Unpacking the Role of IP Legislation in the Trade War

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Here is my attempt to unpack recent legislation and their relevance to the on-going trade dispute.

In recent months, China has amended its Foreign Investment Law, the Technology Import/Export Regulations (“TIER”), the Anti-Unfair Competition Law regarding trade secrets, and the Trademark Law, with new provisions on bad faith filings and damages. A summary of the Trademark Law revisions provided by SIPS is found here. China also amended the Joint Venture Regulations provisions removing provisions that which limited a foreign licensor’s freedom to license technology beyond years or to restrict use of licensed technology after the 10 year period had elapsed.

With the revisions to the TIER and the JV regulations, much of the basis for the US and EU complaints against China at the WTO regarding de jure forced technology transfer may have evaporated (WTO Disputes DS542, and DS549). However, the public dockets do not indicate that the cases have been withdrawn.

China seems to have determined that it has crossed a line in how much it can accommodate US demands. Bloomberg reported on a commentary published after the imposition of escalated sanctions in the influential “China Voice” column of the People’s Daily which accused the US of fabricating forced technology transfer claims. The commentary is entitled “If you want to condemn somebody, don’t worry about the pretext”, with the sub-title, written in classical Chinese: “‘Forced Technology Transfer’ Should Stop!”. (欲加之罪,何患无辞 – “中国强制转让技术论”可以休矣). The title is a quotation from the Zuo Zhuan, a classic of Chinese history written around 400 B.C. that realistically describes the palace intrigues, military tactics, assassinations, etc. from the chaotic “Spring and Autumn” period from 771-476 B.C. The People’s Daily view is also shared by a number of scholars and observers who view the problem as exaggerated or mischaracterized (apart from the TIER and JV regulations). However, this view has been rejected by USTR Lighthizer, as was reported in a recent NPR interview (March 25, 2019):

“CHANG: Though a number of scholars believe the Trump administration is overstating how often forced technology transfers are happening.

LIGHTHIZER: Well, I guess I don’t know who those scholars are. We did an eight-month study on it, and I think it’s the very strong view of the people that we talked to that it’s a very serious problem and has been for a number of years.”

(Update of May 21, 2019: A recent EU Chamber survey in fact showed an increase in businesses reporting that FTT is a concern, from 10% two years ago to 20%.)

There have also been several IP legislative developments that may not be as directly linked to US government trade pressure. Perhaps the most important is the launch of China’s new national appellate IP Court effective January 1, 2019. The NPC has released a draft of the civil code provisions on personality rights (See this translation). Personality rights can be important tools in addressing trademark squatting, such as in the Michael Jordan case with Qiaodan. CNIPA also released Draft Provisions for Regulating Applications for Trademark Registration (关于规范商标申请注册行为的若干规定(征求意见稿) which addresses bad faith registrations. CNIPA released a draft rule for public comment on Protection of Foreign GI’s (国外地理标志产品保护办法 (修订征求意见稿)on February 28, 2019. The comments focus on generic terms and a GI expert committee for examination of foreign GI’s. Here are INTA’s comments on the trademark registration and GI proposed rules. CNIPA also proposed changes to patent examination guidelines on such issues as proof of inventive step and what constitutes “common knowledge.” Here are AIPLA’s comments from April 4, 2019.

Still pending are proposed amendments to the Drug Administration Law, with comments due by May 25, 2019. This is a second public comment draft released by the NPC. Ropes & Gray has provided a useful analysis. The proposed changes to the DAL also include increased punitive damages for counterfeit medicines, in line with increased penalties in the IP laws (Trademark, AUCL, etc.). There are also proposed changes to the patent law which was released for comment earlier this year. Of particular interest to the pharma sector in the proposed changes were provisions calling for patent term restoration. However, a hoped for inclusion of patent linkage through an “artificial infringement” provision to trigger an infringement challenge by reason of a pharmaceutical regulatory approval has not yet materialized. There were also rumors that China and USTR has scaled back regulatory data protection for biologics from the 12 years that had originally been proposed by China in 2018 to the 10 year period provided by the US Mexico Canada Free Trade Agreement.

