Should the NPC also consider Criminal Copyright Reform when it considers Copyright Reform?

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At this month’s National People’s Congress, an NPC spokesman noted that this year the NPC intends to address reform of the copyright law, which has been long delayed. However, reform of the substantive copyright law will not typically address the need to reform the criminal copyright law and to address the relationship between civil and criminal copyright law. This point was raised in the Weixin platform Zhichanli (知产力), which addressed the key issues of criminal copyright law reform in a lively “cartoon” format (see above):

The four issues from the perspectives of the author of that blog are:

1.       Article 217 of the criminal code, mandates having a “profit motivation” in order for criminality to attach.Should the “profit motivation” requirement be removed from the criminal code?

2.       Whether to criminalize the Internet related right of “communication over information networks”?

3.       How to address secondary and principal liability of internet platforms?

4.       Three separate specific issues, including:

a)       How to criminalize destruction of technological protection measures?

b)      How to criminalize commercial scale use of piratical software?

c)       What are the thresholds to deal with online criminal enforcement?

In my view, these are all important issues, which should be considered in the context of copyright reform.    Many of these  issues were raised in DS/362, the WTO enforcement case which the United States brought against China.    Of particular note was that the United States raised the history of  amending US laws to address willful copyright infringement that caused large scale harm without necessarily causing commercial gain (the LaMacchia case, in the cartoon above).  In addition, the United States also recognized that thresholds based on the numbers of copies would not capture the harm caused by technological changes which permitted large digital quantities to be distributed on line or in compressed formats.   One of the current thresholds involves 500 “flat articles”  ( 500 ) (typically used for CD’s or flat pieces of paper), which the WTO panel called “copies, for the sake of simplicity” and is an awkward determinant for infringement in rapidly moving technologies.

Also of note is that criminal IP enforcement has become more important in China. This was brought to my attention by a Chinese judge who mentioned that while China opposed the WTO case, it was now widely recognized that criminal IP is an important part of an IP enforcement system. In a sense, the US may have lost the 2007 battle over criminal IP at the WTO, but clearly won the war. The data bears this out. When the WTO was filed against China, there were only about 904 criminal IP  infringement cases in China (2007).   In 2013, by comparison there were 7,804 infringement cases – an increase of about 8 times, not including increases in other provisions of the criminal code that also can address IP infringement, such as crimes involving illegal business operations or fake and shoddy goods.

While China recognizes that criminal IP is enforcement it an important part of its enforcement system,  an equally important question concerns the role of the relatively small criminal IP enforcement system in light of China’s civil, administrative and customs enforcement (see chart below).  In addition to the increasing number of criminal IP prosecutions,  the increasing numbers of referrals from China’s administrative copyright enforcement to criminal copyright enforcement is an encouraging trend in this regard.  An even more encouraging sign would be consideration by the NPC of criminal copyright law reform at the same time as it considers substantive copyright law reform.  As criminal law reform goes through different procedures at the NPC, working on both issues simultaneously may entail some coordination, but would help ensure that any changes to China’s copyright regime is comprehensive and would set a good precedent for other IP legislative reforms coming up, such as in reform of the trade secret regime in the Antiunfair Competition Law.

 

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Stealing IP from the Steel Sector?

Michael Komesaroff, a Sinologist and mining engineer based in Australia, has published an interesting article on the website of the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Make the Foreign Serve China: How Foreign Science and Technology Helped China Dominate Global Metallurgical Industries.”

According to Mr. Komesaroff, China is now the world leader in metallurgical technologies as it has the largest and technically most efficient plants in the world. This was achieved through a number of strategies commencing with the purchase of obsolete western plants and extending to reverse engineering including the infringement of IP rights.  As Michael notes at p. 11, Chinese practices “do not discriminate in their lack of respect for intellectual property; Chinese companies will infringe the proprietary technology of national champions as readily as they do to foreign competitors and the absence of an enforced intellectual property law accelerates diffusion of any new technology.”  Furthermore, “with an endless supply of smart engineers and scientists, why pay for technology, something that you cannot touch, see, taste, or smell.”  Michael’s points are especially interesting because they link innovation with  capital intensive industries and state support, China’s past practices of acquiring obsolete Western plants and China’s  IP practices and policies.

IP issues in the steel sector have also become more of a focus point with the institution in May of 2016 of a 337 litigation by US Steel against several Chinese steel companies, which alleges that Chinese steel companies have engaged in the “the misappropriation and use of U.S. Steel’s trade secrets” as well as “the false designation of origin or manufacturer, in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a).”  This is not the first such trade secret related action involving steel and China.  Two years prior to this 337 action, several PLA agents were indicted in a US court in Pittsburgh for cyber-espionage related activities, including trade secret theft, in several industries.  US Steel and other iron and steel industries, as well as Alcoa, were alleged to be victims of these efforts.

