GAI’s Comments on AUCL

Ahead of schedule, George Mason University’s Global Antitrust Institute (“GAI”) has prepared its comments on the NPC’s proposed revisions to the Anti-Unfair Competition Law, available here. 

GAI commended the National People’s Congress for deleting Article 6 on abuse of superior bargaining position and recommended that any provisions that relate to conduct covered by China’s Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) be omitted entirely. GAI also strongly urged that Article 11 (which provides that “[b]usiness operators selling goods must not bundle the sale of goods against buyers’ wishes, and must not attach other unreasonable conditions”) be omitted in its entirety, as such conduct is already covered by Article 17(5) of the AML or at the very least, Article 11 should be revised to adopt an effects-based approach.

In my opinion, the argument that the AUCL shouldn’t duplicate the AML can also be said of other laws in China, notably the Technology Import / Export Regulations and Article 329 of the Contract Law regarding monopolization of technology.  Other laws, such as the Pricing Law also have a strong overlap with the AML, particularly as administered by NDRC. 

GAI’s comments on a prior State Council Legislative Affairs Office draft, along with the comments of the American Bar Association and American Intellectual Property Law Institute are available through this link.

I hope to post the comments of other organizations on the AUCL on this blog in the future. If you would like your organization’s comments to be considered for distributing here, please send your comments to me at: chinaipr@yahoo.com.

Collaboration vs Litigation in IP Licensing in China: 2016 Update

A string of articles and deals in the patent licensing sector are highlighting the increasing importance of collaborative licensing practices for foreigners to attract licensees.  Is such a collaborative approach to licensing necessary due to development, culture or other reasons?   

Let’s review some of the news from 2016:  VIA licensing, a subsidiary of Dolby has reportedly signed up Lenovo . as its newest member of the pool operated by Via for Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) patents.  IAM’s Jacob Schindler, quotes Ira Blumberg, Lenovo’s vice president for intellectual property, who praises negotiators on the other side for “recognizing and flexibly addressing unique market circumstances applicable to China and other emerging markets”. Speaking with IAM, VIA president Joe Siino confirmed that his company is focusing on win-win collaboration opportunities.  Paul Lin of Xiaomi, which has a licensing agreement with Microsoft, has  observed that many Western companies make the mistake of  importing their usual licensing approach to China wholesale, and that a collaborative element needs to be introduced.  Also in 2016, former arch enemies Huawei and Interdigital entered into an  agreement,  announcing a multi-year, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty bearing patent license agreement  to settle all proceedings.  The two companies (frenemies?)  put in place a “framework for discussions regarding joint research and development efforts”, including a “process for transfer of patents from Huawei to InterDigital”.

Yet, it was also apparent in 2016 that traditional, non-collaborative approaches, continue to have some vitality particularly where recalcitrant licensees are involved, such as the case Qualcomm brought against Meizu, a reported law suit by Dolby Labs against China’s Oppo and Vivo in India’s High Court of Delhi, or the SEP case brought by Wireless Future Technologies against Sony in Nanjing.  The high win rate for foreigners should also be acting as an additional incentive to use the Chinese litigation system, although foreigners continue to play a disproportionately small role of foreigners in IP litigation in China (about 1.3% of the docket).

There may, indeed, be greater incentives for foreign licensors to seek Chinese partners at this time.   One of these factors is of course the size of the Chinese market itself, including a greater reliance on the Chinese domestic market by potential Chinese licensees/infringers, which may provide incentives to licensors to find longer-term licensing mechanisms through close collaboration with a Chinese partner. In looking at IP-related partnerships, most Chinese companies have IP strategies that still tend to be inwardly focused, by having strong domestic portfolio supported by local subsidies, and thereby making them challenging adversaries for practicing foreign entities in domestic litigation.  At some point, these strong domestic portfolios may also encourage collaboration by a foreign company with a Chinese company as an effective way for the foreign company to boost its domestic Chinese portfolio.  Other factors include the greater intervention by the state in monetization of IP rights, which encourages development and ownership of core IP by Chinese companies, with state subsidies and banking support.  Another factor which encourages collaboration is the Technology Import/Export Regulations of China, which encourages related party licensing between the US and China to avoid mandatory indemnities and grant backs. 

