Of Trade Secrets, Section 337, AUCL Reform and Evidence Production

When faced with trade secret misappropriation, the United States International Trade Commission can provide a forum for U.S. companies faced with unfair competition resulting from the misappropriation, even if the “theft” occurs entirely in China and/or a misappropriated process is used in China to manufacture a product imported into the United States.  In Certain Cast Steel Railway Wheels, Certain Processes for Manufacturing Or Relating To Same and Certain Products Containing Same, 337-TA-655, Amsted Industries Inc. which licensed certain confidential manufacturing technology to two Chinese companies, Datong ABC Castings Co. (DACC), and Xinyang Amsted Tonghe Wheels Company Limited (Tonghe), claimed the respondent, TianRui Group Co. Ltd, had poached employees from DACC and Tonghe and stolen from them materials and other proprietary information sufficient to establish an identical, competing manufacturing line.  The ITC found a violation of Section 337 and issued a ten-year exclusion order.  On appeal of this landmark case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the ITC has jurisdiction to reach trade secret misappropriation that occurs entirely abroad, so long as there is a nexus between the misappropriated trade secrets and the imported product.  Tianrui Group Co. v. ITC, 661 F.3d 1322, 1337 (Fed. Cir. 2011).  Interestingly, in that instance, the Chinese dometic authorities aligned with the United States.  Because railway wheels must be certified for use in China (as is the case in the U.S.), the Chinese Ministry of Railways declined to certify the Tianrui wheels until the U.S. matter was concluded.  The willingness of the Ministry of Railways to decertify Tianrui’s wheels while an ITC action was pending stands as an important contra-factual that suggests the relationship between trade secret theft in China and Chinese domestic industrial policy may be overstated.

More recently, in Certain Rubber Resins and Processes for Manufacturing Same, 337-TA-849, the ITC found a violation of Section 337 based on trade secret misappropriation that occurred entirely in China.  In that case, the Chinese authorities had ruled that there was no trade secret misappropriation in both civil and criminal proceedings.  In Sino Legend Chemical Co. v. International Trade Commission, 623 F. App’x 1016 (Fed. Cir. 2015), the respondents sought to overturn Tianrui, arguing that the ITC does not have jurisdiction to reach misappropriation taking place entirely abroad and that the ITC should have deferred to the Chinese authorities as a matter of comity.  In a nonprecedential judgment, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Commission’s finding.  On September 30, 2016, the respondent in the ITC case, Sino Legend, filed a petition for certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule TianRui, arguing that Section 337(a)(1)(A) contains no clear indication that it should apply extraterritorially and barring the importation of goods made using trade secrets misappropriated in China constitutes the impermissible regulation of conduct occurring overseas.  As an indication of how important this matter is to the Chinese government, in a rare filing, the Ministry of Commerce submitted an amicus brief supporting certiorari.  On January 9, 2017, the Supreme Court denied the certiorari petition.  Thus, U.S.-based companies can continue to turn to the ITC as a viable alternative for relief from trade secret misappropriation taking place in China.  Equally problematic, however, was the willingness of China’s judiciary to misconstrue the 337 decision as a victory for the Chinese defendants and to deem a lower court case as a model case while a related case was still pending on appeal to the court.  This case has also been an important counter-contra-factual indication regarding the relationship between trade secret theft in China and independence of the cour

How does this relate to legislative reform of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law in China?

China is currently revising its AntiUnfair Competition Law, which is the foundational law for trade secrets.  An important first step in addressing trade secret theft in China was the recognition that trade secret protection is a proper subject of the civil code in recent amendments to the civil code; i.e., that is not simply a matter of market regulation but of theft of a private property rightThe inclusion of trade secrets in the revisions to China’s general principles of the civil code was advocated in this blog, and also noted as appearing in an earlier draft.  The SPC, including Madame Tao Kaiyuan, were also involved in providing expert opinions on the draft.  The NPC comments on  the recent proposed revisions of the AUCL specifically calls out the important role of the SPC in revising the most recent draft of the AUCL, and note that civil compensation should assume a primary role in enforcing the anti-unfair competition law generally (善民事赔偿责任优先、与行政处罚并行的法律责任体系。不正当竞争违法行为首先损害了其他经营者的合法权益,需要民事赔偿优先,调动其他经营者制止不正当竞争行为的积极性。)  The primacy of civil enforcement is also found in Article 20 of the draft law itself with a clarification that a business operator who violates the law shall “bear civil liability” and that civil liability shall take priority over fines (Article 30).  I believe these efforts reflect some of the momentum generated by the SPC’s highly useful report, focusing on civil enforcement of trade secret.  Also of note is that at about the same time as that report, the US China Business Council outlined a number of the evidentiary problems in trade secret cases in its proposals for Chinese trade secret reform (2013), including burdensome notarization procedures, procedures which risk further disclosure of confidential information, difficulties in cooperation with the police, etc