What is the relationship between all these legislative changes and the trade war? Larry Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council, described the legislative snafu that caused the administration to reinstitute tariffs as follows:

“For many years, China trade, it was unfair, nonreciprocal, unbalanced, in many cases, unlawful. And so, we have to correct those and one of the sticking points right now as we would like to see these corrections in an agreement which is codified by law in China, not just the state council announcement. We need to see something much clearer. And until we do, we have to keep our tariffs on, that’s part of the enforcement process as far as we are concerned.”

So what are the unenacted “laws” and what is the State Council “announcement” that Mr. Kudlow is referring to and which in his view launched this new trade war escalation? I doubt that Mr. Kudlow has read China’s Law on Legislation and understands the difference between a Law passed by the NPC and a State Council Regulation, particularly as US and European practice in recent months appears to be oblivious of legislative nomenclature and its role in determining what constitutes a legally binding document.

Perhaps Mr. Kudlow is talking about the NDRC 38 agency MOU published in late 2018 regarding punishments for serious patent infringement, including use of social credit system. The NDRC document is clearly inferior to a Law or State Council Regulation, but it was a directly promulgated document of a State Council agency. As the patent law amendments have not been enacted yet, he may be referring to this delay in enactment and the failure to increase damages for infringement as has been provided by other statutes. In my own view, the focus on punitive or even statutory damages is misguided as is increased administrative enforcement, as the primary reason that damages are low is the failure of most Chinese courts to impose fully compensatory damages and abide by priorities in law for establishing damages. But I hope to have more on that in another blog…

One thing is certain: China has been timing legislative developments with trade diplomacy. This may lead one to believe that China’s approach to the new laws was purely transactional, and/or there were other laws that the US was also expecting but that China has since declined to deliver. The previously mentioned NDRC 38 Agency MOU was enacted before the G-20 meeting but made publicly available shortly thereafter. The “Working Measures [sic] for Outbound Transfer of Intellectual Property Rights (For Trial Implementation), (State Council, Guo Ban Fa [2018] No. 19)” (知识产权对外转让有关工作办法(试行)) which was previously discussed here, appear to have been timed with the 301 announcement in March 2018. In addition, the revocation of TIER provisions, JV implementing regulations, and amendments to the Trademark Law and AUCL revisions all were enacted with incredible efficiency, often denying any opportunity for meaningful public comment in violation of prior procedural practices. A reasonable guess may be that there were some additional laws or regulations that the US was expecting but that China had determined it could not deliver, or deliver in the time frame provided. Nonetheless, the legislative track record thus far is quite impressive.

China’s improved environment for technology transfer and technology collaboration is coming at a time when the United States has tightened up its controls with China. The most notable legislation in this area is the John S. McCain Defense Authorization Act for 2018 (the “Act”), including the enactment of the Foreign Investment Risk Reduction Modernization Act and the Export Controls Act of 2018. These laws extended export control and foreign investment control authorities to foundational and emerging technologies, as well as to non-passive, non-controlling investments. Much of the technologies of concern overlap with Made in China 2025 and other Chinese industrial policy documents. Although the Act did not specifically create “black” and “white” countries as subjects of controls, the Congressional history did point to special concerns about China:

“Congress declares that long-term strategic competition with China is a principal priority for the United States that requires the integration of multiple elements of national power, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, law enforcement, and military elements, to protect and strengthen national [t]security, [including] … the use of economic tools, including market access and investment to gain access to sensitive United States industries.”

