April 3 – 9, 2018 Updates

1.China pushes generics over brands with another round of new pharma policies. The General Office of the State Council on April 3rd, 2018 issued “The Opinion on Reforming and Improving Supply and Use of Generic Drugs” (国务院办公厅关于改革完善仿制药供应保障及使用政策的意见 国办发〔2018〕20号), to promote China’s generic pharmaceutical industry. The State Council said it would draw up new incentives aimed at encouraging the development and production of generic drugs, a move it said would help safeguard public health, reduce medical bills and spur innovation.

According to the document, CFDA and the National Health Commission will compile and actively update a drug list that encourages companies to produce generic versions. That list will include medications for rare diseases, major infectious diseases and pediatric treatments, as well as important drugs that are short in supply. Certain qualified generics makers are allowed to be designated as High and New Technology Enterprises (HNTE) with commensurate income tax reductions (see more about China’s practice of providing tax incentives to high tech enterprises here).

The State Council also said that with regard to IP protections, China will “strike a balance between the interests of patent holders and the public,” and would strengthen anti-monopoly enforcement. (Note that the recent combination of agencies involved with antitrust enforcement, IP with CFDA may offer increased opportunities for such antitrust enforcement). An “early warning” mechanism to prevent generic drug producers from infringing patents will be established. The policy also restates that China considers compulsory patent licensing (CPL) a bona fide option during public health emergencies or shortages of key drugs; however China has not explicitly implemented a CPL to date.

China is a major branded generics market and innovative pharma companies are heavily dependent on this market in the absence of a robust market and incentives for innovative pharmaceuticals. The Opinion also states that when there is a bioequivalence determination, the generic drug should be marked as a substitute for the innovative drug and release such information to the public. In the absence of special circumstances, no brand name could be written on the prescription.

With regard to intellectual property, the Opinion further states:

“…In accordance with the principle of encouraging the creation of new drugs and the development of generic drugs, research and enhance a system of pharmaceutical intellectual property protection that is compatible with China’s economic and social development level and industrial development stage, and fully balance the interests of drug patent holder and the public. Implement the patent quality improvement project and cultivate more core, original and high-value intellectual property. Strengthen the enforcement of anti-monopoly law in the field of intellectual property rights, prevent the abuse of intellectual property rights and promote the listing of generic drugs while fully protecting innovations in the pharmaceutical field. Establish and improve the patent early-warning mechanism in the pharmaceutical field to reduce the risks of patent infringement of generic pharmaceutical companies.”

按照鼓励新药创制和鼓励仿制药研发并重的原则,研究完善与我国经济社会发展水平和产业发展阶段相适应的药品知识产权保护制度,充分平衡药品专利权人与社会公众的利益。实施专利质量提升工程,培育更多的药品核心知识产权、原始知识产权、高价值知识产权。加强知识产权领域反垄断执法,在充分保护药品创新的同时,防止知识产权滥用,促进仿制药上市。建立完善药品领域专利预警机制,降低仿制药企业专利侵权风险.”

2. SIPO releases the 2017 China Patent Survey Report.  The State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) recently released the 2017 China Patent Survey Report, which is the third time that the national patent-related survey results are publicized.

In 2017, the patent survey covered 23 provinces nationwide and was carried out concerning the valid patents and the patent holders who owned such valid patents at the end of 2016. The survey was launched in March 2017 and was completed at the end of 2017. 15,000 questionnaires about patent holders and 43,000 questionnaires about patent information were released. Over 85% of the questionnaires were returned.

According to the report, China’s overall environment of patent protection has been significantly enhanced, but still not to a level that is satisfied. More than 88% of patent holders believe that patent protection needs to be further improved in China. The report also notes that the emerging industries with strategic significance rely more on patents to gain their competitive edge and have better utilization of patents. Chinese universities have strong innovation capabilities, but their utilization rate of patents in 2016 (12.7%) was much lower than enterprises (59%). The lack of professional technology transfer team was considered to be the biggest obstacle for Chinese universities. The continuing focus on Chinese universities is odd, since universities should have a primary goal of information dissemination, not patent acquisition, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.

3. Chinese national convicted in US for stealing a valuable U.S. trade secret: Kansas rice seeds.  A scientist from China has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in the United States for stealing seeds of genetically modified American rice, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.  The Chinese scientist Weiqiang Zhang is a U.S. legal permanent resident residing in Manhattan, Kansas. Zhang was convicted on Feb. 15, 2017 of one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets, one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property and one count of interstate transportation of stolen property. Zhang was working as a rice breeder at Ventria Bioscience, a biopharmaceutical company that creates genetically modified rice. According to trial evidence, Zhang stole hundreds of rice seeds from the company that had cost millions of dollars and taken years of research to develop and kept at home. In the summer of 2013, personnel from a crop research institute in China visited Zhang at his home in Manhattan.  On Aug. 7, 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found seeds belonging to Ventria in the luggage of Zhang’s visitors as they prepared to leave the United States for China.

