Chinese Customs’ Annual Report and What It Suggest for Corporate IP Strategies

Chinese Customs published its 2014 Report on the Situation for IP Protection last month. The report summarizes the current situation for Customs protection of IP in China as follows:

  1. The vast majority of seizures were initiated on an ex officio basis by customs (98% or higher)
  2. Nearly 97% of the seizures by quantity involved infringement of trademark rights. Chinese Customs can also seize goods that infringe copyright and patents. The low level of copyright seizures likely reflects the increased incidence of on-line infringement.
  1. About 96.5% of the product seizures were on exports.
  2. Consumer Goods Dominate Seizures. Amongst suspected infringing goods, tobacco products, light industry, cosmetics, clothing, etc. dominated. There was also an adjustment in product mix compared to last year, with a decline in hardware goods, pharmaceutical, hats, telecommunication equipment, toys, and food products. Note that 44 percent of the seizures were tobacco related. The next largest single category was cosmetics and personal care products. Less than one percent was pharma products.
  3. Postal and sea shipments are principal channels. Postal shipments accounted for 80.2% of seizures, with an increase of 33% from past year. 96.3 percent of the seizures were made involving shipments by sea.
  4. Greater Diversity in Destinations of Seizures. Chinese Customs seized goods involving 153 countries and territories. Amongst these, the Middle East and Latin American had significant increases.   By value the US was the second largest destination of seizures after Hong Kong. However many third world countries in Africa and elsewhere were in the top ten by value, quantity of products, and/or numbers of shipments. Brazil for example was number one for seized shipments.
  5. Seizure Activities Are Dispersed, but also Concentrated in Several Ports.  Shenzhen, Shanghai, Ningbo and Hangzhou regions dominate by value of seized shipments.

Based on this report, here’s my takeaway of steps US rights holders can take to improve cooperation with Chinese Customs:

A) Train Chinese Customs on product identification. As most of Chinese customs seizures are ex officio, the report underscores the importance of advising Chinese customs on how to identify infringing products. Of course, the prerequisite to these activities is recording your rights with Chinese Customs.

B)  Work with on-line e-tailers. There are an increasing number of seizures coming from inland ports, where goods are likely being booked on line. Moreover, goods are being shipped to a diverse number of ports. The report suggests the importance of working with on-line e-tailers, like Alibaba, to take down shipments.

C) Leverage cooperative agreements. Chinese Customs has numerous agreements with foreign countries, and has also been involved in several agreements to improve domestic enforcement, such as between Chinese customs and public security (police) authorities. Leveraging these cooperative agreements may help facilitate enforcement activity.

D) Use enforcement resources strategically. Clearly some Chinese ports are more active than others. In addition, some products seem to be attracting more attention than others. Although seizures of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, auto parts and other health and safety items are relatively low, I believe there is still room to encourage Customs to focus on items where public health or safety are affected.

Update on Specialized IP Courts

 

Tongji

There are a number of developments in China’s efforts to roll out China’s three new specialized IP courts by the end of the year.  Information is being shared at conferences, via weibo (microblog) postings, emails and other media – along with lots of friendly speculation. Here’s our current summation:

Background: On August 31, 2014, the NPC’s Standing Committee enacted a decision to establishing specialized IP courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guanghou.  These courts are intended to be a three year experiment in adjudicating technologically complex cases.  I have previously blogged about this issue on two separate occasions, while other commentators such as He Jing have also offered their analysis.

The roll out of the courts have now entered into a less theoretical stage of implementation.  In addition, other developments, such as the recently concluded Fourth Plenum also influences our understanding of what is going on in this important area, and the potential impact of this experiment on other legal reforms.

At a conference on October 25 that I attended at Tongji University (photo above),  IPR Tribunal Deputy Chief Judge Jin Kesheng 金克胜 updated a large crowd of academics, officials, lawyers and students on how the court was going to develop. . Judge Jin had a long experience as a legal academic, and has often commented on the relationship between IP and other legal developments.

He noted that the SPC is actively drafting a judicial interpretation on the jurisdiction of the courts.   He stated that the three specialized IP courts will adjudicate both first and second instance cases.  They will also adjudicate both civil and administrative matters. Current “three in one” adjudication experiments (combining civil, criminal and administrative jurisdiction) will be largely unaffected.   He referred to the Foruth Plenum several times, and pointed out that the pilot in cross-region jurisdiction in specialized IPR court is a pilot for the future court’s reform in cross-region jurisdiction on other subject matters.