There may also be disincentives for US companies from being too US-focused in conducting R&D and IP monetization at this time.  The AIA, legal uncertainties over the scope of patentable subject matter in the United States and changes in the litigation environment may also be weakening the value of patent rights and ultimately acting as a disincentive to investment in new IP-intensive enterprises.  At the same time, Chinese companies have been increasingly investing overseas, including within the United States, and have shown a willingness to bring law suits in the United States (such as Huawei’s suit against Samsung in California) and may have reciprocal needs for a US partnership, as they seek to license their rights in the United States and elsewhere.  Such a need may be at the heart of the Huawei/Interdigital deal, discussed above.

In my estimation, collaborative approaches to licensing are responses to market and legal challenges in China as well as part of China’s maturing engagement on IP issues, including its own talented labor pool and potential as an innovative economy.  Collaborative approaches to licensing are part of greater trends in collaborative IP creation with China.  In 2015, Qualcomm may have kicked off this current trend when it announced a 150 million USD investment fund in China around the same time as its settlement of its antitrust dispute with China.   In addition, we are seeing greater Chinese participation in cross border R&D.  The Global Innovation Index noted the increasing importance of such international collaboration to China last year and  that “the Chinese innovation system is now densely connected to sources of expertise everywhere.” (p. 93).  Chinese companies had “the 7th largest foreign footprint of all countries with 178 R&D centers set up or acquired outside China by year end 2015.”  USPTO data also shows greater co-inventorship in Chinese patent applications, there is also  greater Chinese participation in international standards setting, and greater Chinese co-authorship of scientific publications (now at about 15%). Hollywood is also seeing a high degree of collaboration, in the form of co-productions, investments, and other collaborative mechanisms.

Collaboration in IP creation is occurring in response to changing market circumstances – developmental, economic, legal and perhaps cultural.  It is no surprise that it is also appearing in licensing transactions.

A Quick Report on the EIPC MIIT Conference Including SAIC’s IP Abuse Rules, Patent Law Amendments, EIPC MIIT Standardization Policies, Standards and IP Abuse…

EIPC MIIT’s Conference on Intellectual Property Standards and Anti-Monopoly Law convened on December 10 and 11 in Beijing.  The conference brought together about 150 international and Chinese experts, including lawyers, judges, academics, diplomats, and other professionals to the Wanshou Hotel in the Haidian District, Beijing.  There were over over 30 speakers. The initial speakers set the tone for the conference by concentrating on one theme:  China’s anti-monopoly regime had entered a new phase from theory to enforcement.  Further, this transition period is characterized by the need to balance anti-monopoly law and IP rights, regulation and innovation.

One example of the struggle for balance is the debate over the prevalence and importance of holdouts, or the practice of standards implementers engaging in conduct intended to drive royalties down royalties for Standards Essential Patent (SEP) holders to lower than F/RAND levels.  Dina Kallay, Director of Intellectual Property and Competition at Ericsson Ltd.  argued the problem of hold outs was real.  David Wang, Director of Standards and IPR Strategy, Intellectual Property Rights Department of Huawei Technologies Co., argued that that there is no evidence of real life hold outs.  His opinion comes in light of Huawei’s recent litigation with IDC, in which a court ruled that IDC should compensate Huawei for excessive pricing and tying practices.

Many speakers addressed current and future reforms.  Yang Jie, Director of the Anti-Monopoly and Anti-Unfair Competition Enforcement Bureau at SAIC, explained new revisions to its forthcoming rules on abuse of dominance and exclusionary relief (presumably, SAIC’s IP Abuse guidelines or rules). Since August, SAIC has modified seven articles. First, Yang Jie said that SAIC has maintained the “essential facilities” doctrine in the new version, however with some modifications. The doctrine will apply when an intellectual property right cannot be easily substituted in the relevant market, other players want to be part of the market, a refusal to deal would restrict competition or innovation in the relevant market, it harms the public interest, and the licensing of the patent would not negatively or unreasonably harm the interests of the patentee.

