooperation (Article 2). These do not.
In a separate development, the State Council also released measures this week to strengthen security management of scientific data. The measures, which prioritize data security and focus on data sharing, order strengthening supervision of the use and sharing of scientific data, with both domestic and foreign parties.

Finally, this blog, and its preliminary observations, is not a substitute for legal counsel and serious research that is necessary on these and other issues arising under China’s export control regime. Please advise of any necessary corrections.

March 19 – 26, 2018 Updates

1. China Now Number 2 PCT Filer.  China has overtaken Japan to claim second place as a source of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications  in 2017. In 2017, U.S.-based applicants numbered 56,624 PCT, followed by China (48,882) and Japan (48,208). Huawei Technologies (4,024 published PCT applications) and ZTE Corporation (2,965) – occupied the top two spots for PCT applications. They were followed by Intel (2,637), Mitsubishi Electric (2,521) and Qualcomm  (2,163).   Historically Chinese PCT applications have been concentrated in a few companies.

Chinese academic institutions are still minor users of the PCT.   Among the top 25 educational institution filers, there were only three Chinese academic institutions – Shenzhen University (no. 11), China University of Mining and Technology (no. 15) and Tsinghua (no. 19).

Computer technology (8.6% of the total) overtook digital communication (8.2%) to become the field of technology with the largest share of published PCT applications. These two fields were followed by electrical machinery (6.8%) and medical technology (6.7%)

2. China’s premier pledges market opening in bid to avert trade war On the heels of the Section 301 Report, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated pledges to ease access for American businesses, at the news conference following the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC). Li also said at a conference that included global chief executives that China would treat foreign and domestic firms equally, would not force foreign firms to transfer technology and would strengthen intellectual property rights. Another Vice Premier, Han Zheng,  made similar remarks at the China Development Forum.  Han said that China needs to “open even wider to the outside world,” and would do so via its Belt and Road Initiative.

According to Wall Street Journal citing unidentified source, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer listed steps they want China to take in a letter to Liu He, a newly appointed vice premier who oversees China’s economy. The United States asked China to cut a tariff on U.S. autos, buy more U.S.-made semiconductors and give U.S. firms greater access to the Chinese financial sector. The article also reported that China and the U.S. have quietly started negotiating to improve U.S. access to Chinese markets.

 

IP House’s Snapshot of Medical and Health Industry

IP House  has recently published a  Statistical Report on IP Cases in the Medical and Health Industry (December 2017) (Chinese language) covering 391 medical and health industry cases closed from January 1, 2016 to June 30, 2016. Among those cases, 158 were civil cases (67 patent and 91 trademark) and 233 were administrative cases (40 patent and 193 trademark).

As explained in further detail below, this time-limited snapshot of medical and health industry cases shows a relatively low utilization by foreigners of civil infringement remedies in both patent and trademark matters.  Foreigners, including Americans, did actively use judicial review procedures of patent and trademark office decisions.  The cases also show low damage awards for pharma infringement cases despite a high win rate.

Patent

  1. Civil Cases

There was a total of 67 civil patent cases in medical and health industry. Guangdong and Jiangsu were the top 2 provinces with close to 42% of the patent litigation. Among all the civil patent cases, around 74.6% were infringement cases, with the balance involving ownership and contract disputes. Infringement of utility model patents and invention patents were the top two claims of action at 24 and 19 cases respectively.   Amongst invention patents, 14 involved medical devices and 5 involved compound patent claims.

Foreigners were minority plaintiffs in these cases, accounting for only 6 out of 67 civil patent cases.  Only one case involved a US party.   Other countries included Japan (2), Norway (2) and Germany (1).   The foreign plaintiff win rate was 83.3% with average damage of 162,001 RMB, slightly higher than the overall winning rate of   82.1%. This “win rate” is approximately similar to win rates being generally report for patent infringement cases in China as reported in a recent article by Bian Renjun.   First instance (一审) infringement trials on average took took 226 days; second instance infringement actions  (二审) on average took 120 days.

Average damages in these actions was 439,896.2 RMB.   Of these, more than 95% of cases used statutory damage to calculate damages.  Two cases that awarded more than 1 million RMB in damages, which were calculated as lost profits.