The inclusion of trade secrets as a civil right was accomplished with civil code revisions adopted on March 15, 2017, with an implementation date of October 1, 2017.  (中华人民共和国民法总则)。  Article 63(5) includes trade secrets as a subject of intellectual property rights protection:

第一百二十三条 民事主体依法享有知识产权。知识产权是权利人依法就下列客体享有的专有的权利:    (一)作品;    (二)发明、实用新型、外观设计;    (三)商标;    (四)地理标志;    (五)商业秘密;    (六)集成电路布图设计;    (七)植物新品种;    (八)法律规定的其他客体。

Section 337 and the New Trade Secret Regime?

How do these reforms in trade secret litigation interact with US Section 337 procedures? Issues involving production of evidence between the US and China can be at the heart of many IP cases, but are especially critical in trade secret cases.   While some reforms have already been made in China, such as availability of preliminary evidence preservation measures in trade secret cases, the removal in the recent draft of the AUCL of a provision in an earlier draft that would have provided for a modest burden of proof reversal in trade secret matters is also troubling:

“Where the rights holders of trade secrets can prove that information used by others is substantially the same as their trade secrets and that those others had the capacity to obtain their trade secrets, those others shall bear the burden of proof to show that the information they used came from lawful sources.” (proposed Art. 22)

As the coauthor of this blog, Jay Reiziss, points out in his attached presentation to my recent class at Fordham, difficulties in gathering evidence have often been critical to use of Section 337 proceedings.  US Administrative Law Judges have granted motions to use the Hague Convention, such as where a foreign government formally weighs in (Switzerland indicated that it would cooperate with such a request (Certain Sintered Rare Earth Magnets, Inv. No. 337-TA855, Order No. 8). However other cases have determined that Hague Convention procedures would not be timely due to compressed ITC schedules (Certain Hardware Logic Emulation Systems, Inv. No. 337TA-383, Order No. 65).  Because of the threat of adverse inferences, there have also been several instances where Chinese respondents have reluctantly permitted plant tours to accommodate discovery requests (Certain R-134a Coolant, Inv. No. 337-TA-623.  FlexsysAmerica v. KumhoTire U.S.A., 5:05-cv-156 (N.D. Ohio)  Issues involving obtaining timely production of evidence have also appeared in other cases, notably the Gucci/Tiffany cases in the Second Circuit.

Even if the AUCL may not provide enough support for evidence production in China, the SPC has identified several bottlenecks in cross-border adjudication of disputes, including “hearing cross-border cases–service of process to overseas parties; obtaining evidence crossborder; determining facts that have occurred abroad; determining and applying foreign law”, which suggest that future cooperation with US courts may also improve.   Hopefully, as China improves its mechanisms to obtain foreign evidence and if it takes more proactive stances towards cross border cases, towards allowing production of evidence China, and as it improves its civil system, foreigners will be less reluctant to bring IP cases, especially trade secret cases, in China. In the meantime, it appears that the ITC and U.S. civil actions will continue to play a very important role in driving evidence based decisions on trade secret infringement involving China

 

Coauthored by Mark A. Cohen and Jay Reiziss.  This blog represents the authors’ personal views only and should not be attributable to any client, employer or any third party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese IP: the Graduating Class of Officials

There have been several Chinese officials with authority over IP over the past few years who have been promoted. In December, the Ministry of Commerce recently reported that DG Li Chengang was promoted to Assistant Minister in December 2016, with authority over law and treaties (which includes trade-related IP).  His predecessor, Assistant Minister Tong Dao-chi, was also promoted and now serves as Vice Governor of Hubei as of December 2016. Across the straits, in July 2016, Madame Wang Mei-hua, who was formerly in charge of TIPO was promoted to Vice Minister of Economic Affairs.