27th JCCT Concludes in DC: Many IPR-Related Outcomes

 

JCCTPanorama.jpg

The 27th Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade concluded in Washington, DC on Wednesday, November 23, 2016, in time for the Thanksgiving holidays in the United States.  Here is a link to the U.S. government fact sheet.  The following is my summery of IP-related issues –

Amongst the “core” IP issues the fact sheet notes that China agreed to “take further efforts to combat bad faith trademark filings.”  Regarding technology transfer, China advised that it is “actively conducting research on the Technology Import and Export Administration Regulations (2002) (TIER) to address U.S. concerns.”  Both of these statements are forward leaning although they admittedly lack specificity.  Regarding trade secrets protection, China agreed that “ in practice, trade secrets misappropriation may be committed by individuals, including employees, who may not be directly involved in the manufacture or sale of goods and services” , thus addressing the concern that the trade secret provisions of the anti-unfair competition law only address commercial undertakings (this issue was also addressed in the draft revisions of the AUCL that was released earlier this year).  China also announced that it plans to bolster other elements of its trade secrets regime, including with respect to  evidence preservation orders  and damage calculations.  Also on the technology side, China also confirmed that “the government has never asked the fund to require compulsory technology or IPR transfer as a condition for participation in [state semiconductor] Funds’ investment projects.”

Issues involving entertainment market access in China also got some attention.  Regarding music licensing, China committed to “issue a measure allowing foreign-invested enterprises to engage in online music distribution and revoking the requirement established by the Ministry of Culture’s 2009 Circular on Strengthening and Improving Online Music Content Examination.”  Regarding theatrical film distribution, which had been the subject of a settlement of a WTO case between the United States and China, China affirmed that it will “enter into consultations with the United States in calendar year 2017 in order to provide further meaningful compensation to the United States.”  Furthermore, the United States and China agreed that, as part of the calendar year 2017 consultations, they will seek to increase the number of revenue-sharing films to be imported each year and the share of gross box office receipts received by U.S. enterprises.

There are several outcomes which are cooperative in nature.  Regarding on-line IP issues, both sides committed to training of small and medium-sized enterprises as well as exploring the use of big data and other new information technologies to enhance the capability for combating infringement and counterfeiting online.  A program on copyright protection for live sports broadcasts is planned for 2017.  In addition, China committed to further study the feasibility of protecting the broadcasts of sporting events under its Copyright Law and the United States “welcomes further clarification” on this issue from the Chinese judiciary “at the earliest possible time.”    Other cooperative programs include ones on: “legal protections for product and service designs, and U.S. trade dress protections “; “criminal enforcement of trade secrets and counterfeit pharmaceuticals”; a joint conference in 2017 on criminal law, legislation and enforcement “to share experiences on recent trends in technologies, business models, and legal developments”; and a workshop on Judicial IPR Protection in China in 2017.

Often events happen on the margins on the JCCT which may not be fully reflected in JCCT outcomes.  There were two notable developments around the time of the JCCT affecting intellectual property rights.  One was the publication of the draft revisions of China’s patent examination guidelines, which address post filing data supplementation, software and business method patents.   Post-filing supplementation of data has been the subject of prior JCCT and bilateral commitments.  Another development involved de-linking of government procurement policies with indigenous innovation, which has been the subject of a recent State Council document that, according to the fact sheet, “requir[es] all local regions and all agencies to further clean up related measures involving linking the indigenous innovation policy to the provision of government procurement preferences….”

The JCCT has a long history, but has typically grown in scope and significance over the years as the US and Chinese economies have increasingly become interdependent.  This was the last JCCT of the Obama administration.  It will next be up to the Trump Administration to decide how to guide the JCCT to continue to play a useful role in bilateral trade relations.

The above are my personal, non-official observations.  All photos are by Mark A. Cohen.

JCCTwangyang.jpg jcctend

 

SIPO Publishes Proposed Revisions to Patent Examination Guidelines

On October 27, 2016, the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO)  published the  Draft (For Public Comment) of Revisions to the Patent Examination Guidelines .  The Chinese text is available here. Comments on the draft should be submitted before November 27.