The principle reason that plaintiffs lost was that the accused product was deemed “not within the scope of protection.” Invalidity was another reason.

  1. Administrative Cases

There was a total of 40 patent administrative cases in the medical and health industry, involving appeals of decisions of patent office decisions.   US entities were a party in seven of the fourteen foreign administrative cases.  This relatively high proportion of foreign administrative cases follows a pattern in judicial IP actions in China where foreign companies generally enjoy a  higher proportion of cases involving validity than in infringement matters.  Amongst all of these cases, the administrative judgment was vacated by court for 6 cases.

As for review period, action of first instance on average took 446 days, and actions of second instance took on average 248 days. Administrative cases took much longer than civil cases to review.  Amongst the administrative cases 72.5% (29 cases) involved drugs, and 27.5%, (11 cases) involved medical devices.  Furthermore, 33 cases involved invention patents and 7 utility model patents

Trademark

  1. Civil Cases

There was a total of 91 trademark cases, where Jiangxi and Guangxi were the top 2 provinces with most cases.  A majority of these cases involved trademark infringement (88). Plaintiff won 78 cases with a win rate of 85.7%. Trademark civil cases on average took 185 days until the first instance judgment and 106 days for second instance judgment.  Drug and health products constituted 81.8% of these cases, with average damages of 61,412.9 RMB.  All these cases used statutory damages, and only one case involved a foreign party (USA).

The relatively low level of trademark infringement cases may be due in part to the active roles played by SAIC in administrative trademark matters, including their handling of foreign related cases as well as administrative enforcement matters undertaken by CFDA and takedown activities by online etailers.  However, the concentration of cases in Jiangxi and Guangxi is difficult to explain, except perhaps due to inexact reporting procedures.

  1. Administrative Cases

There was a total of 193 trademark administrative cases. Among those cases, 62.2% or 120 cases were brought for review on refusal (驳回复审). Administrative judgements were vacated by court for 49 cases. On average, trademark administrative cases took 266 days for actions of first instance, and 113 days for action for second instance.  Foreign cases accounted for 75 of these administrative trademark cases with the US being the party for the most cases (22 cases), following by Japan and Germany.

In administrative trademark cases, when the applicant had been refused grant of the trademark, the courts primarily ruled on the basis that the same similar trademark was used in the same or similar type of product (87 cases).   Another frequent basis was that a trademark was deceptive, and led to consumer confusion regarding quality and origin.

Implications for the future:

This data, although limited, is suggestive of what a further landscape for pharma patent litigation will be if China institutes a patent linkage system.  To speculate: the data does not suggest that foreigners will rush in to assert infringement of their patents, but rather that foreigners currently play a limited role in infringement litigation.   The high foreign and domestic win rate on infringement matters also suggests that a linkage regime could therefore be very helpful in securing cost effective and timely protection of patent rights, even if this right may not be asserted with great frequency.  Finally, the data also suggests that foreigners appear relatively comfortable in pursuing challenges to administrative action in pharma IP matters, and therefor may ultimately be willing to avail themselves of a patent linkage regime administered by CFDA and the courts. I believe a greater factor in determining how much a linkage system may be utilized may be the development of new, innovative drugs that are patent protected by foreign or domestic entities.

Perhaps the readers of this blog have a different opinion –  we look forward to receiving them.

Written by Mark Cohen with the assistance of Emily Yang.

 

 

 

 

Update on Research on Technology Protectionism and the Chinese Patent System

Prof. Gaétan de Rassenfosse and Dr. Emilio Raiteri (both at EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland) have recently offered interesting statistical evidence for preferential treatment of domestic applicants and a potential issue with national treatment in patent applications in China. Their work shows that inventions by foreign firms were less likely to be granted patent protection, after adjusting for a range of other factors. However, their study of more than half a million patent applications reveals that only applications in “strategic” technology areas faced negative discrimination. More precisely, the probability that strategic patent applications by foreign firms will be granted is 5 to 15 percentage points lower than expected in the absence of discrimination.

