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 However, the public dockets do not indicate that the cases have been withdrawn.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,何患无罪 – “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.

The 600 Billion Dollar China IP Echo Chamber

“Most people use statistics the way a drunkard uses a lamp post, more for support than illumination.”  Mark Twain

What are the losses due to “IP Theft” from China? On a recent trip to Washington, DC, I heard the range of $300 billion to $600 billion repeated from various sources without any critical gloss. These numbers have taken on a greater legitimacy than they likely deserve, in terms of capturing the scope of US concerns, the magnitude of the loss and shaping the Trump administration’s unilateral retaliation.

The 2017 and 2013 reports from the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property (the “Commission”) appear to be the origin of much of this data.  The data was also referred to in the Section 301 Report (p. 8) and in a subsequent White House report “How China’s Economic Aggression Threatens the Technologies and Intellectual Property of the United States and the World” (June 2018).

In 2017, the Commission found that “Chinese theft of American IP currently costs between $225 billion and $600 billion annually.” The Commission pulled together different sources of data, including sales of counterfeit and pirated goods ($29 billion), and that “the value of software pirated in 2015 alone exceeded $52 billion worldwide.” The Commission further noted that there was “a paucity of reliable data on the economic costs of patent infringement” and that American companies were most likely the leading victims of this “IP Theft.”  It estimated losses of at least 0.1% of the $18 trillion U.S. GDP.

The largest single loss contributor to the Commission’s estimate was based on data provided by create.org and later repeated by the White House, that trade secret theft cost between 1% and 3% of US GDP, and totaled between $180 billion and $540 billion.  One critic (Stephen S. Roach) of these loss figures recently noted that “the figures rest on flimsy evidence derived from dubious ‘proxy modeling’ that attempts to value stolen trade secrets via nefarious activities such as narcotics trafficking, corruption, occupational fraud, and illicit financial flows. The Chinese piece of this alleged theft comes from US Customs and Border Patrol data, which reported $1.35 billion in seizures of total counterfeit and pirated goods back in 2015.”  One area of overlapping concern I have with Mr. Roach is the use of Customs seizure data to justify allocating as much of 87% of global “IP Theft” to China. Seizures by US Customs of Chinese originating counterfeit and pirated goods are as high as 87% of global totals. However, this does not mean that China is the source of 87% of the world’s production of these goods, nor does it address trade secret infringement or patent infringement origination. See The 2017 Commission Report at p. 3.  Misunderstanding about the utility of Customs data contributes greatly to the weaknesses of many IP infringement loss estimates.

The 2013 Commission Report noted that “it is safe to say that dollar losses from IP theft are hundreds of billions per year, which is at least in the range of total exports to Asia in 2012 (valued at $320 billion).” This report pulled together several sources, including OECD data that estimated global trade in counterfeit and pirated goods as $200 billion in 2005 (p. 25).  All the studies to date, including this 2013 Report, have recognized the difficulties inherent in doing accurate loss estimations, although many have also not distanced themselves from sources, such as the OECD 2005 data which had not stood the test of time.

Remarkably, the loss data itself has been relatively consistent over approximately two decades despite different methodologies and varying definitions of what constitutes “IP Theft”. During my tenure at the US Embassy (2004-2008), the typical guestimate was $200 billion to $250 billion per year.  These guestimates enjoyed wide currency in Washington.  For example, Congressional Reports, such as H.R. 110-617 “Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008” stated: “[I]ncreasing intellectual property theft in the United States and globally threatens the future economic prosperity of our nation. Conservative estimates indicate that the United States economy loses between $200 and $250 billion per year, and has lost 750,000 jobs, due to intellectual property theft.”  This data was typically based on counterfeit and pirated goods “compris[ing] six to nine percent of all world trade, the bulk of which violates the intellectual property rights of United States businesses and entrepreneurs.”  (Id.). Six to nine percent, however, easily gets rounded up to 10 percent, as Congressman Donnelly from Indiana noted at about the same time:

“It is estimated that these [counterfeit] products comprise almost 10 percent of world trade, that they are costing American companies nearly $250 billion in revenue and an estimated 750,000 jobs.”

The number was also widely adopted by IP advocates. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in its report What Are Counterfeiting and Piracy Costing the U.S. Economy, (2004) circulated the 200- 250 billion dollar number, as did a National Geographic film. In fact, I used the $250 billion dollar figure when I was IP Attache in Beijing (2004-2008) to urge additional support for my elevation in diplomatic rank, as it seemed rather odd that I had been tasked with a problem costing nearly 750,000 jobs and I had no staff of my own. An article in Ars Technica (2008) noted that this earlier $250 billion/750,000 job number may have its origins in a Forbes magazine article from 1993. There are also references to loss calculations of 200 billion dollars per year appear from as early as 2002 in Congressional reports.   To the extent that these calculations rely upon a base estimate of “approximately” 10 percentage points of world trade being in counterfeit or pirated goods, this data point harkens back to an OECD estimate of world trade in counterfeit goods at 5% in 1998. That number was however revised downward to 1.95% in 2007, at an estimated value of $250 billion. The OECD data seems to be the origin of the $250 billion IP Theft loss figures current at that time.

Other USG studies have shown a more cautious approach. A 2010 Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) study analyzed the economic effects of counterfeit and pirated goods and found that “it was not feasible to develop our own estimates [of the total value of counterfeit or pirated goods] or attempt to quantify the economic impact of counterfeiting and piracy on the U.S. economy.” Noting the lack of data as a primary challenge to quantifying the economic impacts of counterfeiting intellectual property and goods, the GAO concluded that “neither governments nor industry were able to provide solid assessments of their respective situations.”

The U.S. International Trade Commission in a well-researched report,  China: Effects of Intellectual Property Infringement and Indigenous Innovation Policies on the U.S. Economy, (2010) calculated that the theft of U.S. IP from China alone was equivalent in value to $48.2 billion in lost sales, royalties, and license fees. This estimate falls within a broad $14.2-billion to $90.5 billion range.  The breadth of this range is explained by the fact that many firms were unable to calculate their losses. Of the $48.2 billion in total reported losses, approximately $36.6 billion (75.9%) was attributable to lost sales, while the remaining $11.6 billion was attributable to a combination of lost royalty and license payments as well as other unspecified loss.

The current concerns around “IP Theft” as identified in the Section 301 Report include licensing of technology, an issue that is not covered by US Customs seizure data. Any calculation of losses due to IP Theft from non-payment of royalties should include estimates of lost royalties or license fees. Most of the current calculations do not include such data. Nonetheless, as I have noted elsewhere, accurately calculating lost royalties can be especially difficult as many licensors use tax haven jurisdictions to manage patent portfolios. There may be implied licenses in product purchases form OEM suppliers, and there can be valuation challenges. However, China’s relatively small role as a purchaser of US technology and its dominant role as an exporter of high tech or information technology products does suggest that it is a significantly under-licensed (infringing) economy. For example, China has leaped from exporting only 2% of the world’s information technology products in 1996, to 33% in 2015. Yet China has purchased very little technology directly from the US over the years, and its technology payments are a very small share of total trade. There is likely a huge shortfall in unpaid royalties from Chinese manufacturers.

