While the AmeriKat had her whiskers in a pile of papers (picture, left) last Monday, the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) and the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) was busy hosting a travelling roundtable discussion on China’s system for the procurement and enforcement of utility model and design patents. The aim of the roundtable was to afford US lawyers, companies and the public understanding about how China’s utility model and design patent system. The AmeriKat and IPKat's good friend, Michael Lin, of Marks & Clerk (Hong Kong) was there reporting on the key issues discussed at the event:
The USPTO's Elaine Wu started off the roundtable, and key note speeches by the USPTO's Dave Kappos and AIPLA's President, David Hill, (picture right) emphasized the growing importance of understanding IP in China via actual discussion with on-the-ground experts vs. the reliance on hearsay. To this end, the AIPLA and USPTO are jointly sponsoring this traveling roundtable discussion program with subsequent events being planned in the US and China.
Microsoft's Director of International IP Policy Mark Cohen laid out the background and framework of Utility Models ("UMs") and Design Patents in China and their alternative as a cheap and fast form of IP protection. Mark also showed some interesting statistics that it is overwhelmingly Chinese entities who are filing and using UMs and Designs Patents. Discussion followed as to the root causes of this, and why relatively few foreign entities apply for Chinese Designs, and particularly UMs. US practitioners are typically unfamiliar with UMs because they are not available in the US, although some other countries (Germany, Japan, etc.) do have them. While many countries have Designs Patents, few foreigners file their Designs Patents in China, as their scope is generally regarded as being quite narrow as dotted-lines (i.e., partial designs) are not allowed.
Elaine chaired the first panel discussion with Thomas Moga (Shook, Hardy & Bacon) (picture, right) explaining his interesting uses for Design Patents in China beyond what is typically allowed in the US. Meanwhile, Toby Mak (Tee & Howe) explained that the subject matter of UMs in China is limited to physical objects whose novel element is related to the shape or construction thereof. Thus, protection of chemical compositions, methods of use, etc. are not allowed via UMs. Toby also discussed the procedure for concurrently filing for both Invention Patents (i.e., US-style Utility Patents) and UMs in China. Toby also explained that by filing for both a UM and an invention patent in China, you can obtain both short-term protection as well as long-term protection; once the invention patent is ready to grant, then the Examiner may ask you to elect to keep either the UM or the Invention patent and abandon the other one in order to avoid double-patenting. IBM's Associate General Counsel for IP, Manny Schecter explained that IBM does not file for such IP in China (or elsewhere) as they are not subject to substantive examination and therefore their enforceability is highly suspect, even when granted. It seems that IBM, for one, simply wishes to have greater assurance that any of its granted patents are actually ultimately enforceable.
Skip Fisher (Perkins Coie) (picture, left) then chaired the panel discussion about enforceability of UMs and Design Patents. Michael Lin (Marks&Clerk, Hong Kong) led off the discussion about enforcement via China-specific administrative routes such as at Customs, local raids, seizures, and at trade shows. Ultimately, Michael believes that UM and Design Patent enforcement is possible in trade fairs, especially for exact copies. However, enforcement via customs and other administrative routes are more difficult than, for example, trade mark enforcement. Ping Gu (Unitalen) discussed the many complicated issues involved with legal enforcement of IP via the Chinese court system. Geoffrey Lin (Hogan Lovells) described his personal involvement with the Chint v. Schneider case which resulted in the largest ever IP judgment in China of 330 Million CNY ( about US $44 Million). Although IP litigation in the courts is increasing and the judges are getting better, evidence collection, forum shopping, local court regulations, political factors, etc. may all greatly affect the result of first-instance litigation. However, the availability of appeals to a higher court may in some ways mitigate these effects. As China has virtually no "discovery" available to plaintiffs, all panelists agreed that the collection of court-acceptable evidence prior to initiating litigation is essential and remains a serious problem in China.
The roundtable concluded with USPTO's Albert Tramposch heading an open discussion with all participants identifying issues (e.g., susceptibility of UMs and Designs Patents for abuse by NPEs, lack of a duty of disclosure, lack of substantive examination before grant, etc.) and discussing potential future actions, law changes, administrative, changes, etc. to address some of the issues. Participants hope that China will pay special attention to legal and administrative transparency and further improve equal treatment under the law.
Overall, it was a highly informative roundtable with excellent questions and observations from both the audience, presenters and panellists.
Round pool table here.
A famous Round Table here.