Strategic technologies were identified using the ‘‘National Medium and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development 2006–2020’’ (citation to plan or to my blog) (“MLP”). The MLP, issued by the State Council, seeks to make China an innovation-driven nation by fostering indigenous innovation in selected technologies, including telecommunications, biotechnology and energy. Regarding telecommunications, the authors (with the co-authorship of Rudi Bekker of the Netherlands) find in another article that discrimination against foreigners was particularly strong among standard essential patents, an issue that was recently discussed by Professor de Rassenfosse in a recent webinar.

For background, one useful comparison of the MLP with other macro innovation/industrial policies has been prepared by Prof. Scott Kennedy.

There has been many complaints related to unfair treatment of foreign rights holders in the judicial system, and there has been some recent scholarship and support in analyses of newly launched databases, that suggests that China made significant progress in the area. Some of the sociological studies suggest that larger companies in China (as elsewhere), however, generally fare better in court.

The current paper focuses on consideration of disparate treatment and its causes in the patent system. However, the reason(s) for the effect are unclear and the authors are cautious not to infer that discrimination is intentional. They have ruled out a large number of possible explanations (such as differences in patent quality or in the quality of the translation into Chinese), but they suggest more work is needed to fully understand the source of anti-foreign outcomes for applicants.

The authors are not alone in looking at differential treatment by national patent offices.  Using data on about 50,000 patent applications granted by the USPTO and filed in the years 1990–1995 at the EPO and the JPO, Prof. Elizabeth Webster and colleagues (then at the University of Melbourne, Australia) had found that domestic applicants were more likely than foreign applicants to be granted patent protection, after certain normalizing adjustments. The authors in another paper noted that despite the efforts then subsisting of the trilateral offices (and other supporting efforts under the umbrella of patent harmonization), there is significant disharmony in the patent application outcomes across the trilateral patent offices. For instance, the overall rejection rate for patent applications which have been granted by the USPTO was 25 per cent for the JPO and 5 per cent for the EPO.  Webster and her co-authors note that there are numerous reasons why patent application outcome may vary with priority country status.  In light of recent changes in US practice due to Supreme Court decisions, one may also wonder whether differences in examination in certain areas, such as software-enabled inventions and biotechnology can also skew results in favor or local companies who have more up to the date information, are focused on the domestic market and may even have attracted capital upon the expectation of a local patent grant.

The papers on Chinese patent applications however are notable in that they (a) utilized a larger cohort of patent applications, (b) made comparisons in treatment by one office (SIPO) and (c) analyzed such treatment in light of articulated national industrial policies, and in comparison to treatment where no such national industrial policy is implicated.   The papers may suggest that political pressure, when it exists in China, may be more likely where there are clear national interests at stake rather in any matter in which a foreigner is involved.  Indeed, litigation data suggests that foreigners do well in Chinese courts; there is limited research on litigation outcomes when the subject is a matter of an articulated national industrial policy, such as these studies might suggest.

Written by Gaetan de Rasenfosse, edited by Mark Cohen.

The views expressed herein are the author’s own.

Forthcoming Webinar on Developments in SEP Prosecution and Injunctive Relief in China

The Federal Circuit Bar Association and USPTO announced on July 17, 2017 that they are hosting a webinar on the latest research and developments in standards essential patents (SEPs) in China on July 25, 2017 from 9:00 to 11:30 AM, EST.  The draft agenda and suggested reading materials are available via the link here.  Registration is free and is required to participate in the program.  Some of the speakers will also be discussing live at USPTO, for which registration is also required.  The focus of the program is on developments and research in patent prosecution and injunctive relief for SEPs.

False Friends (形似神异): Comparing US and Chinese Administrative Patent Enforcement

The China Patents and Trademarks journal has now made publicly available the article I wrote late last year with former USPTO Director David Kappos and former Chief Judge Randall Rader (ret.)  “Faux Amis: China-US Administrative Enforcement Comparison”, in both  English, and Chinese (形似神异:中美专利行政执法制度对比).  Kevin Lu 吕行 of USPTO also assisted in researching the article.

The article discusses the differences between administrative enforcement of patents in the United States International Trade Commission (Section 337) and by SIPO in China and notes that the comparisons of China’s administrative patent system to the USITC system are misleading, as the two systems are different both qualitatively and quantitatively. 