Many discussions around IP theft have also declined to take into account cybercrime and other security threats. According to an often cited 2013 report by the International Data Corporation (IDC), direct costs to enterprises from dealing with malware from counterfeit software were estimated to hit $114 billion in 2013 and “potential losses from data breaches” might have reached nearly $350 billion.” However, data breaches are not necessarily a form of IP infringement, as they can be undertaken for other purposes, including simply injuring the computer system of a competitor through a denial of service attack.

Apart from differences in methodology, there are different definitions of “IP Theft” that should be affecting total loss calculations. The FBI currently  defines “Intellectual property theft” as “robbing people or companies of their ideas, inventions, and creative expressions—known as ‘intellectual property’—which can include everything from trade secrets and proprietary products and parts to movies, music, and software.” This definition notably would exclude any non-willful infringement, i.e., where there is no “robbing” as well as trademarks – which are not specifically enumerated.

In its 2013 Report, the Commission offered some examples of “IP Theft”, which also excluded trademark protection, and failed to discuss patent protection: “IP theft varies widely in both type and method. It ranges from more commonly known forms, such as software and music piracy, to more elaborate types, such as the use of economic espionage tactics to steal complex industrial trade secrets. Each type of IPR violation harms an economy in unique ways and brings with it a discrete set of challenges that make both deterrence and enforcement difficult.”

These approaches to “IP Theft” are different from the meanings advanced for the same term in the last decade. Victoria Espinel, who has had a long and distinguished career in IP and international IP issues, testified in Congress in 2005 when she was with USTR and spoke of “IP Theft”  in terms of the fight against ‘fakes’, declining to mention patents for inventions or trade secrets.   This was consistent with the focus at that time on criminal copyright and trademark focus of US government advocacy in China, including the bringing of a WTO case (DS362):

“Our companies report billions of dollars in lost revenue, irreparable harm to their brands and future sales, all of which ultimately affects U.S. workers who design and produce legitimate products forced to compete against Chinese fakes. We want and look forward to working closely with you and your staff in combating the theft of American IP in China.”

“IP Theft” of the prior decade certainly appears under-inclusive in not focusing on patent or trade secret infringement.  It also fails to reflect that most IP infringement is addressed by civil remedies, where questions of willfulness are secondary to the harm being caused. Criminal remedies, while important, are relatively rare in most legal systems. This approach is consistent with the TRIPS obligation to treat IP as a “private right.” Moreover, the TRIPS Agreement itself does not require member states to criminalize patent infringement or trade secret infringement.  Finally, there may be grey areas including market access barriers, investment restrictions, government procurement restrictions, informal government supported forced technology transfer, or aggressive use of antitrust laws that many would argue need to be included in the definition of “IP Theft”.  Many of these would also be very difficult to quantify.

“IP Theft” is also slightly over-inclusive, as there are also certain forms of bad-faith behavior that may be sanctioned by the state and permissible under international IP rules. For example, rights holders in China face a significant burden of bad faith patent and trademark applications that entail costs of challenging and invalidating these rights, while US-based rights holders often complain about non-practicing entities and patent trolls.

Individuals who might suspect an exaggerated “IP Theft” loss estimate might be surprised to know that there are data points that have typically been omitted from these calculations. For example, US Customs data typically does not include the value of goods excluded from the US market under Section 337 exclusion orders. I am unaware of any methodology that attempted to extrapolate from US damage awards in US courts against Chinese infringers. USTR in its 301 report, was also unable to calculate the value of “forced technology transfers” in joint ventures or technology transfers. Certain rights, such as plant varieties and plant patents are typically not included in loss figures, nor are losses due to design infringements. Consequential damages (attorneys fees/court costs/losses to brand value/harm to public health or safety) are also often not included in the above calculations.

There are also factors that could reduce the loss figures that have often not been used.  Assumptions about the US being the overwhelming victim of “IP Theft” are hard to substantiate. I suspect that different countries and industries bear different costs in different markets. European companies, for example, likely suffer most from trademark and design infringements of luxury goods.  In the United States, over 50% of US patent applications originate with foreigners; logically this may mean that a substantial portion of the injury suffered by US companies overseas due to patent infringement may be attributable to innovations that occurred outside of the United States.

Calculating how much “IP Theft” originates from China also ignores whatever the “baseline” is for infringement in the US.  Historically, for example, the greatest value of software piracy losses were in the United States, According to BSA data for 2017, China’s piracy losses were 6.8 billion, while the US was 8.6 billion. In addition to other deficiencies, US Customs data is based largely on the pro-active behavior of US rightsholders and thereby considerable selection bias. As one example, if “IP Theft” priorities were based on Custom data, apparel, watches and footwear would be the major area of US trade concern with China, as there were the three categories of goods most seized by US Customs in 2017.

“IP Theft” losses also do not necessarily reflect losses due to unredeemed WTO commitments, nor are they based solely on violation of WTO disciplines.  The TRIPS Agreement, for example, does not require members to criminalize willful trade secret theft – which is likely a major contributor to the current calculations. Moreover, if the calculations were one that adhered to WTO procedures, then the various methodologies would also need to look to WTO jurisprudence in terms of calculating damages when a WTO member fails to implement a WTO decision involving IP. A good reference point might be the “Irish Music” (DS160), which the US lost, and where the US was required to pay 1.2 million euros per year as an arbitral award in the early 2000’s. Another reference is the Antigua/gambling dispute, where the island of Antigua was permitted to retaliate against US IP interests in the value of 21 million dollars per year, considerably less than a claim by Antigua of 3.44 billion dollars.

Tying tariffs to losses due to IP theft has other challenges.   While it may help address a sense of national outrage, the unilateral imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports is unlikely to benefit any US victim of IP theft, nor do the tariffs themselves appear to be geared to a particular loss threshold. Instead, the tariffs are loosely based on loss estimates but appear primarily oriented to forcing China to change its behaviors.

A cynical reader looking at the data might conclude that large loss numbers are self-serving and make compelling rhetoric in the echo chamber of Washington, DC. Someone looking over the history of the data might, however, view their weaknesses as due to such factors as difficulties in collecting data, the growth of the Chinese economy and changes in infringement practices, and changing technologies including the growth of the Internet as a vehicle for content and goods delivery. The current focus on “technology” in the scope of IP Theft might be viewed as a belated recognition of how the Chinese economy has become more technology-oriented in the past decade.

In my view the statistics do serve as more than a “support” of the type referred to by Mark Twain, above. They also help to “illuminate” a deeply felt and sustained injury that is otherwise hard to calculate.

Note: The author (Mark Cohen) has contributed to many of the reports noted above, typically in a private capacity.

Corrections to the above are welcomed.

Further Trade-Responsive IP Legislative Developments May Be In the Works…

“When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The stranger living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt.” (Leviticus, Vayikra וַיִּקְרָא) .

He Jing of the Anjie law firm brought to my attention today an article in the April 21 Legal Daily which identifies proposed amendments to the Trademark Law, Anti-Unfair Competition Law and Administrative Licensing law that appear to be responsive to United States concerns over unfair treatment of Americans, “forced technology transfer” and IP protection in the current trade war.   Here is a copy of the Legal Daily article.

While we wait for the actual draft, I will place these proposed changes in context.

In my posting on good faith in IP-related trade issues,  I identified several issues which this legislation attempts to address, including warehousing of bad faith trademark registrations without intent to use; and  the removal of “employee” as a covered party (经营者) in China’s revised trade secret law (Anti Unfair Competition Law) which facilitates bad-faith employee behavior.   Actually, I am relieved that China may now be understanding how tolerance of bad faith behavior has had a wide spread impact on foreign perceptions of China’s willingness to protect IP.  These are important new steps.