Yang Jie also explained that SAIC has adopted a narrow interpretation of refusal to deal for players in a dominant position.  It will only apply when the intellectual property right constitutes an essential element for production.  Moreover, a violation only occurs when the behavior limits competition. Additionally, in abuse of dominance, “abuse” must be considered parallel to other elements and the behavior must harm the public interest or consumer behavior.

Concerning guidelines for the standard setting process, Yang Jie explained that the rules do not include a special provision for horizontal agreements in the standard setting process, because this is covered under the provision for anti-monopoly agreements.  Furthermore, Yang Jie divided monopolistic behavior in the standard setting into standard setting procedures – for instance if a firm fails to say something in a patent application – and standard implementation, which would include violations of F/RAND commitments.  Yang Jie said that the standards clarify the “what should have been known” standard for the standard setting process.  For standard implementation, the guidelines add the requirement of restricting or limiting competition.  Additionally, the new guidelines will treat intellectual property rights the same as other property rights. In other words, SEP holders are not automatically deemed to have market dominant positions. Instead, a case specific analysis must show that a firm is “dominant” within the meaning of relevant provisions of the Anitmonopoly Law.

Lastly, the guidelines no longer include a specific provision targeting copyright collecting societies for abuse of dominance or restricting competition. Yang Jie explained that the provision was cut because there was no real evidence of copyright organizations abusing their position. That being said, enforcement agencies can still pursue copyright organizations as they are not otherwise exempt from the law.

Yang Jie also said that the official version has not yet been promulgated. The regulations have been submitted to relevant bodies within the State Council for review (note from Mark Cohen: it is unclear to me if this is registration with the State Council, or review by the Antimonpoly Enforcement Agencies, or another process.  If this document is an SAIC rule, then review by the State Council should be limited).

Zhang Yonghua, Deputy Director of No. 1 Division of the Legal Affairs Department of the State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO), provided details regarding the latest draft of the proposed patent law amendments.  The new draft empowers judicial and administrative bodies with the right of investigation and evidence collection. It also allows administrative agencies to effectively settle infringement issues by compensation.  Furthermore, the draft provides for punitive damages for severe infringements, a concept already employed in China’s trademark law. Additionally, protection for industrial design is extended to 15 years. The new draft also introduces a burden of proof shifting scheme in which the burden of proof shifts once the patentee has satisfied certain of its evidentiary burdens.

Zheng Wen, Deputy Director General of the Anti-Monopoly Bureau, focused on the need for improvement in the merger review process of MofCOM.  Zheng Wen said that MOFCOM had received over 1000 cases since August 2008 and had finished over 900, imposing sanctions in only 3% of the cases.  Zheng suggested that there was a need to impose more sanctions and to crack down on parties that illegally skipped merger review.  Since November, MOFCOM has been publishing notices of sanctions on parties that did not report their proposed merger but should have.  Zheng Wen also expressed the desire to set up a long term cooperation mechanism with the E.U. and U.S., especially for large scale transnational mergers.

Huang Yong, Vice Chair of the Expert Advisory Committee under the State Council Anti-Monopoly Commission, stated that allowing agencies the rights of investigation and suggestion would be a step in the right direction.

Concerning the new Specialized IP Courts, Jin Kesheng, Deputy Chief Judge of the IPR Tribunal and senior Judge of the Supreme Court said that we could look forward to a judicial interpretation regarding the role of the court’s “technology investigator” position.  Additionally, Zhang Xiaojin, Chief Judge of the Second Tribunal in the Beijing Intellectual Property Court, expressed serious concern over the new court’s ability to handle their large caseload. For instance, the Beijing specialized IP court has 100 staff in total, only 22 of whom are judges and the court is expected to receive 15,000 cases annually.  He expressed further concern over their ability to carry out judicial reform while so severely understaffed.