The opinions in the article are of course strictly the authors’ own.

A Taste of China IP In The New Year

There continue to be various thrusts and feints in these early days of the Trump administration on Chinese IP related matters.  Here’s  a quick rundown.

Tim Trainer, a friend and former colleague, who is also the President of Global IP Strategy Ctr, P.C. & Galaxy Systems, Inc. has  drawn attention to several China IP-related developments including a Trump executive order that involved IP theft, a bill introduced by Congressman Steve King of Iowa that targets China’s theft of intellectual property (February 14, 2017), and the effect of TPP withdrawal on China’s free trade agenda.

The Executive Order notes the following:

It shall be the policy of the executive branch to:

(a) strengthen enforcement of Federal law in order to thwart transnational criminal organizations and subsidiary organizations, including criminal gangs, cartels, racketeering organizations, and other groups engaged in illicit activities that present a threat to public safety and national security and that are related to, for example:

(ii)  corruption, cybercrime, fraud, financial crimes, and intellectual-property theft . . . .

This order from February 9 clearly puts IP theft on the radar.  While China is not singled out by name, it is worth reflecting that the term “theft” appears 7 times in the text of Dr. Peter Navarro’s book Death By China.  Of these seven times, “intellectual property theft”  appears  twice, and technology theft appears three times.  The term “intellectual property theft” is specifically indexed. Navarro, of course, is a leading advisor to the President on trade policy.

Continuing the theme of IP theft, Congressman King’s bill would, according to Trainer “require the imposition of duties on Chinese origin goods in an amount equal to the estimated losses from IPR violations suffered by US companies if enacted into law.”  This early stage bill is found here

Regarding TPP withdrawal and its effect on IP and China China’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreements,   a recent Congressional Research Service report has noted that the RCEP agreements are “unlikely to include commitments as strong on issues from intellectual property rights to labor and environmental protections”.  As I have previously noted, “China’s  FTA  experience has thus far focused on a limited range of issues, most of which are not ‘core’ IP.”

Apart from Tim Trainer’s blog, the media has also reported extensively recently on several trademark decisions in China in President Trump’s favor.   However, China’s trademark examination standards contain provisions that prohibit use of the names of political leaders.   Moreover, unlike most other presidents, Trump was not a political leader until he was elected president.  The Chinese trademark examination standards prohibit trademarks that hurt social morality or have other ill political effects.  Amongst the enumerated bad political effects are trademarks that are identical or similar to a country, region or international organization’s leader’s name.

九、有害于社会主义道德风尚的或者有其他不良影响

二)具有政治上不良影响的

1.与国家、地区或者政治性国际组织领导人姓名相同或近似的

Postscript February 20, 2017:

While  I have no opinion on the merits of any case, I hasten to note that the great grandson of Teddy Roosevelt, Tweed Roosevelt, might have an opinion on whether rooseveltpolitical officials should be granted trademarks.  His company, Roosevelt, Tse and Company, owns several trademarks, many of which involve his eponymous restaurant in Shanghai, and some of which include the family crest (see below).   He also seems to have been the victim of some individuals filing using the family name.

Living political leaders have also had their names misused.  Three trademarks applications with the name of Barack Obama in 2008 by a company in Wuhan, China were refused registration by 2010.  There are several trademarks and trademark applications of varying status with the name Merkel.   A quick database search also showed up 7 applications with the Reagan name in English, one granted as recently as 2015 (Registration Number: 13981276) (for electrical goods).  There is one registration for Fidel Castro for use on travel bags, filed  by a natural person in Hebei 于锁群 (6792546).   Did Fidel authorize this?

Of course, trademarks are not only the names of people.  Several marks “In God We Trust” have been refused by the Chinese Trademark Office.  One is still pending (21508789).  It was filed by a company from Zhejiang.

A recent Washington Post article,  noted that China is a country where “faking foreign brands has long been a profitable business practice.”  The article refers back to the Qiaodan case as one important milestone in changing practices.  As any reader of this blog knows, there have been several important steps in recent years to address  abusive trademark practices. 

tweedroose