The most recent report which analyzes the impact of US and Chinese regulations on Chinese investment in the United States by Rhodium Group is found here (May 8, 2019). The report notes an “over 80% decline in Chinese FDI in the US to just $5 billion from $29 billion in 2017 and $46 billion in 2016. Accounting for asset divestitures, net 2018 Chinese FDI in the US was -$8 billion. Meanwhile, American FDI in China dropped only slightly to $13 billion in 2018 from $14 billion in 2017.” The Rhodium report also notes that “the chilling impact of politics on US FDI in China was mostly visible in the ICT space where new investment declined significantly last year.” Other countries have also been enacting similar restrictions on FDI in sensitive areas, as pointed out in a recent article by my Berkeley colleague Vinod K. Aggarawal. Note: I will be speaking at a forthcoming AIPLA webinar on export controls and IP strategies on May 23, 2019 as well as at forthcoming events in China (to be announced).

In addition to these legislative efforts, the US has undertaken steps to restrict H1B visas for talented scientists and engineers and the FBI has created a new working group to address economic espionage from China. The Committee of 100 released an important paper in 2017 showing that Asian Americans were more likely to be prosecuted for economic espionage than any other ethnic group, are also subject to higher sentences and were twice as likely as other groups to have cases against them dismissed. Some observers fear that overly broad regulation and enforcement by the United States may now be encouraging exactly what China has sought to do for decades: repatriate to China the vast talent pool of Chinese scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to contribute to the technological development of the motherland.

Although there have been few legislative efforts directed to making US science and technology more competitive in response to these perceived threats from China, there have been several general reports and proposals. The National Institute of Science and Technology recently released a green paper, “Return on Investment Initiative for Unleashing American Innovation” (April 2019) to improve federal technology transfer and entrepreneurship. There are increasing calls for Congress to fund the long defunct Office of Technology Assessment, which once played an active role in analyzing US-China technology trade.

Several trade organizations and think tanks have called for increased US funding in science and technology, among them is the recent report of the Task Force of American Innovation, “Second Place America – Increasing Challenges to America’s Scientific Leadership” (May 7, 2019). The R&D graph at the head of this blog showing China’s rapid growth in R&D is from that report. The report notes:

“America’s competitive edge is now at stake, as China and other countries are rapidly increasing investments in research and workforce development in order to assume positions of global leadership. Our nation risks falling perilously behind in the basic scientific research that drives innovation, as our global competitors increase support for cutting-edge research and push to the forefront in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, and the next generation of telecommunications networks.”

To round out this summary of legislative developments, there have been developments at the USPTO that impact US relations with China on IP. The USPTO published a proposed regulation which will regulate legal services for the rapidly increasing number of Chinese pro se trademark filers in the US (2/15/2019). This proposed regulation would require these applications to use a US licensed attorney. The purported purpose of this change in current practice is “instill greater confidence in the public that U.S. registrations that issue to foreign applicants are not subject to invalidation for reasons such as improper signatures and use claims and enable the USPTO to more effectively use available mechanisms to enforce foreign applicant compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements in trademark matters.” The rule also seems generally consistent with TRIPS Art. 3, which permits WTO members to require “the appointment of an agent within the jurisdiction of a Member … to secure compliance with laws and regulations which are not inconsistent with the provisions of [the TRIPS] Agreement”.

Another important development involves USPTO efforts to clarify subject matter eligibility under Sec. 101 of the patent act, and functional claim limitations for computer-enabled inventions under Section 112. The United States had been weakening and destabilizing protections in these important areas affecting artificial intelligence, fintech and biotech inventions at the precise time when China had been strengthening its protections. These are important steps towards strengthening predictability in our domestic IP system, which may be further strengthened by proposed legislative changes.

Ironically, China’s improvements in its investment and tech transfer environment are coming at a time of heightened concern over a Chinese technological threat and increased US and international regulatory scrutiny. It may be difficult, therefore, to perceive any immediate positive impact from changes in China’s investment environment. Indeed, the media has recently been reporting on decisions of different companies or entrepreneurs to close down R&D operations in each other’s markets. Hopefully, both countries may ultimately create the right mix of IP enforcement and protection, regulatory controls over collaboration and industrial policy to enable bilateral scientific collaboration to once again flourish and contribute to the global economy.

A Federal Circuit with Chinese Characteristics? – The Launch of China’s New National Appellate IP Court 中国特色的联邦巡回上诉法院?