 In the important area of post filing data supplementation for pharmaceutical inventions, the proposed revisions clarify that such supplementation is permissible where “the technical effect to be proved by the supplemental experimental data shall be that which can be obtained in the contents of the [original] application disclosure by one who is ordinarily skilled in the art.” 对于申请日之后补交的实验数据,审查员应当予以审查。补交实验数据所证明的技术效果应当是所属技术领域的技术人员能够从专利申请公开的内容中得到的。

 The examination guidelines also loosen the standards for obtaining business method patents if there is a technical element to the novel business method.  Presumably these inventions were previously denied patentability on the basis that they were intellectual rules or methods under Article 25 of the Patent Law.  The proposed guidelines state:

 Claims related to business methods that contain both business rules and methods and technical characteristics, shall not be excluded from the possibilities of obtaining patent rights be Article 25 of the Patent Law. 涉及商业模式的权利要求,如果既包含商业规则和方法的内容,又包含技术特征,则不应当依据专利法第二十五条排除其获得专利权的可能性。

The examination guidelines also appear to loosen the standards for obtaining software enabled inventions:

In the second line of Part II, chapter IX, section 5.2, paragraph 1, the third sentence of the Patent Examination Guidelines are amended from, “and describe in detail which parts of the computer program are to be performed and how to perform them” to provide that “The components may not only include hardware, but may also include programs. 将《专利审查指南》第二部分第九章第5.2节第1段第3句中的并详细描述该计算机程序的各项功能是由哪些组成部分完成以及如何完成这些功能修改为所述组成部分不仅可以包括硬件,还可以包括程序”.

Postscripts (Nov 18 and 28, 2016):

1.  Here’s Jacob Schindler’s October 31, 2016 commentary in IAM on this blog, and  here’s another blog comparing US and Chinese software patent developments. 

2.  Here are AIPLA’s comments on the proposed revisions to the patent examination guidelines (Nov. 25, 2016 – bilingual).

 

Patent Litigation, Local Protectionism and Empiricism: Data Sources and Data Critiques

Professors Brian Love, Christine Helmers and Markus Eberhardt have recently co-authored an article Patent Litigation in China: Protecting Rights or the Local Economy?.  The article has been excerpted in the IAM,  discussed on Prof. Don Clarke’s Chinalaw listserve and is also set to be published in 18 Vanderbilt J. Ent. & Tech. L. (2016).  It has created a bit of a stir.

The authors seek to counter certain generalizations regarding the nature of China’s IP (utility patent) enforcement environment.   They bring to an English language reader many useful observations regarding the patents that are being litigated, favored locations for litigations of different technologies, and that local protectionism is not apparent in the litigated cases that were studied.  What has most attracted attention, however, is something that really should not have:  foreigners win cases.  This is not new news and probably oversimplifies what the data suggests.  The conclusion itself reflects mostly on the lack of knowledge of the West on China’s IP system.  Indeed, I personally believe that a review of all available data would likely lead to a different conclusion on how foreigners win cases and the nature of Chinese “local protectionism.” Unfortunately, by relying primarily on English language secondary sources, an incomplete database and data that is over five years old, the article doesn’t address why foreigners bring so few cases when they are winning and what are the factors that contribute to success or failure.

I have divided my observations on this article into three parts: (a) why foreigners winning cases is “old news”; (b) what litigant behavior and the databases likely say about “win” rates; and (c) manifestations and data on local protectionism.

  1. Win Rates as Old News

The authors suggest that they are the “first large-scale empirical study of patent litigation in China” and that “empirical study of Chinese patent enforcement is virtually non-existent.”

In fact, there are a wealth of surveys on foreign “win rates”胜诉率 in the Chinese IP courts, most of which draw upon a larger sample than the 471 patents cases used by the authors, which included only 49 cases with foreign plaintiffs and 29 cases as defendants — a rather small sample.

Here’s a random survey of prior studies on foreign win rates that I found in preparing this review of the article.

 

1.According to a press report of a Shanghai news conference, the success rate for foreigners in first instance IP trials was 84.6% for the 447 cases filed in Shanghai from 2009-2013.

2. Of the 2,691 cases adjudicated in the Beijing Number 1  Intermediate court for the period 2006-2010, foreigners had a full or partial win rate of 55.2%.

3.A newspaper report on success rates for foreigners on IP cases in Zhejiang  reported success rates of 95% for 2013 out of 85 foreign cases adjudicated that year, with rates as high as 99% in 2010.

4.  A sample of 350 foreign-related cases conducted by the Guangdong High Court in 2010 to the first half of 2013 of 1272 cases filed (not including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau), revealed success rates of 70-80%, with relatively low settlement rates of 10-20%.  Foreign cases constituted about 2.25% of all IP cases.

5.  A study of the leading cases discussed in the gazette of the Supreme People’s Court for the 30 year period from 1985 to 2014 reported a success rate in the 33 foreign cases (out of 157 cases filed) of 73%, with foreigners playing the role of plaintiff in two-thirds of the cases.