Finally, Shi Shaohua of EIPC MIIT spoke about feedback to EIPC MIIT’s own Template for IP Policies in Industry Standards Organizations, (which I previously wrote about here). Two criticisms were that the structure was too complicated and that courts do not have sufficient expertise to adjudicate F/RAND issues; injunctions and unwilling licensors;  and reference factors for unreasonable licensing, including factors such as the smallest component or device, the total aggregate royalties of all potential SEPs, the influence of standards on patents, and the extra value that standards bring to a patent.  EIPC MIIT also received comments concerning reciprocity requirements, for instance what standard should be employed and whether adding restrictions to SEP licensing will influence cross-licensing, market access, and reciprocity.

The conference also included presentations on Legal Issues of Competition in Internet Industry” and “Internet Based Information Security and Intellectual Property Protection” which unfortunately we were not able to cover.

Prepared by Marc Epstein of Fordham Law School with edits by Mark Cohen.   A special thanks to EIPC MIIT and Shi Shaohua for allowing a Fordham student to attend this important conference!  Please provide us with any corrections, additions or comments!  As always, these comments are the authors’ own.

Qualcomm Subject of AML Investigation – Other Developments on the Way

China’s use of the Antimonopoly Law to deal with pricing for royalties may have taken another turn with recent launch of an Antimonopoly Law investigation by the National Development and Reform Commission against Qualcomm. Although the exact basis for the investigation is unknown, the press reports speculate that the investigation is related to the forthcoming launch of TD-LTE by China Mobile in early 2014 as well as negotiations on chip and licensing pricing between Qualcomm and China-based companies.

Qualcomm announced the case on Monday November 25. The investigation has been covered in several articles in Reuters as well as other press sources, including the Chinese press. An NDRC spokesperson was quoted in China’s official press on Sunday November 24 that China’s AML authorities would focus on six areas of technology and pharmaceuticals. Some observers have also tied the case to the impactful recent Huawei-Interdigital case(https://chinaipr.com/2013/10/29/huaweiinterdigital-appeal-affirms-shenzhen-lower-court-on-standards-essential-patent) adjudicated in Guangdong, which also involved standards and royalties.

In separate developments, at a conference sponsored by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology that I attended in Beijing on November 13, it was announced that the State Administration for Industry and Commerce will be revising its rules on AML and Intellectual Property. Last August a draft revision to its IPR enforcement guidelines was floated selectively for public comment(https://chinaipr.com/2012/08/26/a-quick-read-of-the-aml-ipr-enforcement-guidelines-fifth-draft/). Additionally, at this November 13 conference, the Supreme People’s Court noted that it would be looking into revising its judicial interpretation on patent infringement regarding availability of injunctions, presumably to make injunctions less automatic (or presumably, denied) in the case of standards-essential patents.

There are some areas where there appear to be less momentum, at least for now. I am unaware of any public initiative to deny orders stopping infringement in the case of standards-essential patents and administrative patent enforcement. In addition, I am unaware of any public request to date for an administrative compulsory license of patents through the State Intellectual Property Office for an antitrust violation or a refusal to license. To judge by the recent MIIT conference, there is also no active discussion on patent “hold-out” for refusal of a licensee to take a license under a standards-essential patent, and what that would mean in the Chinese context, where damages are low in litigation, injunctions are almost always granted, the state plays an active role in standardization, the statute of limitations is short and China’s equities as a patent holder and manufacturer are in flux. Also, noticeably absent from the November 13 program was Ms. Dai Hong from the Standards Administration of China, who had been active on these issues for SAC – an agency which had been relatively active on these issues some years ago. Please send in your comments if you know of other developments.

Overall, China’s ramp-up on AML is not unlike its ramp up for other disruptive economic laws, such as the bankruptcy law. Frequently these laws are enacted for “trial implementation” or alternatively they are not actively enforced until after regulators and the public have had time to become familiar with the laws and their implications and/or the political timing is “ripe.” It will be very interesting to observe future developments.