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On December 27, 2018, the Supreme People’s Court released the Provisions on Certain Issues of the IP Court  (the “Provisions”), and the Standing Committee of the NPC  announced a first round name list of judges of the new IP court. These decisions follow an earlier announcement by the NPC Standing Committee  on October 26, 2018 authorizing the establishing of this new division of the SPC (officially translated as IP  Court of the Supreme Court of SPCIP, with the Chinese name 最高人民法院知识产权法庭). There were also indications that such a court was in the works that were previously reported in this blog in 2017.  The newly established IP Court is intended to function very similarly to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, with a national jurisdiction over technical civil IP cases as well as appeals of patent validity decisions. Trademark validity appeals are not currently specifically enumerated as being within the court’s jurisdiction (see photo below).

This is a much awaited, historic and potentially disruptive breakthrough in the China IP litigation system, that has been a focus of much discussion between US and Chinese experts over 20 or more years, notably between the SPC and former CAFC Chief Judge Rader, former USPTO Director Kappos, and others (including the author/owner of this blog).  The historic 2012 conference between the SPC and the CAFC at Renmin University was one such milestone event in these efforts.   China’s successful experiments in specialized IP courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou was another such milestone, as well as the language in the third plenum that facilitated their establishment. However, the engagement preceded this decade.  For example, an important conference on specialized IP courts was held with former Chief Judge Jiang Zhipei, and other Chinese IP judges in Washington, DC on Specialized IP courts in 2002, which involved over 130 judicial experts.   SIPO also exerted an important leadership role as well, through the National IP Strategy and various studies and conferences over the years.

The Provisions came into effect January 1, and the new Court held a kick-off ceremony on that same day.   Almost like clockwork, Judge Wang Chuang, the new deputy chief judge of this new tribunal was at the second US-China IP Summit in Shenzhen on January 3, 2019 (the “Summit”) presenting a bilingual PowerPoint (picture above) explaining the role of the Court, along with several other current and former judges, including Judges Jin Kesheng, former Beijing IP Court President Su Chi, former Guangdong IP Tribunal judge Ou Xiuping, former Beijing High Court Judge Cheng Yongshun, and others.  Considering the high-stakes trade dispute and interaction between China and the US right now, it is fair to say that the setup of the SPC’s IP Court is part of the bona fide effort to enhance IP protection in China which in fact predates the trade dispute.

What will be the impact of this court on foreign-related litigation? We believe that the impact is likely to be positive.  US academics have suggested that the CAFC has had a modest effect of correcting any anti-foreign bias  and the elevation of patent appeals to the SPC level is certain to similarly help direct national attention to important cases and defuse local pressure.  Moreover, the jurisdictional mandate of this court includes appeals from the Beijing IP Court of administrative patent cases, where foreigners constitute a significant cohort, partiuclarly if trademark cases are included (which appears unlikely). The Court also includes at least one judge from the foreign civil (no. 4) division of the SPC.   The recent decision by the SPC to rehear the Huawei v Interdigital case, where Zhu Li was a judge, may also be another signal.  Judge Zhu has since transferred to this new IP Tribunal, and the court has also sent a clear signal that it will be seeking a consistent and fair determinations of cases independent of local influence.   Many of the judges on the roster are well known to the foreign IP and antitrust communities, have met with foreign visitors or traveled overseas, and enjoy the respect of the foreign and Chinese bar.

Here are some of the most significant things that we know about this new Court.

Status of the SPC’s IP Court: It is part of the SPC, which generates some confusion. Given that the judgments, rulings, mediations and decisions made by the SPC’s IP Court are in the name of the Supreme Court, it enjoys a similar status to that of CAFC, whose job is to function as a national appellate court and whose decisions. are typically final.  But there has been and still will be an IP Tribunal (also known as 3rd Civil Tribunal) of the SPC, and a decision made by the SPC’s IP Court, which in normal practice should be final, is capable of been filed for retrial before the said IP Tribunal of the SPC.  In addition, non-technical IP cases will still be appealed according to pre-existing procedures ultimately to the 3d Civil Tribunal.