Other provisions this legislation attempts to address also appear to address long-standing US concerns, such as requiring the destruction of counterfeit goods or materials and tools used for their manufacture.  The destruction of semi-finished counterfeit goods and materials and tools was a subject of DS-362, the China IP enforcement case, particularly regarding Customs’ disposal of goods outside the channels of commerce and the role of semi-finished goods in calculating criminal thresholds.

Other concerns raised in the legislation have been raised bilaterally.  Bad faith trademark registrations had long been discussed bilaterallyProtecting confidential information submitted by foreigners in administrative licensing has also been a long-standing concern of the United States and has been the subject of several JCCT discussions.

Although these changes are positive, I am reluctant to enthusiastically endorse them in the absence of corresponding measures ensuring their implementation.  As previously noted, newly amended provisions in the new Foreign Investment Law prohibiting forced technology transfer are likely to have little impact absent effective complaint and legal challenge procedures, such as the creation of a foreign investment ombudsman and/or appeals to the newly established IP court.  The inclusion of a non-discrimination position in administrative licensing procedures is also welcome news, although it may be similarly difficult to monitor and enforce.

China’s existing trademark law shows the limitations of forcing changes in behavior through legislation.  The trademark law and civil law have had provisions requiring “good faith” behavior, yet there has been little demonstrable impact on the flood of bad faith applications, which had increased to 7.3 million applications in 2018.  Chinese-origin bad faith and fraudulent applications are also causing USPTO to revise its own rules regarding pro se trademark applications from overseas.

As other examples, providing for treble or quintuple damages in patent or trademark proceedings is only useful in those still rare proceedings where statutory damages are not being used to calculate damages.  Similarly, the burden of proof reversals in IP cases, such as trade secrets can be useful but only if they are appropriately and effectively utilized and if motion practice in the courts is observable through online publication. Increasing penalties in administrative trade secret cases sound good on paper, but foreigners little use administrative trade secret enforcement proceedings.  Such proceedings have traditionally been an IP enforcement backwater.  According to the 2011 SAIC Yearbook (p. 855), there were only 57 reported administrative trade secret cases in that year, with an average 77,543 RMB average value and only 1,430,000 RMB (less than five thousand dollars) in fines.  The greatest focus of these cases were individuals, as 26 cases involved natural persons.  The data suggests to me that these cases largely involve employer/employee disputes over trade secret misappropriation, which should be resolvable in the courts.  Perhaps even more striking was the 35% decline in criminal trade secret prosecutions in 2017 to only 26 cases, which was also accompanied by a significant decline in criminal IP cases generally since 2012.   To address tolerance of trade secret theft (and IP infringement) by Chinese society, the most effective approach will be a commitment to criminal trade secret enforcement and an even greater commitment to civil remedies.  The proposed legislation only addresses part of this need.

Substantive changes can only be as effective as they can be monitored.  With respect to changes in substantive trademark and trade secret law, it would be especially useful if the full court dockets and more final cases were published.  If the data cannot be observed, it cannot be monitored for compliance.

While these legislative developments are underway, there is also word that the State Council continues to solicit opinions from the foreign business community on how IP issues are handled on their behalf.  This may also lead to welcome news.

There have also been two separate, non-IPR developments, which may have some bearing on the negotiations over the resolution of the trade war.  According to Bloomberg, the European Union is said to have won a dispute brought by China at the WTO seeking recognition of China’s market economy status (“MES”).    A similar case is pending involving the United States.  The lessons from these cases for IP should be that both the US and the EU should encourage more comprehensive and systemic treatment by China of IP as a private right if China is ever to achieve full MES.

In another development, a WTO panel ruled in favor of Russia in a dispute brought by Ukraine that the “national security” exception afforded by the WTO was not completely self-judging. The case could be read as a warning that the United States does not have unbridled discretion in deciding what constitutes a threat to its national security.  Taken together both cases affirm the WTO’s desire to remain relevant to changing circumstances in China and a changed perspective on international trade of the United States.

I wish everyone a happy Passover, Easter or spring holiday.

Buddha

 

RIP VAN WINKLE RETURNS FOR THE TRADE WAR

A Modern Illustrated Political Fable By an Anonymous Folklorist

ripvanwinkle

Rip Van Winkle VIII, Esq, the great US government intellectual property and trade lawyer and descendant of the Hudson Valley Van Winkles,  fell asleep on December 12, 2001, the day after China joined the WTO.  He woke up earlier this year to find a changed country, engaged in a trade war that undercut all his prior hard work.   He was disappointed at how the US had handled the legacy of China engagement that marked the period before WTO accession.  He had a Yogi Berra-like moment of “Deja-vu all over again “, and felt he had to reach out to the American people to tell his story.  These are my interviews with him.

I asked Rip about the 301 report on Chinese forced technology transfer. “You mean, the report that launched the trade war”, he remarked with a wry smile.  He said that he was surprised by the tactics that the President pursued.   The US “pressured China without imposing tariff sanctions in the 1990s and with considerable success.  For example, China agreed to have a trade secret law back in 1995 or so.  No administration in the 1990s had to pull the tariff trigger on China, although we had a clearer legal basis in international law to do so since China was not yet a WTO member.  We also had the statutory authority to revoke MFN on human rights issues but didn’t do that either.  Now our imposing these sanctions risk dismantling the global trading system.  I understand the frustration about China’s WTO compliance, but I don’t understand why we haven’t more aggressively pursued WTO remedies.”

wto

I asked Rip, “Was it because the issue back in your day was one of China’s compliance with the laws, rather than enforcing than the laws as written? After all, it is hard to bring a case on how adequately a country is enforcing its laws.  There are lots of flexibilities built into the TRIPS Agreement.”

Rip pensively pulled on his long Van Winkle beard and noted ”Back then the efforts were not simply legislative.  China’s enforcement of IP was weak too, and some progress was made: for example, there was a special Customs regime on exports, which is TRIPS+, which survives to this day.  Specialized IP tribunals were also something that he had worked on ‘back in the day.’  There were also a number of special campaigns, task forces, and other efforts.   In fact, people had even been complaining that some of the enforcement had gotten too tough when China launched a ‘strike-hard’ campaign against some of this activity.”

“But, “ I added “today we have high tech issues in addition to counterfeiting and piracy issues.  We have AI, and IOT, and 5G, and genetic engineering, online businesses, plus all the counterfeiting and fake goods.  These are new issues!”

“All true,” said Rip, “and you have other new things that are also fake,” Rip smiled, “fake news and–,” he added sarcastically, “this President.”  Rip appeared puzzled that a reality TV show actor could also become President.

“But I am not surprised by all the fake goods originating from China that are sold throughout the world,”  he continued.  “After all, that was the problem with regional trade in the 1990s.  It was to be anticipated – that was the reason we asked China to control infringing exports in the ’90s. “

“As for technology, we had those challenges as well.  There was the ‘great subsidy’ compilation CD exported from China that infringed on multiple business software copyright owners,”  Rip mused. “That was a high-tech problem.  We found solutions working in Taiwan and China.  And what about the submarine they discovered in Hong Kong to haul counterfeit DVD’s? That was also a high-tech problem.”

Rip pulled out a beaten photo of a diagram of the submarine that was captured by Customs authorities in Macau:

macaucustoms

Photo by Mark Cohen from an original diagram at Macau Customs.