The most prominent of the Chinese officials with deep IP experience who saw their career advance due to IP involvement in recent years is Madame Tao Kaiyuan the former DG in charge of Guangdong’s IP Department, who has served as one of the justices on China’s Supreme People’s Court since 2013, and has been a key advocate for judicial reforms and promoting rule of law.  Several other Chinese IP judges have also seen promotions in the recent years (Madame Tao and several current and former IP judges are pictured below).  Another official with deep IP experience,  Chen Fuli of MofCOM also was promoted from his former position as IP Attaché in Washington, DC and Director at MofCOM, where he oversaw IP engagement with the United States to his current position of Deputy Director General.

Also of note, former Chief Judge Randall Rader is reported to be under consideration to become the next Director of the USPTO under the incoming Trump Administration. Rader has noted that “Yes, several senators have sent my name to the Trump team for the position of director of the USPTO,” and that “The best way to protect U.S. jobs is to protect worldwide the IP that creates and guarantees those jobs.” China has also been quick to recognize Judge Rader’s accomplishments.n December 2016, he was awarded an Honorary Professorship by the President of Tsinghua University.

The current situation for Chinese IP officials contrasts with the experience of only a few years ago when it appeared that many Chinese IP agencies and officials were riding China’s new Antimonopoly Law, and not IP, to advance their agencies or careers. Officials such as DG Shang Ming moved from law and treaties in MofCOM to antitrust. At that time, China’s IP courts also picked up civil antitrust jurisdiction and the unfair competition bureau of SAIC also picked up antitrust authority.During those years, several officials also privately complained to me that their career advancement had been stymied by focusing too much on IP issues or engagement with foreigners. Some may also have seen former Vice Premier Wu Yi’s retirement in 2008 as tied to the filing of a WTO on IPR against China, which she appeared to take as a personal loss and that he had promised to fight vigorously against

As far as I know, the most dramatic and unusual employment engagement of an IP-knowledgeable official was made by another ardent IP supporter, Abraham Lincoln, when he appointed Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War due, in part, to his experience of working with him on a patent litigation when Lincoln was a private lawyer.

When officials who believe in IP are promoted to positions of higher authority it is a good sign of political support for protecting IP. This is true of both the United States and China.

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Jordan Wins Trademark Battle in China: Milk and Honey On the Other Side?

Michael Jordan won a partial victory in his 10 trademark  administrative appeals involving the Qiaodan sporting goods company for the 乔丹 (Jordan) mark at the Supreme People’s court.  Here’s a Chinese summary of the case from Sina.com, and an article from the Associated Press. 

The trial of the case was heard on World IP Day (April 26, 2016), was presided by SPC Justice Madame Tao Kaiyuan, and was attended by former CAFC Chief Judge Randall Rader, as an observer.

The decision reportedly grants to Michael Jordan and Nike the picture mark and the Chinese characters associated with Qiaodan.  Jordan and Nike did not win the pinyin (Romanized) Qiaodan because that can be expressed in many different ways in Chinese ideographs. 

The Chinese press is treating this as a win for Jordan and NIKE.  The Qiaodan website was dismissive of the case, noting that it had won 65 prior cases involving the mark.  In a somewhat related matter, as of this morning (November 8), I found online platforms, including in the US,  offering Qiaodan products under the Qiaodan name.  I  also did not find the Qiaodan name in pinyin registered at USPTO.

Michael Jordan, in a statement to Reuters noted that “I am happy that the Supreme People’s Court has recognized the right to protect my name through its ruling in the trademark cases,” and that “Chinese consumers deserve to know that Qiaodan Sports and its products have no connection to me.”  The Qiaodan Company had previously brought a suit against Michael Jordan for trademark law suits that delayed its plays for a public offering. 