There have also been numerous trade-related concerns expressed concerning China’s metallurgical industries over the decades since 1979, including a “Section 406” investigation that I was briefly involved in before China’s WTO accession (1987), that involved tungsten, and, more recently, trade discussions on Chinese excess capacity in the steel industryA WTO case had also been brought by the United States against China regarding its export restrictions involving rare earth metals, including  tungsten and molybdenum in 2012 .  While the metallurgical industries have been a trade-sensitive area for some time, it now appears that IP-related issues have become of significant concern.

 

China IP and the New Trade Agenda

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Last week, the Trump administration announced its Trade Policy Agenda, to criticism and support.  As the above word cloud suggests, the focus is on US interests, US sovereignty and the US relationship with the WTO, although China (highlighted in yellow above) is certainly also called out.

The policy singles out IP and China in the following ways:

  1. It makes a key objective of the administration’s trade agenda “ensuring that U.S. owners of intellectual property (IP) have a full and fair opportunity to use and profit from their IP.”  The focus on use of IP, a theme of this blog, is welcome.
  2. It continues to focus on “theft of intellectual property” including “unfair competitive behavior by state-owned enterprises…”. Theft of IP has been a theme of the Trump campaign and of an early administration executive order.
  3. It points to China as a cause for much of the US economy’s malaise, noting that “while the current global trading system has been great for China, since the turn of the century it has not generated the same results for the United States.” The report also notes that “a review of what has happened since 2000 – the last full year before China joined the WTO – shows a period of slowed GDP growth, weak employment growth, and sharp net loss of manufacturing employment in the United States. Many factors contribute to this, notably the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and the broad impact of automation.  But the trade data are striking. “
  4. The four priorities of the new trade agenda are US-focused. These include: “ (1) defend U.S. national sovereignty over trade policy; (2) strictly enforce U.S. trade laws; (3) use all possible sources of leverage to encourage other countries to open their markets to U.S. exports of goods and services, and provide adequate and effective protection and enforcement of U.S. intellectual property rights; and (4) negotiate new and better trade deals with countries in key markets around the world.”

The theme of IP theft is also found in the revised report of the Commission on the Theft of Intellectual Property (Feb. 27, 2017) coauthored by the former Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair and former Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, Jr.  The report notes that “there exists broad bipartisan support for addressing IP theft and safeguarding the competitive advantages of U.S. firms, entrepreneurs, and workers. “  The report further reiterates several prior recommendations, noting that “China, whose industrial output now exceeds that of the United States, remains the world’s principal IP infringer. China is deeply committed to industrial policies that include maximizing the acquisition of foreign technology and information, policies that have contributed to greater IP theft. IP theft by thousands of Chinese actors continues to be rampant, and the United States constantly buys its own and other states’ inventions from Chinese infringers. “

Note that this blog was cited and this author participated in meetings involving the original 2013 report.

IP Moot Court Competition in Beijing

The School of Law at Beijing Foreign Studies University will host an Intellectual Property Moot Court Competition in May 2017. The competition, which is held in English, has a 10-year legacy and attracts both domestic and international teams. The invitation states that “…the Competition aims at promoting IP education, enhancing educational exchange among students and corporate personnel, and increasing awareness of cutting-edge issues….”

Teams interested in participating in the competition must return the Application Form by March 31, 2017. Please see the relevant literature below.

Invitation
2017 Application Form
2017 Case
2017 Rule

-Ariel Multak

False Friends (形似神异): Comparing US and Chinese Administrative Patent Enforcement

The China Patents and Trademarks journal has now made publicly available the article I wrote late last year with former USPTO Director David Kappos and former Chief Judge Randall Rader (ret.)  “Faux Amis: China-US Administrative Enforcement Comparison”, in both  English, and Chinese (形似神异:中美专利行政执法制度对比).  Kevin Lu 吕行 of USPTO also assisted in researching the article.

The article discusses the differences between administrative enforcement of patents in the United States International Trade Commission (Section 337) and by SIPO in China and notes that the comparisons of China’s administrative patent system to the USITC system are misleading, as the two systems are different both qualitatively and quantitatively. 

The opinions in the article are of course strictly the authors’ own.

USPTO EXTERN POSITION OPEN

USPTO has posted a position for an unpaid extern in Chinese intellectual property matters commencing June 6, 2017. The position requires the following skills:

– Knowledge of Chinese language

– Knowledge of Intellectual Property (IP)

– Ability to research US and Chinese cases

– Ability to use Excel and PowerPoint

– Skill in preparing instructional material

The extern will assist staff of the USPTO’s China Team by researching intellectual property issues in China and assisting with organizing meetings and programs. Some instruction on Chinese IP databases may be provided.

Anti-Unfair Competition Law Released for Public Comment

The National People’s Congress released a draft of the Anti-unfair Competition Law for public comment on February 25, 2017.  A draft translation is already available on the China Law Translate website, which has also posted the Chinese original. I previously published a draft with comments of the ABA and George Mason’s Global Antitrust Institute here. The comment period closes March 25, 2017.  The NPC Observer blog is also following developments, including posting the official explanation, which I have also made available here .