“I don’t get it though” Rip snorted. “Why did the US file a WTO case in 2007 against China’s export of counterfeit goods, DS362?  We all knew that this was not a WTO issue, but one that depended on external pressure on China.  China was only obligated to have Customs remedies on imports. Yet we haven’t yet filed a case against how ineffective China’s IP remedies are, which is a specific WTO requirement?  I expected more, from China’s carefully crafted WTO accession package and from the US and the WTO itself.  We worked so hard on that package.”

“As best we could, we foresaw many of these problems in the 1990s and created the roadmap for legal strategies.  Sure, it wasn’t perfect.  It was a crystal ball exercise.  But look at China’s WTO commitments.  China’s obligations had no grace period.  There was a special safeguard measure.  China was subject to a range of extra commitments as a non-market economy under our dumping law.  China was also subject to extensive new transparency obligations.  Moreover, China’s trade regime was subject to a 15-year annual review.  Its IP regime should now be the subject of WTO cases.”

Rip shook his head: “Only a few weeks after WTO accession in 2001, China implemented a discriminatory technology licensing regime called the Technology Import/Export Regulations, which discriminated against foreigners.   Why did we wait until March 23, 2018 for the US to file a  case against this regulation?  Who else was asleep when I went to sleep? Did someone put sleeping pills in the water?”

It is true, as the press reported, that when Donald Trump met Rip Van Winkle, they both agreed that nothing had changed on China IP.  However, the media once again generated some fake news around that meeting.   Rip disagreed that Trump’s strategy made sense, or that the US should indeed feel like it had exhausted its patience.  After the meeting, Trump tweeted that “Rip Van Winkle is a BAD man”.

djt

That was indeed their only meeting.  Trump referred Rip’s personnel dossier to OPM for further investigation to see if he had been collecting salary during the past 18 years when he should have been on leave without pay or whether he was simply AWOL.

After the incident with Trump, Rip went to Beijing.  He noticed that things had changed.  The street vendors of DVD’s, counterfeit Beanie Babies, and all another manner of fake goods were largely gone.  When he talked to average Beijingers, they seemed to know a great deal about patents, trademarks, and copyrights – perhaps more than the average American.  He was shocked to see that the patent and trademark offices had grown to the largest in the world.  He was pleased to see that China had a system of multiple intellectual property courts, with specialized judges.  He met many American-trained lawyers working in Chinese law firms, in companies, and in government.  This looked very much like the kind of system that the US might have imagined for China back when he was negotiating.

However, there were other ominous changes for the US.  The Chinese patent office was now several times the size of the US patent office, as was the Chinese trademark office.  Moreover, domestic filers dominated in both those offices, as they did in bringing suits to the courts.  In areas such as information technologies, where the US was once the dominant manufacturer and developer, the leading role had been ceded to China.  China now produced 25 to 30% of the world high tech products, supplanting both the US and the EU.   During a southern excursion on this trip, he saw that Shenzhen had grown to a high-tech mecca, well beyond even his dreams.

shenzhen

Rip was amazed to see that the Chinese IP system by some measures at out-paced the US.  The Chinese courts now handled about 280,000 IP cases in 2018, up 40% from 2017, while US domestic patent cases were declining.  Chinese courts handled over 100 times more copyright cases than US courts.  It was also an IP system that didn’t merely serve big state-owned companies.  The percentage of individual filers of patents as well as patent litigants in the Chinese courts were higher than in the US.  Moreover, in areas like software, business method patents and genetic patents, where the US had a lead “back in the day,” the Supreme Court of the US had made it harder to obtain patent rights.  China, however, was making it easier.  And this eBay case decided by the US Supreme Court in 2006 – why did the US decide to make it harder to get an injunction for an IP dispute, thereby weakening the system even further?”

Rip wondered, was there some kind of reverse alchemy at work – were we turning our IP system of “gold” into one of “lead”, and China was now getting the magic touch?alchemy

“It isn’t quite that simple” tweeted Mr. Trump when he heard of Rip’s reporting on the matter.  “We are pursuing structural barriers!!!”

“Well, we had the Structural Impediments Initiative with Japan back when I was in the government– sounds pretty similar to me.” Rip reported, closing an op-ed he wrote by asking the President: “Have you been asleep too?”

Rip thought that it was not surprising that China would benefit from being a low-cost manufacturer and joining the WTO.  The expectation was that China would also continue to make necessary economic reforms, and the US would monitor these reforms.  After the Tiananmen incident, the Western world was also greatly concerned about China’s commitment to liberal political and economic values.  The current regime in China may be pushing back on the legacy of Deng Xiaoping, but that should have made a WTO case that much easier today, by showing that China had reneged on some of its fundamental WTO commitments to bring about economic reform and institute certain minimum rule of law and transparency obligations.  These kinds of cases would also elicit support from many in China and from our trading partners.”

“Why didn’t you learn your lessons?  Is that the reason you brought back Lighthizer to USTR?  I hadn’t seen Bob for decades.  Did he fall asleep for even longer than me, maybe thirty years?” Rip joked, half-heartedly.

”The Japanese tried to persuade us that the reason there was a trade deficit with Japan was because of our lack of knowledge of their system.  Japanese snow, they said, was different from US snow so we couldn’t sell our skis there.  We all know however that this was a sorry excuse for market barriers set up to protect their industries.“

Mtfuji

Japanese snow by Mount Fuji.  Does it look different?

“With China, we knew there were a host of other, more problematic non-market barriers including possible security issues with Taiwan.   When we worked on the TRIPS Agreement,” Rip recalled, “we made it pretty clear that this was an agreement for market economies.  There was a transition period in the TRIPS Agreement for-state controlled economies, and we had extensive provisions around civil remedies, which reflects the private law orientation of TRIPS.  When we went ahead in our own domestic laws to define what constitutes a non-market economy we didn’t even tackle the role of intellectual property, perhaps because we hadn’t thought through the problem of how a non-market economy could exploit IP in its own interests.  The problem we face today is due to an unanticipated turn by China, that it would ease up on economic reforms and not reject IP but instead incorporate IP its state planning mechanisms.”

“Look at the preamble to the TRIPS Agreement,” Rip fumed. “It says intellectual property is a ‘private right.’ As I recall, the Hong Kong delegation put that into the TRIPS Agreement – they anticipated what was going to happen just a few years later in the 90s when they would be reunited with the mainland.”

“We know that IP is a private right and we knew that Chinese state is interfering in markets. We knew China had technology goals, and that the state was not letting individuals maximize their interests in private property rights.  We knew that addressing these issues was core to the success of China’s WTO accession.  We put in a host of other provisions in the TRIPS Agreement – national treatment, most favored nation treatment, due process in IP cases and IP antitrust cases, right to an independent counsel and an independent lawyer, injunctions and preliminary injunctions, the right to a decision based on evidence  — yet, the only WTO case the United States brought against China on IP until 2018 occurred back in 2007 and it involved asking for greater control by China of those markets – for improvements in China’s criminal and Customs IP remedies, as well as its censorship regime.”

“It doesn’t stop there either.  Our antitrust authorities entered into training and other programs that have further enhanced the role of the state by working with China’s former State Planning Commission and others, so that they can further diminish the value of these rights – rights that our companies have a hard time trying to enforce – and that further strengthen the role of the state.  You can’t have IP abuse unless you have IP use….”