The head of the new SPC’s IP Court, Mr. Luo Dongchuan, will at the same time continue to serve as Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the SPC, a rank higher than the head of the 3rd Civil Tribunal, which previously heard all IP cases.  Justice Luo effectively oversees IP litigation in China with Justice Tao Kaiyuan, which is a further elevation of the importance of IP to China’s judicial system.

Staffing the Court:  IP tribunal judges are typically amongst the best educated judges in China’s court system.  Many young judges made their name in IP related trials. The judicial personnel list of the court suggests that the court has been viewed as career enhancing for SPC judges, judges from regional courts, and former patent office examiners who have been selected as judges (see the list below).  However, due to the rapid establishment and staffing of this new Court, many of the judges are likely on detail from their prior jobs to the new Court, pending permanent transfer

Staffing of the Court

Name Position Former position
Luo Dongchuan 罗东川  Vice-president of SPC, Head of the Intellectual Property Court of SPC Vice-president of SPC, member of the Adjudication Committee of SPC,
Wang Chuang王闯 Deputy Chief Judge Deputy Chief Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of SPC
Zhou Xiang 周翔 Deputy Chief Judge Deputy Director General of the Enforcement Bureau of SPC
Li Jian 李剑 Deputy Chief Judge Presiding Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of SPC
Zhu Li 朱理 Judge Senior Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of SPC
Shen Hongyu 沈红雨 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No.4 of SPC (for foreign-related cases)
Luo Xia 罗霞 Judge Judge of the Administrative Division of SPC
Fu Lei 傅蕾 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of SPC
Wei Lei 魏磊 Judge Assistant Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of SPC
He Peng 何鹏 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of SPC
Jiao Yan 焦彦 Judge Deputy Chief Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of Beijing High People’s Court
Cen Hongyu 岑宏宇 Judge Assistant Judge and the Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of BHPC
Liu Xiaojun 刘晓军 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of Beijing High People’s Court
Cui Ning 崔 宁 Judge Judge of Beijing Intellectual Property Court
Deng Zhuo  邓 卓 Judge Judge of Beijing Intellectual Property Court
Ren Xiaolan 任晓兰 Judge Director of the No.1 Chemical Appeal Division of the Patent Reexamination Board of CNIPA
Gao Xue 高 雪 Judge Deputy Director of the Mobile Communicating Technology Appeal Department of the Patent Reexamination Board of CNIPA
Zhan Jingkang 詹靖康 Judge  Deputy Director of the Examination Guide Department of the Examination Management Division of the CNIPA
Xu Yanru 徐燕如 Judge Deputy Chief Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of ZHPC
Xu Zhuobin 徐卓斌 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of Shanghai High People’s Court
Ling Zongliang 凌宗亮 Judge Judge of the Intellectual Property Division No. 2 of Shanghai Intellectual Property Court
Zhang Xiaoyang 张晓阳 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of Jiangsu High People’s Court
Zhang Hongwei 张宏伟 Judge  Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of Fujian High People’s court
Liu Xiaomei 刘晓梅 Judge  Judge of the Civil Division No. 3 (IP Division) of Shandong High People’s Court
Tong Haichao 童海超 Judge Deputy Chief Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of Hubei High People’s Court
Tang Xiaomei 唐小妹 Judge Judge of the Civil Division No.3 (IP Division) of HHPC
She Zhaoyang 佘朝阳 Judge Judge of Guangzhou Intellectual Property Court

Internet Courts, Circuit Courts, Specialized IP Courts: The types of courts in China has expanded and is potentially confusing to those unfamiliar with the new experiments.  The SPC had already established Circuit Courts, which are arms of the Supreme Court itself, except that they are in cities other than Beijing.  An example of such a court is the Shenzhen Circuit court which hears retrial cases from Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, and Hainan as well as cases relating to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.  The Specialized IP Courts, which will remain the same as before, are intermediate courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Jurisdiction, vested with jurisdiction over certain IP lawsuits. They will function all the same as before, but their decision will now be appealable to the SPC’s IP Court, rather than to High Court of the province where the Specialized Courts reside.  These IP Courts are in addition to other local IP tribunals and courts which localities have set up with the support of the SPC and have been experimenting in cross-district jurisdiction, and in combining civil, criminal and administrative adjudication.