In terms of subject matter jurisdiction, he specifically mentioned that antimonopoly law cases and well-known trademark cases will also be under the jurisdiction of the specialized IPR courts.

Regarding court administration, Judge Jin noted that judges in the specialized IP courts will be higher paid, which is attracting interest from other judges.  He also expected that the courts would have an impact on the professionalism and expertise of the judiciary in IP cases, which is already relatively high.

In the past the courts have used experts, such as examiners from SIPO to assist in technologically complex matters.  In the future, technology experts (技术调查官) will serve as the assistant to the judge. In fact these technology experts are set to be included in the Beijing Specialized IP Court launch, which will take place in the first half of November.   Jin cautioned, however, that judges should avoid replying on the technology experts exclusively.

Jin acknowledged the disappointment many observers had that the NPC had not authorized establishment of a national appellate IP court, such as the CAFC, but had instead decided to establish a pilot project involving intermediate level courts.  The views of several prominent academics were conveyed at a meeting of the Legal Affairs Committee of the NPC on August 7.   Some academics urged a specialized IP court like the CAFC to break the problem of territoriality in IP adjudication while others urged that this court should set the standard for a national appellate court. Judge Jin nonetheless believed that the specialized IP courts are a milestone in China’s IP and legal reforms.

What will be the impact of this self-described experiment? In terms of size of their docket, Guangdong has by far the largest docket. Beijing is second and Shanghai is last. Guangdong is about twice the size of Beijing, and Beijing is a bit more than twice the size of Shanghai.  Beijing, however, has the oversized docket of foreign-related cases and administrative cases. Guangdong has the biggest size and population and its experiment in setting up a provincial level intermediate court could be an important precedent for IP and non-IP related jurisdictional experiments.  The loss of jurisdiction of Shenzhen and other important cities in Guangdong over patent, trade secret and AML matters is likely a significant concern to tech companies there.

Beijing’s continuing role in administrative litigation means that Beijing would be a natural venue for a national appellate IP court, such as the CAFC. Shanghai, with the smallest docket and a relatively modest foreign related docket compared to Beijing may appear to have the least “experimental value.”  However, Shanghai brings several important developments to the table. First it is the home to a large and active foreign business community and an active R&D community, especially in the life sciences. Second, it is home to the important foreign trade zone pilot project, with its own IP tribunal. Third and not least, Shanghai is the home to the Chinese Courts International Exchanges Base for Judicial Protection of Intellectual Property Rights (中国法院知识产权司法保护国际交流(上海)基地) which was opened on September 25, and promises to support a wide range of IPR judicial exchanges and educational efforts.   Since foreigners file more cases in Beijing, the Shanghai IP court will need to work hard to attract IP litigation from Beijing, particularly since the Beijing IP court is likely to continue to have a large foreign-related docket with its jurisdiction over the patent and trademark offices.

The Beijing court has already been sighted by one microblogger, and a picture is available on line: http://www.weibo.com/136766637#_rnd1414651625018.   There have also been numerous postings, emails and rumors about assignments of judges – which I will decline to repeat here. In any event, it is only a matter of weeks before those appointments are officially disclosed.

Prof. Don Clarke in his recent blog on the recently concluded Fourth Plenum noted that there is a proposal to establish courts “that will cross jurisdictional boundaries, again to try cases that are in some sense cross-jurisdictional. Such a proposal would require legislative and possibly constitutional amendments.” The IP courts are part of that initial experiment.    Judge Jin referred to other specialized IP courts and cross boundary proposals, such as in labor and childrens courts. In another related development, Judge Jin also noted that the specialized IP courts will have higher paid, more professional judges – a development consistent with the Fourth Plenum.   –

In sum, these new courts are are a part of the continuing effort to “cross the rule of law river by feeling the IP stones.”

 

Position Vacancy: USPTO Attaché at US Consulate in Shanghai

A vacancy announcement for the Attorney-Adviser (Intellectual Property Rights) position at the US Consulate in Shanghai, China opened today (10/30/2013) and will close on 11/12/2013.  The job can be viewed on https://www.usajobs.gov  job announcement number:  ITA-FSHR-2014-0001.  The announcement can also be viewed by clicking this link:  https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/354252100. Continue reading

SIPO’S 2012 National IP Development Situation Report

SIPO released a 71-page report on the 2012 National IP Development Situation (2012年全国知识产权发展状况报告) on June 5, 2013, the fifth anniversary of SIPO’s adoption of the National IP Strategy Outline.   Although this is the first report of this nature, it is contemplated that the report will be updated annually.  Continue reading