“So having lost this 2007 case,” Rip asked “the US government decided it wasn’t worth filing another WTO case for 10 years or so?  What were we asking for – the Chinese government to step in and do more to control property rights?” Rip snorted.   “I don’t like Mr. Trump, but then again I can’t blame him for lousy strategies of 10 years ago.”

“Maybe the US went astray because you bought into the rhetoric of the 1990s which saw intellectual property as a foreign concept to China, one that was inconsistent with Chinese Confucian culture and that was not susceptible to change due to US pressure alone.  These misunderstandings were promoted by academics and Chinese officials, often over the objections of Chinese scholars.  By almost any measure, their assumptions were flawed, and they could not have predicted China’s wholesale and disruptive embrace of intellectual property into its innovation ecosystem. “

“Of all those assumptions, the one that China would not protect IP until it has IP of its own to protect, is the ‘old wives tale’ that…”

I corrected him: “’Old spouse’s tale’–we don’t use this sexist terminology now, and even that is ageist.”

“This old assumption” Rip said looking hopelessly at the sky, “that China needs more IP of its own in order to protect US IP should have been discredited only a few years after I went to sleep – because it was around 2005 that the Chinese trademark office grew to be larger than the US trademark office, and that Chinese TM owners were the dominant applicants.  And that trend has spread to nearly every other sector or indicator – patents, plant varieties, copyright registrations, litigation…. “

“As for this indigenous innovation problem, or Made in China 2025, or Strategic and Emerging Industries, or Medium and Long Range Scientific Plan, or 1000 Talent Program, or High and New Technology Industries, or indigenous innovation, or techno-nationalism, or self-strengthening, or China ‘breaking the IP paradigm’,   or China’s Galapagos-style  for local technical standards – whatever you want to call it  — it is also shocking that you didn’t read the signals from the 1970s and 1980s. “

“It was the science and technology people that were negotiating IP issues with us back then – even through the 90’s – including most notably Vice Premier Wu Yi, a petroleum engineer.  Ma Xiuhong, who I understand later became Vice Minister, was an engineer with the People’s Liberation Army.  My IP negotiating counterpart was Duan Ruichun, from the State Science and Technology Commission.  We sent our lawyers, and they sent their engineers and Ph.D.’s!  Did any of you fellows every study Chinese history and look at how China safeguarded its own technology, like sericulture, from the Romans? Have you read Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China….They knew early on the value of technology!”

“Forced Technology Transfer?!”, Rip added, “How about this language from the Office of Technology Assessment Report (OTA) report on Technology Transfer to China in 1988 that I worked on: ‘Although most U.S. firms approach the China market with the intent to sell products, many find they must include technology transfer if they wish to gain access to the China market.’”

“We were also aware when we wrote that report that China was modernizing with military goals in mind,” Rip noted: “‘Our report went on: ‘If China is to become a major power, it will be through developing its own capabilities throughout the economy. Thus, in the long term, technology transfer will have a great military effect if it spurs innovation, modernized thinking, research and development, and economic growth generally.’”

“This isn’t a state secret!” Rip showed me a picture he was given from the Ministry of Science and Technology website that says “indigenous innovation” next to a Chinese missile.

zizhuchuangxin

“To save the situation of the United States, you might want to look at ourselves.  OTA was closed after that report, as was the Technology Administration of Commerce, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House was also defunded from engaging in China.”

Rip pulled out his perfectly preserved copy of the OTA report from 1988:

ota

“By the way,” Rip asked “Are there any foreign commercial service officers posted overseas that have technology promotion as an export goal? Has the US census changed its antiquated reporting system where it reports technology transfer as exports of ‘industrial processes’– whatever that means…”   Rip was getting agitated. “I would have thought that the US would at least take steps inside our own government to improve  our knowledge and engagement on these issues.”

Rip scratched his beard, told me that he felt like Diogenes looking for a good man by the light of his lantern in ancient Greece.  Rather than looking for an honest man,  he had no idea where to find anybody who understood technology trade in a US government agency in DC.

diogenes.jpgPainting of Diogenes looking for an honest man

“There are WTO cases that could have been filed.  In addition to investigating whether China has an ‘adequate or effective’ IP regime under the TRIPS Agreement, and all the other general requirements of the TRIPS Agreement I talked about,  there might also be cases about the role of the state as infringer and misappropriator of trade secrets and the state’s role as a cyber-spy,  China’s watering down of IP rights through antitrust and denying due process to US lawyers, and there’s always the possibility of a ‘non-violation’ or ‘situation’ complaint.  I understand there is a moratorium in the TRIPS Council on these generalized ‘non-violation’ complaints, but it still might be worth pursuing them.  We could also look at other remedies, such as using the countervailing duty law that China is using subsidies to undercut what we reasonably expected by China’s accession to the Information Technology Agreement.  Hell, he said, “even our lawyers can’t function well in China because the market is so restricted and they are paying higher taxes on their China revenue than Chinese lawyers, even though they are often providing the same kind of advice on Chinese law or foreign law.  That seems to be a national treatment violation of the GATS to me….”

“Many of these cases would be fact-intensive and difficult,” I said.  “They might also invite retaliation…”

“Difficult? You think you have it bad?” Rip asked indignantly. “China has finally gotten around to publishing its cases, and its patent and trademark databases are pretty transparent.  Back in the day, you had to hire a Chinese lawyer to look at the few databases or books that were only available to them.  The trademark classification system was a secret.  Moreover, most judges didn’t have legal training so judgments might not be well-worded.   In fact, back then lawyers would sit around a table exchanging information about the little pieces of information they had about the “nei-bu” (internal)  laws that were governing their clients’ investments.  We had to bring a 301 case just to get China to publish its laws and regulations.  Now you not only have more information, but you also have Chinese lawyers trained in the US system and US lawyers that have graduated from Chinese law schools.  This is a lot better than the random shots we were taking without much information to improve China’s legal environment.”

“Moreover, now the government actually publishes draft laws and regulations for comment, as well as the laws and lots of the enforcement data.  In fact, the Chinese government has been promoting open government platforms, including publishing of cases.  Today you have more data and much more transparency.  Has anybody looked at the licensing data?  Has anybody looked at how the patent office and courts treat foreigners and whether full national treatment is available?  If you want to avoid retaliation against companies, just use the data….” Rip fumed, “we would have died for this kind of information back in the 1990s.  Youse guys don’t know from difficult. ”  Rip’s New York accent was manifesting itself.

“I also don’t understand why US companies don’t bring many cases to the Chinese courts! I understand about 1% of the IP litigation in China today involves foreigners. That is really pathetic. Companies have kept on running to the US government on the same issues but often didn’t pursue the legal remedies that we negotiated.  Not only do Chinese companies file far more cases, but they also bring cases against their own government if the facts support it.  One group of Chinese citizens actually sued the Supreme People’s Court on a land use matter some years ago.  I think those people had more to fear from retaliation than some American companies.    Some of us seem to be scared of our own shadow.”