The three Internet Courts, located in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, will function as before.  Their decisions are not likely to be appealed to the SPC’s IP Court given that the latter only hear patent, mask works, variety of plants, computer software and anti-trust cases.

Standardization of Trial Rules: A mission of the SPC’s IP Court is to formulate judicial standards and trial rules based on their investigation and research of relevant practices, and such standards and rules shall be followed by the lower courts. This may suggest that the SPC’s IP Court will take over the responsibility of formulating certain judicial interpretations and selecting guiding cases. Wang Chuang noted at the Summit that the Court is considering judicial interpretations on such topics as technology assessors and trade secret protection.  Thus, we could expect a more consistent guidance, both procedural and substantive, from the Supreme Court over IP cases, especially when involving technical matters.  Judge Su Chi (retired) of the Beijing IP Court, also noted at the Summit that he expected that some of his work on development of a case law system would likely be taken over by this Court as well.

Extended Jurisdictional Scope of the Court:  The SPC’s IP Court is empowered to hear major and complicated cases of first instance on a national scale. This implies that some plaintiffs may bring high-profile lawsuits to the Supreme Court directly. This kind of arrangement is very rare in China’s judicial system. The only case we are aware of before this time is the trial of the Gang of Four in 1980. This could be good news for patentees facing difficult issues of local protectionism. It may also have profound impacts on society, and thereby raise the IP awareness of the public.  The Federal Circuit had a similar impact on US society when it decided major cases such as Polaroid v Kodak early in its tenure, which in the US signaled “a new period in which patents regained their importance as intellectual property protection for technology companies.”  The SPC’s IP Court will likely have discretion to determine whether a case belongs to a major and complicated one. There are various factors to be taken into consideration, such as the damages claimed, the nature of the subject matter, the parties concerned, the relevant technicality, the social impacts, and so on.  In addition to this area, the court will also retrial cases arising from application by any party of interest and protest by the Supreme Procuratorate as mentioned (Article 2(5) and Article 11 of the Provisions).

For Chinese IP practitioners and regional IP judges this is also a major game changer.  Chinese patent firms that were once focusing on establishing offices throughout China may now need to think about reinforcing their staff in Beijing.  Chinese judges from various localities may also wonder why certain appellate jurisdiction was removed from their courts.  The answer to that last issue likely lies in the desire of the SPC to establish greater uniformity and predictability throughout China in important technology-related IP cases, as was explained at the Summit.

At the Summit, Judge Wang Chuang noted that four goals of this new court are: boosting technological innovation; testing fields of judicial reform; being a bellwether for patent trials and becoming a preferred court for international patent litigation.  These goals are laudable, not surprising, consistent with the current directions of judicial reform and can help inspire confidence of the foreign business community.  In view of the goal of increasing China’s role as a center for international IP litigation, it is not surprising that so many judges attended the Summit.

In all, the establishment of the SPC’s IP Court is exciting news in Chinese IP community.

Written by Mark Cohen, Harry Fang 方春晖, Steve Song 宋献涛 and Jerry Liu 刘良勇attorneys with the Deheng law firm北京德和衡律师事务所.

Mark Cohen excercised final editorial control and is responsible for any errors. Photograph of Judge Wang Chuang  by Mark Cohen from the Summit.  All rights reserved.

Please write in with your observations on this important development!

flowchartofnewcourt
Updated January 8, 2019 to clarify uncertainty over jurisdiction over trademark administrative appeals, and on January 9 to add a photo of the flow chart for litigation from the Summit which does not include trademarks  (above).