My initial impression is that the case does show the willingness of the Chinese judiciary to tackle issues arising from bad faith registrations that can raise some of the more thorny issues, as they may involve business models based on rights that may not have been obtained in good faith.  This decision is one of several indications that China is seeking to heighten its continuing efforts to address squatting, in the fact of a giant Chinese Trademark Office case load (over 3 million applications in 2016), a huge trademark docket at Beijing’s IP court, a commitment at this year’s JCCT to undertake further efforts to combat bad faith filings, recent efforts to improve the environment for entertainment law including some decisions favoring “merchandising rights”, and a recent positive decision for a mark involving President-elect Donald Trump.

Postscript Dec. 13, 2016: Here’s a presentation that an SAIC official recently gave at a public program at USPTO on how the agency is dealing with badfaith filings.

I hope to make a full copy of the SPC decision available on this website, once I receive a translation.

Note for non-native English speakers: “Milk and honey on the other side” in the title of this blog is drawn from the folk song/ spiritual “Michael Row  Your Boat Ashore”.

US & China Conclude High Level Exchange on Judicial Reform and Commercial Rule of Law

WP_20160802_005 (1)(photo by Mark Cohen)

Last week, top U.S. and Chinese judges and legal experts came together to implement the agreement between Presidents Obama and Xi to hold a high level exchange on judicial reform and commercial rule of law, which stated:

China and the United States commit to conduct high-level and expert discussions commencing in early 2016 to provide a forum to support and exchange views on judicial reform and identify and evaluate the challenges and strategies in implementing the rule of law. U.S. participants are to include leading members of the U.S. judiciary, U.S. government legal policy experts, and officials from the Departments of Commerce and Justice and the Office of the United States Trade Representative. Chinese participants are to include officials from the Central Leading Group on Judicial Reform, leading members of the Chinese judiciary, and Chinese government legal policy experts. This dialogue is to result in an improvement in the transparency and predictability of the business environment. This dialogue does not replace, duplicate or weaken existing regular bilateral legal and human rights dialogues between China and the United States.

According to Amb. Baucus’ view of the dialogue: “companies – American and Chinese – need predictability.  An independent judiciary that can resolve civil and administrative disputes fairly, transparently, and according to the law, is critical.  If we can deepen cooperation between the United States and China on judicial matters, it will help improve the investment climate, to the benefit of companies and workers in both of our countries.”

Chinese media reported that there were over 30 experts, officials and judges attending the program, which included several important IP judges such as SPC Justice Tao Kaiyuan,  and Deputy Chief   IP Judge Wang Chuang, as well as Beijing IP Court President Su Chi, as well as He Zhonglin, head of the SPC’s Office of International Cooperation and a former IP judge himself (see picture above).  According to the media, members of the delegation also met with Meng Jianzhu, head of the Party Political Legal Committee.

The US Department of Justice released the opening speech of Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General, who noted that the Dialogue included many topics germane to IP such as: “How can parties obtain the evidence they need to prepare for trial?  What evidence should be admissible in court?  How do courts and parties use expert witnesses?  What can courts do to handle a large number of cases fairly, transparently, and efficiently, when resources are finite?  What sort of personnel do we need to implement the rule of law, and how do we ensure that they are properly trained and feel they are part of a justice-focused mission? Finally, what is the role of precedents in providing guidance to business as to what behavior violates the law?”

This is not the first such judicial exchange, nor the first exchange with a common law country.   The Federal Circuit has been engaged in two major programs on IP adjudication with the Chinese courts, including one that involved over 1200 people including 200 Chinese judges  in 2012, and a second large sale  program in Shanghai in 2015This year, the focus on the UK judicial exchanges this year is also on commercial law.  Individual US judges, such as Denny Chin and Randall Rader have also traveled to China and engaged the Chinese judiciary on IP and commercial legal matters, including by attending important programs in the United States.  In the UK, Mr Justice Birss was very supportive of these exchanges in comments he delivered at the Fordham IP Conference this year. The  SPC has reportedly established friendly relationships with judicial institutions of more than 130 countries and 20 international or regional organizations.

Chinese media noted that the next meeting of the dialogue of scheduled for Washington, DC.