“We have to acknowledge some of the recent positive changes too.   I like it that China has a new foreign investment law that says the government can’t compel tech transfer as a condition of investment approval, and they finally discarded their tech transfer regime.  I wish you good luck on supervising those, however, particularly if you don’t do the data-driven analytics.  I also like the new appellate IP court.  It is like our own CAFC, and they are increasing damages in the courts, and have increased transparency and are experimenting with case law. I don’t think the US should be pursuing punitive damages in China however, as much as compensatory actual damages.  We have to let the civil system fulfill its role as the primary arbiter of disputes around private property rights.  You guys in the government should be all over this.  In fact, you should be sharing your views with industry, including your comments on draft laws,  rather than treating your comments and engagements as some kind of secret negotiations.  These are important reforms that could have wider consequences.  And you don’t have to be in a trade war to talk about them with China or with our own industry.”

“But there have also been negative developments, and it seems like you have been ignoring both the good and the bad. Today, it is harder to get a pharmaceutical patent in China than back in 1995, when we finally got China to grant patents for new pharmaceutical compounds.”

“Moreover, back around 20 years ago, I saw that the likelihood that a US company would get a patent granted for a semiconductor patent in some classes was nearly 100%.  By 2014, the grant rate drops dramatically to between forty and sixty percent.” Rip looked around sheepishly on that one: “Are you certain I wasn’t the only one asleep?

“The reasons for these changes are pretty obvious.  China needed foreign investment or international recognition back then.  Motorola’s semiconductor plant was the big foreign investment project in the 1990s when I was getting ready to fall asleep.  We left you with a pretty good, improving track record then on pharma and semiconductor issues.  Now China believes it doesn’t need to offer the same protection.  We wrote the TRIPS agreement to promote private property rights and transparency.  We brought China into the WTO with multiple additional commitments, possibilities for review of China’s IP regime, and to ensure there was no discrimination against industrial sectors in patent grants, litigation, and other areas.  How are those projects going?”

I told Rip that I was unaware of any such projects.

“If you started looking at the data, you might have a different view of what is really going on and how to use the WTO.  For instance, I know many in the US were upset when China didn’t need to change its criminal IP laws in 2007 as a result of a split decision on a WTO case.  But in the next several years the number of criminal IP cases in China went up dramatically.  It seems the US ultimately identified a real problem to China.  You could also say the same thing about US efforts to get China to publish its IP cases in 2007.  Today China has public databases with most cases available online.  You don’t need to win the dispute in a written decision in order to make a difference. ”

”I know the data is incomplete.” He added.  “ I noticed, for example, that not all the cases were being published.  There is lots missing.  But the missing data is also instructive.  Back then, we had real China watchers.”

For a moment, Rip looked like the Wizard from the Wizard of Oz giving a heart to the Tin Man, knowing that he already had one: “These China watchers looked for what was missing in China in the reports, not what China told us about its system.  They learned their lessons from the old Soviet Union, that is, they learned to look at what is missing in a photograph of Red Square or an economic report.”

Tinman

“As for this Confucius Institute problem, I see that the Modern Language Association reports that Chinese language studies are dropping in this country (13% between 2013 and 2016).  Are we supposed to rely on China to teach us about China? I guess that doesn’t matter, since even that pathetic effort is under attack.”

confuciusinstitute

“By the way, I heard that these problems of Chinese misappropriation of US technology might even affect private and public US science and technology collaboration, where China was entitled to own all improvements to technology licensed to China.  I would hope that the US government and industry would share any information that they have on this so that we can learn from it, and we could have a data-driven discussion around it…!”

Rip was feeling exhausted.  “When I first woke up, I thought this had to be a Sputnik moment.  The US would need to get back on its feet, revitalize its competitiveness and invest in science and science diplomacy.  I was wrong.  This is more of a Pogo moment than a Sputnik one.  We are forgetting technology, misunderstanding China, eroding our IP system, and not utilizing the tools we put into place.”

POGO

“You see, the problem isn’t that China has become the new Japan, nor is the problem that China doesn’t protect IP,” Rip concluded. “The problem is that the US forgot the significance of two elements of IP in China: (a) the Chinese economy is state-controlled and includes economic plans involving IP, and  (b) IP is a private right.”

He sighed, “I recognize that there are other trade issues, but having a foreign state adopt socialist-style economic plans on innovation is a recipe for government intervention into the markets to the disadvantage of foreigners, and for frustrated trade negotiations on IP or innovation.  These should have been addressed consistently and head-on.”

As we closed the interview, Rip looked increasingly exhausted.  He took me on a slow stroll past Lafayette Square in Washington, DC and gave me one final suggestion.  “Why don’t you try and bring back some of the old team, like the folks who worked on the OTA project  – some of those folks are still around – gee, even that greenhorn Craig Allen is now the President of the US-China Business Council, isn’t he?  He was just an intern when we worked together at OTA.  My old friends who worked on that OTA report, the China lawyer Stan Lubman and the China innovation expert Pete Suttmeier, are still around.  They didn’t have the benefit of a twenty-year beauty nap like me, but then again, I would hope they hadn’t fallen asleep at the wheel like the rest of you.”

And with that, Rip looked wistfully at the White House, thinking of his little family hamlet in the Hudson Valley, and the historic sacrifices of his family for his country since the founding of the Republic.   He tucked himself into some worn bedding and closed his eyes to the traffic and tourists.  If you travel to Washington, DC you may still hear him snoring gently near the White House gates.

Don’t think of him as just another homeless person.  He is really waiting for the right moment for the country to wake up again.

whitehouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TIER IS REVISED…

After nearly twenty years of advocacy, China has finally revoked certain offensive provisions of the Administration of Technology Import/Export Regulations (“TIER”), effective March 18, 2019.   The decision was made by State Council decision no. 709, paragraph 38 of March 2, 2019,  which provides as follows:

三十八、删去《中华人民共和国技术进出口管理条例》第二十四条第三款、第二十七条、第二十九条。

第四十一条改为第三十九条,修改为:国务院外经贸主管部门应当自收到本条例第三十八条规定的文件之日起3个工作日内,对技术出口合同进行登记,颁发技术出口合同登记证。

A rough translation is:

38. Delete Article 24, Section 3, Article 27 and Article 29 of the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on the Administration of Import and Export of Technology.

Article 41 shall be changed to Article 39 and revised as follows: “The competent foreign economic and trade department of the State Council shall, within 3 working days from the date of receipt of the documents stipulated by this Article 38  register a technology export contract and issue a technology export contract registration certificate.

The relevant provisions being modified of the TIER, as translated on the WIPO website, are as follows:

24 (3): Where the receiving party to a technology import contract infringes another person’s lawful rights and interests by using the technology supplied by the supplying party, the supplying party shall bear the liability therefore.

27: Within the term of validity of a contract for technology import, an achievement made in improving the technology concerned belongs to the party making the improvement.

Article 29 A technology import contract shall not contain any of the following restrictive clauses:

(1) requiring the receiving party to accept any additional condition unnecessary for the technology import, including buying any unnecessary technology, raw material, product, equipment or service;

(2) requiring the receiving party to pay exploitation fee for a technology when the term of validity of the patent right in which has expired or the patent right of which has been invalidated, or to undertake other relevant obligations;

(3) restricting the receiving party from improving the technology supplied by the supplying party, or restricting the receiving party from using the improved technology;

(4) restricting the receiving party from obtaining technology similar to that supplied by the supplying party from other sources or from obtaining a competing technology;

(5) unduly restricting the receiving party from purchasing raw material, parts and components, products or equipment from other channels or sources;

(6) unduly restricting the quantity, variety, or sales price of the products the receiving party produces; or

(7) unduly restricting the receiving party from utilizing the channel for exporting products manufactured using the imported technology.