SIPO’s 2012 “Report on the Situation Regarding National Patent Strength”

SIPO’s recently released its  “Report on the Situation Regarding National Patent Strength”, (Chinese: “2012年全国专利实力状况报告”)This report provides a glimpse into the various measures that SIPO uses to quantify how local patent offices are being rated by SIPO.  Knowing these data can be very useful in understanding what the incentives are for evaluating innovation and patent protection in China’s various localities and, accordingly, can help in how a foreign company approaches a local IP office to better enlist their support.  In theory, it should also help in identifying the regions that are affording better patent protection in China to foreigners. 

 The report  is intended to be based on certain objective, common, sustainable, and easy to obtain data.  Some of the data that is used are:

(a)    Number of invention patents in effect held per capita.  This is the first item listed by SIPO and it does not include utility model and design patents, which are not substantively examined. 

(b)   Other patent data: including Patent Cooperation Treaty patent filings; patent maintenance rates; patent abandonment rates (as a negative factor).

(c)    Type of patent applicant data: service invention patent rates; patents filed by large and medium sized enterprises.

(d)   Commercialization data: ratio of R&D to patents filed; hypothecation of patents; licensing contracts for patents; patents that are being used in commercial production (based on a ratio of new products from high tech industries and patent applications from high tech industries); and awards for high quality patents.

(e)   Litigation and enforcement data: First instance patent cases in the courts; settlement rates for patent litigation; data on patent “passing off”; data on cross-boundary cooperation on administrative patent disputes; data on human resources in administrative patent enforcement, use of administrative complaint lines, and expenses for special enforcement campaigns.

(f)     Legal and administrative structure: SIPO is trying to encourage local patent offices to be active and independent of other agencies, such as Science and Technology Bureaus, in which some local patent offices are located.  In addition, SIPO is encouraging promulgation of local legislation on patents, including incorporation of the national IP strategy and economic plans into local level policy and actions.

(g)     Cooperation with SIPO on national projects: including recognition as a model locality for IP protection, or the presence of model enterprises for IP protection.

(h)   Services and civil society: presence of in-house IP departments in companies; presence and availability of Patent Agents; use of electronic filing mechanisms for patents and electronic information services; presence of public service organizations for patents (typically government-organized non-governmental organizations); participation in SIPO training programs (including distance learning programs).

The overall leaders in this statistically-intensive report: Guangdong, Beijing, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai (in that order).   Comparative data to last year and to individual benchmarks are also provided.  These five leaders are not necessarily the leaders in other areas, including those that may be of concern to foreigners.  For example, in IP protection, the leaders were: Guangdong, Shandong, Hunan, Sichuan and Jiangsu.  Beijing and Shanghai were a more distant 11th and 16th place, respectively.  Beijing, Guangdong and Shanghai were also the top three jurisdictions for IP services.

The report should be used cautiously by foreign investors and rigthsholders as there is much  of concern to foreigners that is not utilized in the report, for example: numbers of foreign-related civil or administrative cases, availability of provisional measures, receptivity and accessibility of local complaint centers (including trade fairs) to  foreign complainants, availability of expert foreign language lawyers and service providers,  presence and engagement  of foreign-related civil society (INTA, QBPC, RDPAC, AmCham’s, etc.),  existence of policies that on their face discriminate or support foreign rights holders ,  availability of criminal remedies for IP infringement,  existence of “notorious markets” for IP infringing products, and evaluation of the locality by other reports on IP protection (e.g, annual Chamber reports, Section 301 reports).  In addition, as indicated above, the priorities that SIPO assigns to different factors would be different for foreigners.  Nonetheless, this is a useful report that can help foreigners in determining how “patent-friendly” different jurisdictions in China are, and can also assist in compiling a more narrowly focused report that highlights issues of concern to foreigners regarding IP protection in different regions of China.  

I also personally commend SIPO for its transparency in making this available on line.

Traveling the IP Road: What Are the Top China IP Destinations and Curiosities? (Part I)

Every year, around “ IP Week”  (April 26) Chinese officials and organizations of various kinds publish their “top 10” list, typically of best cases, most important developments, or leading officials.   Since it’s near the end of summer in the northern hemisphere, with Europe and North America just returning from vacation – it seems like a perfect formula for another top 10 list of most significant, unusual or historical destinations related to China IP and its history .  This is a personal list – I welcome hearing back from readers about what their top ten might be. Continue reading