 

 

Justice Tao Kaiyuan and the Role of the Judiciary

MadameTaoMichelleLee

Justice Tao Kaiyuan of the Supreme People’s Court, who had been to the United States in 2015 delivering important speeches on rule of law, has recently published an article on “Giving Full Play to the Leading Role of Judicial Protection of IP Rights“ 充分发挥司法保护知识产权的主导作用”(Dec. 31, 2015).  The article is receiving considerable attention in China, as it was published by Qiu Shi, 求是(“Seeking Truth”), a bimonthly political theory published by the Central Party School and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.  The publication of the article appears to be timed with the release of the recent draft of the Patent Law Amendments, comments for which were due the day after publication (January 1).  The proposed patent amendments would strengthen the role of administrative agencies in IP enforcement, to the possible detriment of the judiciary.

The author of the article is no less important than its contents.  Madame Tao knows patents.  She was the former Director General of the Guangdong Patent Office and therefor once had “vertical” reporting responsibility to SIPO (see picture above taken by me of Madame Tao [on the right] with USPTO Director Michelle Lee taken in 2015).  Although the article was authored in her name, many in China were speculating that the article was approved by higher authorities – perhaps Zhou Qiang, the President of the Supreme People’s Court, with Madame Tao serving as an appropriate messenger.

The concerns about this draft on patent law enforcement are not that different from those in the earlier (2012) draft when I blogged in “Why the Proposed Amendments to the Patent Law Really Matter … and Maybe Not Just For Patents” that “the changes strike me as a rather sudden about face in China’s march towards better civil protection of IP.” Madame Tao takes this several steps further.

Madame Tao’s article is divided into three parts: (1) The important meaning of giving full play to the leading role of the judicial protection of IP rights; (2) The key factors that constrain the leading use role of judicial protection of IP; and (3) Key measures in giving full play to the leading role of judicial protection of IP rights.   Here are some of the points she makes:

Madame Tao refers back to the National IP Strategy and related documents, such as the Third Plenum, the NPC’s decision to establish IP courts, and the Action Plan for the National IP Strategy to underscore the well-established, leading role of the courts in enforcing IP.

Her article compares certain key elements of judicial protection versus administrative protection.  In her view, judicial enforcement can curtail abuses of administrative enforcement.  It also has other advantages.  It has clear rules.  It is transparent.  It can help establish guidance for businesses by establishing clear standards for similar disputes (a possible nod to efforts at developing case law/guiding cases).  Moreover, civil enforcement comports with notions of private ownership and the development of markets and creation of a fair competitive environment in China.  Madame Tao especially underscores the role of the courts in supervising administrative agencies.  As I have noted, this is also an important part of the foreign IP docket in China.  Madame Tao states that the judiciary should also actively guide administrative law enforcement in investigation and review of evidence, and determination of infringements.

Madame Tao also calls for greater coordination in administrative and judicial roles in IP protection, noting that administrative enforcement played an important leading role in the beginning of China’s IP enforcement environment.  Administrative enforcement has “in a short time met the need for building effective IP protection.”  However, the “growing maturity” of the judicial system has caused increasing problems in the coordination process.

Madame Tao also calls for specific policy initiatives, many of which are already underway.  She calls for greater deterrent civil damages, including by revising patent, copyright and unfair competition laws based on experience of the trademark law revisions.   She also suggests that a discovery system should be considered.  Civil and criminal divisions in IP should be unified.  She suggests that a specialized national IP court should be researched and promoted, and she calls for the unification of technical appellate cases, perhaps like the CAFC.  She also notes that the division between infringement and validity determinations in the courts in patents and trademarks should be addressed, and calls for improvements in the availability of provisional measures.

She calls for greater improvements in judicial protective measures, including in obtaining evidence and the convenience and effectiveness of remedies.  Among other specific judicial reforms, she also suggests exploring intellectual property case law, improving judicial accountability and developing judicial professionalism.  Finally, Madame Tao also calls for expanding international awareness by IP judges to better protect national interests and to increase China’s IP influence.

Altogether, a tour de force.

Here’s what her speech looks like in a machine-translated wordcloud:taowordcloud