This is one of 49 separate legislative provisions being modified by notice 709 of the State Council.

The TIER was itself part of ongoing WTO disputes (DS542, and DS549).  In addition, it was called out by USTR in its 301 Report on China’s forced technology transfer regime .  A panel had recently been composed in the US case against China (DS542).  The State Council has now addressed the most onerous provisions of the TIER by removing those provisions that had most obviously violated China’s National Treatment obligations under TRIPS Article 3, including footnote 3, which addresses discrimination in “the availability, acquisition, scope, maintenance and enforcement of intellectual property rights as well as those matters affecting the use of intellectual property rights.”

The legislation is immediately effective.  However, it does not address contracts that had previously been negotiated under the prior TIER.  Article 84 of China’s Law on Legislation does provide for the possibility of retroactive effect where the new legislation is made in order to better protect the rights of citizens, legal persons and other organizations, and may apply in this circumstance.  It will be up to the courts and/or the State Council to issue necessary interpretative guidance.

Interestingly, China did not take a “phased” or “limited” approach to revoking these terms, such as providing for limiting the application of mandatory provisions to protect smaller businesses or creating a default provision that could be waived in writing.  The Chinese government, to its credit, thus intended to rely solely upon the market and any other general provisions of the Contract Law.  China also did not seek to clarify the relationship between the TIER and China’s Contract Law or Antimonopoly Law, which had overlapping provisions with the TIER, and which should now apply more clearly and equally to foreign and domestic licensors.  However, the TIER provision regarding non-profit oriented technical cooperation, including government to government science and technology cooperation also continues to be in effect.  Specifically, article 2 of the TIER states that the legislation governs “technical cooperation” including “technical services and transfer of technology by other means.” (Art. 2).

It will be interesting to determine if the changes in the TIER have any impact on the manner in which technology is transferred by foreign companies to China, including use of affiliated/subsidiary companies of foreign companies in China to import foreign technology to avoid application of the TIER to technology imports.  The majority of US licensing transactions to China had been through such intermediated/affiliated entities.  After the affiliated licensee takes over the licensing activity of the licensor, any subsequent sub-license was believed to be governed by China’s Contract Law.

The amendment also comes shortly after China passed a new Foreign Investment Law on March 15, 2019, which also purports to address the forced technology transfer problem identified in the Section 301 report.  These legislative efforts thus appear to be part of a package intended to address US concerns.

Blog post by Mark Cohen.  Thanks to Jill Ge of Clifford Chance, Shanghai for pointing out this legislative development to me.  Thanks as well to the many lawyers, companies, officials, judges, and business people over the years who have advocated for revising the TIER and to the State Council for finally undertaking these revisions.

Catching up With The Literature on Forced Tech Transfer…

FTT
(from the OECD report, discussed below)

While President Trump has extended the truce on the trade war, academic and business debate around the nature of “forced technology transfer” (FTT) practices in China and appropriate business and legal strategies continues.

A  study last year by Dan Prud’homme and his team, discussed earlier in this blog, was one important empirical effort looking at the nature and consequences of FTT.  Their FTT Strategy & Risk Forecasting Matrix was intended to guide foreign firms to anticipate risks associated with FTT policies and serve as a starting point for understanding how to further quantify or mitigate these risks.  In January 2019, the OECD also released a study on International Technology Transfer policies which cites to the Prud’homme study and further describes FTT, as well as the various international agreements and practices that may constrain it.  Consistent with the approaches of the US and EU in the currently pending WTO case, the study highlights the importance of joint ventures for transfer of technology in China (para. 90), pointing to equity restrictions as one reason for such licensing arrangements.   Because of the high volume of multinational and governments in tech transfer, the OECD reports also underscores the importance of transparency in the tech transfer process to “distinguish[] voluntary  technology transfer from its more constraining variants.” [para. 92].  Predictably, the report also cites to the same provisions cited by the United States and Europe in the pending WTO case against China regarding its FTT polices [para 65].

A timely and business-oriented to FTT was presented by the IP consulting firm Rouse in a highly useful webinar of February 27, 2019, available here.  The speakers, Tim Smith and Chris Bailey, noted that due to the current trade dispute with the US, Chinese prospective JV and business partners are currently “falling over themselves” not to require tech transfer as a condition to a deal.   The speakers also noted that there had been a resurgence of joint ventures in tech-driven deals with China.  In addition, smaller companies have found that it has become more expensive to develop market share in China making a JV more attractive.  Even if a JV is not mandatory, the access to local capital and expertise can be a rationale for forming a JV.  The additional capital may also lead to higher valuations if an IPO exit is contemplated for the joint enterprise.

The speakers noted that Chinese companies are also increasingly more concerned about less traditional factors of a tech transfer such as whether they can scale up quickly using the technology, how they will handle IP infringements in China, and whether the technology can offer an immediate competitive advantage.

Amongst the newly emerging business structures, the speakers also noted that there have also been  an increasing number of offshore joint ventures formed outside of China that then reinvest China.  The Chinese party may also try to take a stake in a foreign party, and then license the technology into China. The Chinese party thereby may become a financial or strategic investor in the foreign partner.  Contrary to the common understanding, the Rouse speakers also underscored that state-owned enterprises are not as “untouchable” in IP or licensing disputes with foreign partners as private companies.  In some cases they may be better targets for litigation, as they may be more concerned about reputational risks from IP law suits than privately-owned companies.

The presenters also noted that there are deals where China is licensing out have become more common, particularly in new technologies such as AI, VR/AR, electric vehicles and battery technologies.  Western businesses are increasingly looking to Chinese businesses for these innovations.

As is evident from the above, the presenters’ viewed the current WTO dispute around the TIER and other concerns over FTT to be “yesterday’s issue” for practitioners and business people.  They also point to the data from recent surveys showing that a minority of US and European Companies have been asked to transfer technologies by their business partners, often as a condition of obtaining market access. However, they also note that companies have long utilized work arounds to the TIER, which has been on the books since 2002.

The Rouse webinar is particularly instructive in documenting the sophistication of Chinese licensees and future licensors.  Of course, the subsistence of a discriminatory provision as “yesterday’s issue” is also not justification for its continued existence.  If anything, it underscores how much of an unncessary, if not counterproductive,  impediment China’s Administration of Technology Import/Export Regulations (TIER) has become.  From a WTO perspective, even if the TIER is often irrelevant to current transactions, the key issue  in WTO jurisprudence is likely to be whether “expectations of the competitive relationship” offer less favorable treatment to a foreign licensor than a domestic Chinese licensor.   Further, the presence of “additional regulatory hurdles”, such as the necessity of using a domestic subsidiary or an offshore joint venture to sub-license a technology due to discriminatory provisions that exist for a foreign licensor,  does not afford a useful justification for a discriminatory provision.  Indeed such additional regulatory hurdles may constitute de jure discriminatory treatment, as was documented in the case the United States brought against the EU regarding its regime for Geographical Indications (See Para. 7.314, WTO Panel Report)  Due to the increasingly sophisticated experience of Chinese companies, including their willingness to contribute capital or participate in complex multinational licensing structures, the webinar ultimately proved to me that the TIER itself has also largely outlived its usefulness in protecting “vulnerable” Chinese licensees.