6.  A study reported by the renowned Judge Sun Hailong in Chongqing in 2015 noted that for the period of 2003 -2007 the success rate for Chinese litigants was 5.78%.   This report also challenges the notion, that “inland provinces”, such as Sichuan, are somehow hotbeds of local protectionism, which the authors of the Love study noted has “little empirical evidence… to support or refute.”

7.  The Shanghai Number 2 Intermediate Peoples Court reported for the period 2006-2010, that the success rate for foreigners on IP cases was 86.3% of the 80 cases heard.  Foreigners were plaintiffs in 94.5% of the cases filed.

8.  In an English language September 27, 2012 letter of SIPO Commissioner Tian Lipu to USPTO Director Kappos, SIPO also points to analyses it conducted of foreign win rates, noting that in the 800 foreign cases surveyed from a number of different provinces (including inland provinces), foreign companies on average stood a better chance of winning their cases than Chinese parties, with foreigners winning all design patent cases in Guangdong.  The study notes that in Shanghai foreigners were more likely to appear as defendants and their win rate was 59% compared to 52% for domestic defendants   When foreigners acted as plaintiffs in Shanghai, their win rate in first instance cases was 77.8% versus 59.3% for domestic parties.

The above data, in general, supports all of the conclusions of the authors, except for the notion that their study is path breaking.  The notion that foreigners win patent cases in China is not new news. However, I differ with the implicit conclusion that local protectionism or other challenges hardly exist…

(2) What the Databases Say About Win Rates and Empirical IP Research in China

The authors reliance on some rather old cases in the CIELA database (www.ciela.cn) actually may be said to undercut their conclusions.  CIELA catalogues approximately 30,000 IP cases for the period 2006-2014.   This is a fraction of the total cases filed during this period.    In 2014 alone, there were 133,863 IP cases accepted by the courts, of which patent cases constituted 9,648 and administrative patent cases were 539.  CIELA especially lacks in settled cases and cases litigated after 2011 (article, fn. 23).  Indeed, the small sample of invention patent cases selected by the authors in a multiple year period was about 1/20 of the numbers of patent cases in 2014 alone

Because China’s IP policies change quickly compared to the United States, recent samples can be very important.  In using data prior to 2012, the authors chose to ignore many recent developments, which could have affected their conclusions  These include the expiration of the National IP Strategy and a new plan for 2014-2020, a lack of data on the IP Courts, and the lack of reference to administrative patent litigation.   The growth of administrative patent enforcement litigation may be the most disruptive of this study as SIPO, heard 35,884 patent administrative enforcement cases in 2015, up 46.4% from 2014, of which 14,202 were patent infringement cases, and 21,237 were patent passing off cases.   The Love study sample pales in comparison to these numbers. Unfortunately, we know very little about the disposition of these cases.  Moreover enhancing administrative patent enforcement appears to be a current priority of SIPO, including in proposed amendments to the patent law.

The authors’ data however might also be compared with other, more recent and comprehensive sources.  A competing commercial database, Darts IP, offers considerably more cases, especially recent cases. Here is what I understand that Darts collects on Chinese civil patent litigation compared to CIELA:

Ciela Total Civil Patent cases Darts IP Total Civil Patent Cases
2007 699
2008 531
2009 566
2010 631 1516
2011 852 1719
2012 736 2067
2013 271 1755
2014 0 2490
2010-2014 Total 2490 9547

 

The DARTS IP decisions also include data on provisional relief and settlements, as indicated above, which CIELA does not as fully report.

Nonetheless, I believe the honor of the largest judicial database likely belongs to the courts themselves.   Chinese judicial databases have become increasingly more comprehensive.  As Susan Finder has noted on her Supreme Peoples Court Monitor Blog, the SPC has recently upgraded its case database, to include over 14,000,000 separate documents and has become a “a rich source of understanding how the Chinese court system is operating, through (for example) a focused search of a  specific type of case…”.  Chinese judges have told me that the largest collection of cases involving patent infringement at this time likely belongs to another judicial database, the IPR court decision database.  Whatever their respective holdings, I believe that judicially-maintained databases will be increasingly useful in undertaking the kinds of empirical analyses that are needed, including analyses of the fairness and independence of the Chinese judiciary.  One early effort in using these databases was Xin He and Su Yang’s important article on the handling of civil law suits in Shanghai.   “Do the ‘Haves’ Come Out Ahead in Shanghai Courts?, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 10, Issue 1, pp. 120-145, 2013 ), which analyzed 2,724 adjudication decisions in Shanghai to reach their conclusions that “stronger parties not only win more often, but also do so by a large margin.” This article did not focus on “local protectionism”, but its conclusions suggest that bias persists in less visible forms than simple discrimination against outsiders.  I do not believe that IP is an exception to other forms of civil litigation in terms of political pressure.