A Data Download on Semiconductor Patent Litigation in China

Because of its strategic importance to both the United States and China, the IC sector is a useful example of how Chinese policies and plans may – or may not – be influencing the Chinese government in the protection of foreign-owned IP.

A useful starting point for evaluating the challenges in IC IP protection in China is the data collected from China’s court cases.  IP House has conducted a heretofore unpublished and useful study of all semiconductor-related patent disputes in its database, attached here (in Chinese).  The data shows that there have been 166 first instance civil patent infringements IP judgments with the word “chip” (芯片), and 86 second instance cases.    There have also been 142 first instance administrative decisions, typically involving validity matters, and ninety second instance decisions. 52.91% of the first instance cases involved invention patents, 10.31% involved utility model patents and 36.77% involved design patents.

Regarding civil cases, 39 were heard in Zhejiang, 35 in Guangdong, 27 in Beijing, 21 in Jiangsu and 11 in Shanghai.  Every other jurisdiction had fewer than five cases, and no cases were reported for Fujian Province.

The data suggest a comparatively low “success” rate for plaintiffs in semiconductor patent disputes.   Amongst the 183 reported judgments, only 51 cases were fully or partially successful — a 38.34% success rate.  This compared to an overall success rate of about 80% for litigants in patent cases in 2014 in China, as reported by Bian Renjun at Berkeley. Cases were not reversed to a significant degree on appeal; 60 out of 70 cases supported the original decision of the first instance court.  Amongst the “top 10 “ courts in terms of litigation volume, the success rate for semiconductor patent plaintiffs varied dramatically.   Guangdong had the highest success rate (60%), followed by Beijing (43.75%), Zhejiang (23.08%) and Jiangsu (19.05%).  76 of 77 successful litigants obtained an injunction to stop infringement; one litigant did not request an injunction.

Regarding administrative reviews, 117 out of 140 cases involved affirming the original administrative decision, an “affirmance rate” of 83.57 percent.  Eighty one out of ninety cases were affirmed on appeal.

The United States was the principal foreign civil litigant, with seven cases, followed by the British Virgin Islands and the Netherlands, each with two cases.  The United States was the principal first instance administrative plaintiff challenging SIPO’s decisions, with 30 cases, followed by Japan (5), Netherlands (3) and several countries with only one civil case (France, Germany, Cayman Islands, Korea,   Singapore and Israel).

I draw the following tentative conclusions from this data:

  1. Success rates for semiconductor cases vary dramatically by jurisdiction in China. My guess is that the Guangdong courts, which have the highest success rates, have greater expertise in both semiconductor patent litigation and patent litigation overall, which may make them more “expert” on these matters. Due to variations in success rates amongst jurisdictions, the semiconductor sector is a useful example of why China needs a national appellate IP court.
  2. No matter what major court one looks to, success rates for these cases are lower than the average for other types of patent litigation. This may suggest either a lack of familiarity with the technology or an unduly skeptical view of the courts regarding semiconductor patent assertions at this time. Considering that the vast majority of the cases do not involve foreigners, the low success rate primarily affects Chinese litigants.
  3. Foreigners, and especially Americans, use the courts primarily to litigate patent validity matters. There were 4.5 times more administrative semiconductor patent cases brought by Americans compared to infringement cases. Overall foreigners brought four times more validity cases compared to infringement cases in this area.  This means that the Beijing IP Court, which hears all validity disputes, plays a key role for foreigners on semiconductor patent matters.  Semiconductor patent cases also follow the general pattern where foreigners are disproportionately willing to challenge SIPO in court, but are less willing to bring infringement cases to final adjudication.
  4. Utility model and design patents are frequently asserted in patent disputes in China and may have value to foreign companies needing to protect their IP in this important market.
  5. The Fujian courts do not appear in this IP House report. However, Fujian has already heard one high profile case (AMEC v Veeco), which was settled and does not appear to be publicly available at this time. The second high profile case, involves Micron Technologies, and is currently on-going.

I hope to blog further about the AMEC cases in the United States and China in a subsequent posting.