An important legislative development that also deals with FTT is China’s revised Foreign Investment Law.  The European Union Chamber of Commerce has released its comments on the draft law here. The comments were due February 24, 2019.  This draft law addresses some foreign concerns about FTT involving foreign investments in China.  The EU’s comments on the FTT provision are as follows:

“Article 22 explicitly prohibits administrative organs and their staff from using administrative means to force the transfer of technology, which echoes the language used in other high-profile policies that have been released in recent years, most notably State Council Document No. 19 (2018). However, this leaves open the possibility for any non-administrative body to use any other means to compel technology transfers. Instead, the Foreign Investment Law should simply prohibit forced technology transfer by any means.”

I personally believe that the language of the draft law, by itself, is insufficient. Other observers, such as Rouse in its webinar, have noted that other incentives to FTT remain, including restrictions arising from national security, foreign investment restrictions, Made in China 2025 incentives, data localization requirements, etc.  Moreover, the draft law does not present a clear pathway to present legal challenges to local authorities, and to minimize any possible retribution when a foreign company complains about extortionary practice.  Prior history shows that foreigners are also highly reluctant to bring law suits against the same local governments that may be involved in regulating their investments. One partial solution is for China’s new national appellate IP court to consider taking jurisdiction over these FTT disputes. The Chinese government might also consider other measures such as creating an ombudsman for foreign investors, fast track administrative reconsideration of investment reviews, improvements to trade secret protection and employee mobility rules, and other measures that constrain the ability of local governments or individuals to directly or indirectly encourage a foreign investor to relinquish its technology, whether through legal or illegal means.  As another example, if the Chinese government seriously wants to address the problem of FTT, the theft of trade secrets that is undertaken in “support” of national or local government technology policies might be subject to enhanced penalties.  Moreover, such cases should be adjudicated by courts other than ones located in the jurisdiction where the misappropriation occurred.

Update from February 28, 2019: A second draft of the Foreign Investment Law has been released and made available in English by the NPC observer.  It is available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the EU and US WTO IP Disputes Reveal About Trade Diplomacy

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Two contrasting approaches to using the WTO for China-related IP issues involving technology licensing and forced technology transfer are now pending at the WTO.

The United States initiated a WTO dispute on China’s licensing practices by filing a  consultation request on March 23, 2018.  Shortly after the filing of that case, Japan, the European Union, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Chinese Taipei requested to join the consultations.  The European Union additionally filed its own parallel WTO consultation request on June 1, 2018, with a broader scope. It is too soon to tell which countries will join the EU request.

Both countries timed their requests in conjunction with other trade actions. The WTO case was filed by the United States one day after the Section 301 report  was released. The European Union simultaneously filed its case against China with a WTO case against the United States regarding US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

The EU’s approach to this IP case is markedly different from the last time the US filed a WTO dispute involving China’s IP practices (DS/362).   At the time that the US filed a request for IP-related cases from China, the EU declined to make a similar transparency request.  It also did not join the US as a co-complainant in the ensuing WTO case, nor did it file a parallel complaint, but it did participate as a third-party.  By contrast, the EU approach in the current dispute is to both support the US and dig deeper.

The US consultation request was portrayed by USTR as addressing “technology licensing requirements.”  The thrust of the complaint involves China  “denying foreign patent holders, including U.S. companies, basic patent rights to stop a Chinese entity from using the technology after a licensing contract ends.”  The consultation request is therefor somewhat narrow.  The US complaint does not specifically address other technology-oriented rights, such as trade secret protection or undisclosed data, nor does it take on the topics set forth in the Section 301 report involving “IP theft.”   The consultation request is now numbered WT/DS542/1.

The EU complaint (WT/DS549/1), cites several Chinese measures in addition to those identified in the United States’ consultation request, and invokes more expansive WTO principles and procedures. The additionally cited measures include 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.  The Chinese promulgation of these interim Regulations only five days after the US filed its consultation request, looks to some like another act of synchronized trade diplomacy — in this case as a possible retaliatory act for the 301 report and the WTO case.  My guess is that the EU, by referring to these new largely untested regulations is however seeking to address the legality of controls China has additionally imposed on foreigners’ transferring IP out of China.

The EU has also swept in other measures into its complaint, including China’s trade secret law (the Anti-Unfair Competition Law), the Anti-Monopoly Law, the Regulations [sic] of State Administration for Industry and Commerce Administrations on the Prohibition of Abuse of Dominant Market Position, and the Regulation [sic] on the Prohibition of Conduct Eliminating or Restricting Competition by Abusing Intellectual Property Rights.  The nomenclature the EU uses for these various legal documents appears imprecise.  The March 2018 “measures” may properly be classified as “regulations” 法规 issued by the State Council. The SAIC “regulations” should properly be classified as “rules” 部门规章 issued by an administrative agency. This is the nomenclature China set forth in the Report of the Working Party on the Accession of China (WT/ACC/CHN/49), paragraph 66 ( the “Protocols of Accession“).  The Working Party Report nomenclature establishes clear legislative hierarchies pursuant to China’s Law on Legislation.

The EU also argues that China’s appears to directly or indirectly “nullifying or impairing” the benefits accruing to the European Union and its Member States that were expected by China’s WTO accession, thereby opening the door to broader arguments regarding how China may deprive WTO members of the benefits they legitimately expected while at the same time not violating the literal language of any commitment (See, e.g., Art. 64 of the TRIPS Agreement).  These arguments have been subject to a moratorium and have historically been difficult to assert, but in my estimation have some relevance to the current situation in China.  The EU is also seeking to utilize provisions in the WTO that address the “impartial and reasonable application and administration of its laws, regulations and other measures” (Article X.3(a) of the GATT 1994 and Paragraph 2(A)2 of the Protocol on the Accession of the People’s Republic of China to the WTO).  The “impartial administration” requirement, as found in the Protocols of Accession requires China to “apply and administer in a uniform, impartial and reasonable manner all its laws, regulations and other measures … pertaining to or affecting …  trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (“TRIPS”)” (p. 74).

Contrasting the actions of the US and the EU, the EU complaint urges a legalistic and multilateral resolution of trade disputes, using doctrine that has proven difficult to assert.  The approach also appears to reflect a waning confidence by some that China today in fact has an effective and independent legal and political system which “impartially administers its laws”.   My former colleague at Fordham, Prof. Carl Minzner describes some of these political reversals in his recent book  End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining Its Rise (2018).

The US approach, by contrast, uses the 301 report to point to perceived technological threats, manifested through industrial plans, vague laws, industrial espionage and unfairly adjudicated cases, to make the point that the WTO might be inappropriate to resolve its concerns. In a sense, the US assumed in the Section 301 report that in the party- and plan-controlled China of today, with a resurgent state sector, there aren’t many “laws, regulations and other measures” to administer impartially.  The United States therefor pays scant attention in the 301 to the numerous legal reforms and civil adjudication in intellectual property that have taken place in recent years.  The United States approach is also more broadly consistent with the perspectives of Prof. Mark Wu at Harvard Law School who prophetically pointed out in his article “The ‘China, Inc.’ Challenge to Global Trade Governance”  that “the WTO faces a challenge: can the institution craft a predictable and fair set of legal rules to address new trade-distortive behavior arising out of China, Inc.? If not, key countries may turn away from the WTO to address these issues.”

While the EU and the US likely have common goals with respect to China’s IP regime, I believe that they likely could also learn something from each other in their strategies and perhaps they will as these cases progress.

 

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Bottom photo by Mark Cohen of Charleston, SC United States Custom House.