Finally, there is the problem of database selectivity, which was also discussed on Don Clarke’s list serve, and is acknowledged by the authors.  The reasons for the high win rates are likely to be buried in other data, including the very low percentage of cases in China that are foreign related, which has resulted in a high degree of self-selecting of cases that foreigners bring.  Moreover, many important cases in China have simply not been published, among them the landmark first instance case of Chint v. Schneider, which resulted in the largest patent damages (for a utility model) in China’s history, and the important first instance antitrust case of Huawei vs. Interdigital, both of which involved foreigners who lost.  Finally, the CIELA database has its own weaknesses in terms of focusing on China’s key courts.  For example, CIELA records only two patent infringement law suits from the Supreme People’s Court (with a 50% “win” rate), which is hardly the situation for China’s most important court.

(C) Local Protectionism

Local protectionism, as the authors point out, has long been a concern to foreign rights holders in China.  However, what constitutes local protectionism, other than a fear of the foreign and unknown, has rarely been defined.  The authors define local protectionism in value-terms, such as “bias”, “corruption” and “lack of impartiality” especially in China’s inland provinces.   It is equally clear that local protectionism is not merely a foreign concern.  Chinese officials have also repeatedly complained about local protectionist barriers of various kinds, including in IP enforcement.

I do not believe that local protectionism is only question of where a party is located, but rather, consistent with Xin He and Su Yang’s view, the political power and influence that a local company may have on the local judiciary or other enforcement officials.  Local protection also is not necessarily an issue of whether one is forced to litigate in a remote inland province, as the authors suggest, and which the articles I cite at the beginning of this review (which include data from inland provinces) refute.  At its base local protectionism derives its influence from a locally employed and appointed judiciary.  In fact, a well-connected foreign company which has many employees may have significant local influence in a given Chinese locality, which is also dependent on the employment and taxes provided by that foreign entity.   Thus, foreign companies may also benefit from local protectionism – or at least to a degree.

I believe that most foreign rights holders, facing the uncertainties of a legal culture that bears the opprobrium of being “local protectionist” would actually file their cases in jurisdictions where they are likely to benefit from the most local protectionism possible.  The article appears to corroborate this when it notes, that “foreign entities appear in the data more often as patentees than accused infringers.”  However, further studies would be useful to corroborate linkages between industrial interests, R&D, and patent litigation in China.

Local protectionism may be influenced by local interests.  However, as the authors note, IP litigation in China tends to be clustered.  However, such clustering can be a double-edged sword.  Local judges who are more familiar with a particular technology or industry, may also be more sympathetic and knowledgeable about a given technology, as much as they may be inclined to favor a domestic litigant.

One place the authors might have looked at to validate if local protectionism is the basis for plaintiff’s filing of cases would be to compare cases involving the same parties or same set of facts.  For example, one might look at appellate reversal rates of judgments rendered in favor of foreigners.    Earlier (unpublished)  studies I conducted on the CIELA data shows a dramatic shift away from foreigners’ favor when they appeal their favorable first instance decisions, with about a 30% foreign win overturn rate on appeal, compared to 17% for domestic plaintiffs.  The data below needs to be updated but nonetheless gives a sense of general trends.

The data might be compared with data on the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  For example,  Janicke and Ren found no statistically significant evidence of bias against foreign parties in Fed Circuit, in which 26 percent involved foreign defendants accused of patent infringement. See: See Paul M. Janicke & LiLan Ren, Who Wins Patent Infringement Cases? 34 AIPLA Q.J. 1, 9 (2006).  Other cases of this nature include: Kimberly A. Moore, Xenophobia in American Courts, 97 NW. U. L. REV. 1497,1499 (2003); Trimble, Foreigners in U.S. Patent Litigation: An Empirical Study of Patent Cases Filed in Nine U.S. Federal District Courts in 2004, 2009, and 2012 (17 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech L . ).  Still another fruitful area of comparison is in reviewing decisions by different courts on counterpart foreign patents, or on technology that is the subject of trade secret litigations in different jurisdictions, to determine if there is a bias towards one country or another.

Another way of approaching local protectionism is to be less empirical and instead look at national policies and anecdotes that suggest there may be unchecked bias.  For example, the appointment of judges by local people’s congresses for a term could suggest local favoritism. Recent national judicial policies which favor courts “vigorously” asserting jurisdiction in international matters, and “restricting foreign parties to litigation from leaving China” can create significant risks for foreign litigants.  Many academics and officials have expressed growing concerns over due process rights for foreigners in Chinese IP litigation.  In addition, there have been several high profile cases in the United States which have which have suggested that the Chinese government may be actively intervening in cases.  In at least one case (Huawei vs Interdigital) a Chinese judge has urged Chinese companies to aggressively use Chinese  antitrust law to address “technology roadblocks in China and overseas” (华为公司善于运用反垄断法律武器进行反制,值得其他中国企业学习。…国内企业,在突破技术壁垒为自己赢得发展空间上,要大胆运用反垄断诉讼的手段. ). There are also telling cases such as the matter of Hu Zhicheng, an engineer, who was involved in a patent dispute with his former business partner turned competitor.   Investigators allegedly tried to force him to sign rights to his US patents to the former business partner, and subsequently jailed him for 17 months for alleged commercial theft.  Prosecutors later withdrew the commercial theft case.  He was not released until June 2013.

One of the oddities of practicing Chinese IP in Washington, DC is that it exists at the intersection of both IP law and Chinese legal studies.  Both of these areas have benefitted enormously from empirical research to support sounds academic analysis, business strategies and government policies.  China’s legacy of state planning has also made much of the debate in China about IP policies highly data-oriented.  However, much of the discussion in the West on Chinese IP has been less empirically-dependent.  This study of Profs. Love et al, is one important step in deepening domestic awareness of how many of our assumptions need empirical support and further research.  The need for such empirical research was one of the reasons that the USPTO set up a China Resource Center, which is an important part of USPTO’s international plans.   I believe we have just started on a long journey of accessing and analyzing the increasingly rich area of empirical analysis of China’s IP environment.

Please send any corrections or edits to this blog to me at chinaipr@yahoo.com.

Update (July 12, 2016):  Jacob Schindler at IAM reported on July 4, 2016 that, according to a Chinese judge, foreign litigants in the Beijing IP Court had a 100% win rate in civil IP cases in 2015.  The win rate for all plaintiffs was 72.3%.

Of course, the issue remains: if the win rate is so high, why is the percentage of foreign related cases so low? As pointed out in this blog, one reason may be that foreigners self-select cases which they believe they have a very high chance of success.

Slouching Towards Innovation – A Survey of the Surveys on China’s IP Environment

Here is a summary of the business surveys on IP protection in China, drawn from the European Chamber of Commerce in China, Business Confidence Survey 2015 (June, 2015), the US China Business Councils’ 2015 USCBC China Business Environment Member Survey (Sept. 2015), the American Chamber of Commerce 2016 Business Climate Survey (“Amcham China” Report, Jan. 2016), and Amcham Shanghai’s 2016 China Business Report (“Amcham Shanghai” Report, Jan. 2016), and others.

IP Issues a Core Concern

While IP issues are less dominant than in recent years, businesses report that IP is still critical to them. When Amcham China respondents in all sectors addressed what they considered their competitive advantage versus Chinese domestic entities, three of their top four perceived advantages were IP-related: Brands (74%), Technology & IP (63%), and Development and Innovation (59%). USCBC respondents listed IP concerns in a number four priority slot, having dropped from number 2 in 2014. However IP issues have averaged as a number 4.5 priority over the past ten years, so the drop is not that significant. According to Amcham Shanghai’s survey, 49% of respondents believed that lack of IPR protection and enforcement constrains their investment in innovation and R&D in China.

Still different IP concerns vary in their impact on different businesses. For example, tech companies in the USCBC survey noted the following IP-related issues in their top 10 challenges: Innovation policies (number 2), IPR enforcement (number 5), cybersecurity (number 6), government procurement policies (number 7), standards and conformity assessment (number 8) and antitrust/antimonopoly law (number 10).

IPR Enforcement is Improving

On the brighter side, 91% of respondents of the Amcham survey indicated that IPR enforcement had improved over the past five years, a view that was generally shared by USCBC respondents (38% reported some improvement over the past year).

USCBC’s survey addressed the most viable options for IP enforcement: administrative enforcement had a slight edge in terms of viability in some or most cases (78%), followed by civil cases (70%) and criminal courts (57%).

The data also suggests that trade secrets will be of continuing concern. Amcham China respondents were least satisfied with trade secrets legislation and enforcement (45/40%).  Amcham China respondents were most satisfied with patent legislation and patent enforcement (66%/54%), followed by trademarks (62%/51%) and copyrights (57%/48%). USCBC respondents similarly rated trade secrets as their top area of concern (32%) followed by trademarks (28%), patents (22%), and copyright (9%).

Of particular importance for trade secret protection are challenges noted in responses to surveys in attracting and retaining talent.   According to the Amcham survey, among the principal challenges in attracting the right talent were competition from local businesses (45%), and competition from other foreign businesses (34%). Data security and cybersecurity were also identified as concerns by many surveys.

China’s Efforts to Innovate Leads to More Foreign R&D in China

Innovating in China has clearly become a priority for the foreign business community. The EU Chamber notes that China R&D centers are increasingly achieving global levels of innovation, although a large percentage (42%) are primarily focused on product localization. According to USCBC, about 43% of large member companies had established an R&D center.

European companies viewed innovation as one of five most critical drivers needed to move the Chinese economy up the value chain. The USCBC report notes that more than 9 out of 10 US companies believe that innovation in China will be critical to their company’s future in China, with 40% of the companies reporting that that half their profits came from products designed, developed or tailored to local requirements (an increase from 32% last year). Companies prioritizing investment in R&D, according to the Amcham Shanghai survey, were in hardware, software and services (81%), automotive (65%), industrial manufacturing (55%) and health care (35%).

Continuing Concerns about Technology Transfer

USCBC reported that 59% of respondents expressed concern about transferring technology to China. Twenty three percent of USCBC respondents advised that their company had been asked to transfer technology to China and that central or local governments had requested the technology transfer 60% percent of the time. Concerns about technology transfer included maintaining protection of the proprietary information during certification/ approval (83%), protection of IP (75%), enforcing license agreements (51%) and the government dictating or influencing licensing negotiations (32%). Nonetheless, according to USCBC, technology transfer concerns fell out of the top twenty this year, to number 23 out of 30. However the USCBC noted that the companies impacted by this issue felt it “very acutely”.

Innovation Policies Not All Positive

Thirty two percent of technology and other R&D Intensive industries that responded to the Amcham China survey indicated that China’s increasing capability for innovation presented an important opportunity for their business. However, as the preceding data suggests, not all of China’s innovation and IP policies have been perceived to be positive by foreign industry. Fifty-five percent of USCBC tech companies stated that China’s innovation promotion policies had a significant negative impact on sales to date, or had a significant negative impact on sales or operation. Also of note was that 75% of USCBC respondents indicated that they limited the products that they introduced into China because of IPR concerns. In addition, 37% of USCBC respondents indicated that China’s level of IPR enforcement limited R&D activities in China, as well as limited products co-manufactured or licensed in China. The Amcham China survey also noted that 83% of technology R&D intensive companies feel less welcome than before.

Aggressive Antimonopoly Enforcement of Concern to Foreign Companies

Eighty percent of USCBC respondents were concerned about antimonopoly law enforcement in China. Among the key substantive issues were: (a) lack of transparency in AML cases (55%), excessive focus on foreign companies (50%), lack of clarity on key criteria and definitions (49%), lack of due process (29%), and inability to have legal counsel (26%).

Rule of Law: Another Overarching Concern

One common thread amongst antimonopoly and IP concerns was rule of law. The EU Chamber Report contains the most information on desires of foreign companies for the Chinese government to improve the rule of law, with 39% of European businesses rating the Chinese government’s efforts in 2015 as “below expectations”, and rule of law perceived as the main driver of future economic growth by 78% of respondents. For Amcham China, 57% of respondents believed that inconsistent regulatory interpretation and unclear laws were their top business challenge in China. Legal reforms were identified as the top reform priority by Amcham Shanghai members.  USCBC respondents rated uneven enforcement of Chinese laws, as their number nine challenge, however companies reported that the problems are persistent and worsened in the last year.

Putting China in Context: Not All That Patents Is Innovative

There are other reports that have been released have recently been released that also place China in a comparative perspective. The Information Technology & Innovation Forum, for example, recently issued a report Contributors and Detractors: Ranking Countries’ Impact on Global Innovation, which ranked 56 nations on how much they contribute or detract from global innovation. China ranked 44, and was classified as an “innovation mercantilist” that “significantly balkanize[s] both global production and consumption markets” and has “generally weaker protection” for intellectual property than the global norm. However, China does perform better than “innovation follower” countries in contributing to the global innovation ecosystem, largely due to investments in STEM fields and high numbers of graduates in those areas. China ranked twenty eight out of fifty six in terms of contributions, and was among the top five detractors from global innovation, according to this report (behind Thailand but ahead of India, Argentina and Russia).

Thomson Reuters in its China’s IQ (Innovation Quotient) Report (December 2015) analyzed China patent filings. The IQ Report noted that citations of Chinese patents had increased. In data processing patents, China had forward citation data of 1.17 This was much less than the United States (6.72), but comparable to Japan (1.82), and Europe (1.31), and better than South Korea (.78). Interestingly, another Thomson Reuters report on the top 100 innovators (2015), declined to include a single Chinese company. Huawei did appear as a top innovator in 2014. Its antitrust adversary, InterDigital, was considered a top innovator in 2015.

Policy Outcomes

The USCBC’s Board of Directors recently outlined its priorities for the year, which included: strengthening IP enforcement, including deterrent civil and criminal remedies; improving enforcement against online infringements; strengthening trade secret protections; harmonize patent examination practices; reforming China’s system of innovation incentives (HNTE incentives/service inventions). Other USCBC recommendations in transparency, antimonopoly law, and ecommerce also have IP-related implications.

Summary

There may be a number of reasons for the repetition in these reports, including a common core of concerns, a focus on issues in the media and bilateral relations, and common membership among the organizations. The location and membership of each organization can still result in different perceptions. Moreover, certain rights, such as copyrights, tend to be of core concern to fewer industries some of which, such as the entertainment sector, may be less extensively invested in China. As such, the surveys reflect concerns and priorities, and may not necessarily represent researched approaches to resolving specific problems of concern to all American industries. The surveys may also not align well with China’s own surveys such as on software piracy, where China has offered a counter-survey that counts other incidences of piracy, or on satisfaction with China’s IP system. As for satisfaction at least, it is all subjective. In some cases, the survey data likely aligns well with other factual or empirical data, such as licensing revenues, damages in antimonopoly law cases, IP enforcement activity, etc.

Here’s what this survey of the surveys suggests to me:

  1. China’s IP laws are generally good and its enforcement is improving but still problematic.
  2. China has become deeply interested in patents and innovation, which will present important strategic opportunities over time.
  3. There remains a low level of confidence in trade secret protection in China, which can be a significant impediment to China’s innovative ecosystem.
  4. China’s innovation environment has become increasingly complex and nationalistic, leaving many foreign tech companies with a sense that they are less welcome.
  5. Reforms in the legal system and antitrust enforcement are a high priority.

The US Chamber will be issuing its latest International IP Index February 10 in Washington, DC. Let’s see how China stacks up there…

Any corrections or comments? Something I have missed? Please write us!

 

Draft of Patent Law Revision Published for Comment

The State Council Legislative Affairs Office has published on December 2, 2015 the draft of the Chinese Patent Law revisions for public comment《中华人民共和国专利法修订草案(送审稿)》, along with an explanation prepared by SIPO. Comments are due January 1, 2016.

WIPO, SIPO and USPTO: US-China Patent Filing Trends

Chinese Activity at WIPO

A WIPO report released on March 19 noted that Huawei, with 3,442 published PCT applications, overtook Panasonic as the largest applicant in 2014. Qualcomm was the second largest applicant in 2014, with 2,409 published applications. ZTE Corp. took third place with 2,179 PCT applications.

These top three applicants have similar patent filing profiles, with digital communication accounting for the bulk of their total filings.

The report highlights some weakness amongst Chinese academic institutions: among the top 25 educational institution filers, there were only two Chinese academic institutions – Peking University (no. 19) and Tsinghua (no. 23).

United States Activity at SIPO

SIPO’s 2014 Statistical Report (no. 164), analyzes filing trends from foreign countries, including the United States that further underscores the competition amongst Qualcomm, Huawei and ZTE and in the ICT sectors.

United States China invention patent applications with SIPO amounted to 135,138 pieces over the previous five year period analyzed.   The annual growth rate during this period was 8.3%. In 2013 United States patent applications were 29,992, about 1.4 times 2009.

According to SIPO, the following companies from the United States filed more than 3,000 patents from 2009-2013: Qualcomm (6,029); GE (5,875); General Motors (5,697); Microsoft (3,957) and IBM (3,293). Also of note during this period, Apple’s patent filings have increased rapidly, while Microsoft’s decreased after 2011 to 327 in 2013, falling to 11th place among US applicants.

SIPO’s description of Qualcomm’s role in communication technologies underscores highly competitive relationships in China:

Over the five year period of this survey, Qualcomm’s 5-year filings have ranked amongst the top three United States applicants. Chinese enterprises have also substantially increased their communication invention patents, and this substantial growth has a number of advantages. However, in key areas such as mobile phone chips, Qualcomm still owns core IP. It provides licenses to patented technology to Chinese communications equipment and consumer electronics equipment enterprises, and uses this technology to charge exorbitant license fees.

What about Chinese activity in the US?

USPTO’S Fiscal Year Report (ending September 30, 2014), provides partial data on Chinese filing trends in the United States. In 2013, there were 15,496 patent applications from China, having nearly doubled from 8,358 in 2010. Patent grants to Chinese residents more than doubled from 2010-2014 from 3,059 to 7,717.

Additional data is necessary to compare Huawei and ZTE’s filing trends in the United States and whether they reflect similar competitive trends in PCT filings and in China.