The Latest Draft Amendments to the Chinese Patent Law

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Written by Paolo Beconcini, IP expert and collaborator of the China IPR SME Helpdesk

 

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On July 3, 2020, China released the second draft amendments to the Patent Law. This second draft introduces significant changes to both the current Patent Law and the 2019 draft amendment. It also comes at a time when China is introducing significant legislative and judicial changes to other key IP rights, like new criteria for determination of infringement in administrative proceedings for trademark infringement, and more importantly, draft judicial regulations addressing the long disputed issues of protection of foreign trade secrets and the implementation of the commitment China recently assumed in this regard by signing the US-China Economic and Trade Agreement of January 15, 2020, also referred to as the Phase I Agreement. It remains to be seen whether all these amendments will go in the direction auspicated by the US and the EU, or whether and to what extent they may be the expression of China’s new protectionist policies and retaliation against alleged hostile foreign policies.

In the present blog we will review some of the major changes in the second draft amendment to the Patent Law and assess their likely impact on foreign businesses in China.

I.   Design Patents

Article 42.1 of the draft amendments extends the duration of a design patent to 15 years from its application date. Designs are registered patents that protect the aesthetic value of a product, where the design is original and adds commercial value to the product. The final approval of this provision would allow right holders to enjoy exclusivity for a longer period, increasing the right’s value and reducing the cost and risk of having to file for surrogate IP, such as copyright and 3D marks, to try prolonging the life of the design creation. Such surrogates have proven to be only partially successful in replacing design patents, especially when enforced in place of a design.

The current version of the Patent law generally does not allow protection of portions of a design. Right now, the only partial designs that can be protected are those parts of a product that can be used and sold separately from the main product. This means that only spare and replacement parts can theoretically be protected as design patents. In all other cases, the law only allows the applicant to include portions of its design that have a particular aesthetic value of their own by describing them in the verbal descriptive portion of the application. In particular, the current Patent Law excludes the patentability of portions of complete products using dotted lines.

The second draft amendments would eliminate these limitations and hindrances by introducing the patentability of partial designs. If the amendment is approved, all partial designs with no restriction will be eligible for patentability. The downside of this, especially considering the typical Chinese landscape and the fact that there is no substantive examination of design patent applications, will likely be the unchecked proliferation of junk designs . This will force legitimate rights’ holders to increase their budget for house cleaning, to reduce the risk of theft and trolling litigation.

II.   Patent Linkage

The proposed Patent Linkage provision provides that a patentee or interested party can initiate infringement proceedings (judicial or administrative) against a party who is seeking marketing authorization for a drug that falls within the scope of a patent recorded in the “Chinese Marketed Drug Patent Information Record Platform.” To utilize the proposed patent linkage provision, the patentee or the interested party will have to file civil or administrative proceedings before a People’s Court or the China National Intellectual Property Administration (“CNIPA”) within 30 days of the marketing authorization application being published by the competent drug administration. If the deadline passes without the patentee or interested party having filed a lawsuit, the party seeking the marketing authorization can file a legal action with a People’s Court or with the CNIPA to obtain a declaration of non-infringement.

The provision leaves a lot of critical points unclear and uncertain. First of all, it is not clear what the “Chinese Marketed Drug Patent Information Record Platform” is. Is it an already existing official database, like the Orange Book of the National Medical Products Administration, or a completely new repository or database? This will surely affect the type of patents registered therein and therefore the possibility for a patentee to qualify or not for patent linkage. Second, the jurisdiction of the courts is uncertain. The draft does not provide any indication of which court will have jurisdiction over the lawsuit and/or the declaratory action. Is it going to be that of the domicile of the patentee? That would contravene the general principles of the locus commissi delicti normally applied to patents. Also, it is not clear whether the pending of proceedings filed by the patentee will stay the market authorization process. Regarding the latter, the lack of express regulations may speak in favor of the market authorization not being immediately affected by the pending of linkage proceedings. However, a formal clarification would be welcome. Last but not least, there is no definition of “interested party”, although by analogy, we could safely surmise that this only includes the exclusive licensee.

One thing is certain —clarifications to the application of this new provision will be needed. Hopefully, they will be contained in a new set of amended implementing regulations to the Patent Law.

III.   Patent Terms Extension

By signature of the US-China Phase I Agreement of January 15, 2020, China committed to provide patent term extensions to compensate for unreasonable delays that occur in granting the patent or during pharmaceutical product marketing approval. Article 42.2 of the draft Patent Law provides that, if an invention patent has been granted after four years from the filing date or three years from the request for substantive examination, the patent owner may request compensation for the unreasonable delay in granting the invention patent, except for the unreasonable delay caused by the applicant. This provision seems to implement the corresponding commitment of Section D, article 1.12.2.(a) of the Phase I Agreement. In practice, and in order to fully comply with the agreement, China will have to issue implementing regulations to arrange for a process to determine the exact period of extension of the patent validity.

As to pharmaceutical patents, article 42.3 of the draft amendments provides that the duration of patents of innovative pharmaceuticals for which patent terms was lost during the regulatory approval period, when a drug cannot yet be marketed, will be extended as well. However, the compensation time cannot exceed five years, and the total effective patent term after the new drug is authorised to be on market shall not exceed 14 years. On the surface, this norm seems to comply with the stipulation of article 1.12.2(b) of Phase I Agreement. However, the real scope of such regulation remains uncertain due to the unclear definition of “new drug” and whether it should be limited to one that has been simultaneously applied for authorization in China and other jurisdictions or not. Further normative clarification is needed to understand the effective application and scope of this provision, and whether it indeed complies with the spirit of the corresponding norm of the Phase I Agreement.

IV.   COVID-19 Exemptions to Novelty Destroying Disclosures

China’s patent law is very strict when providing exceptions to novelty destroying disclosures (grace period disclosures). Traditionally, a disclosure of the invention without the consent of the right holder is exempted only if it occurred within six months from the date of filing. Any voluntary disclosure is always novelty destroying unless related to exhibitions sponsored or recognized by the Chinese government, or published for the first time at a specified academic or technological conference. The second draft adds a third case in which a voluntary disclosure of the invention will not be novelty destroying when occurring within six months prior to the date of filing. This is the case of the invention that is disclosed for the first time for the public interest in time of a national emergency or exceptional circumstances. It seems to be custom made for inventions related to the current emergency situation caused by the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 virus. Aside from the evident emergency caused by an epidemic, it remains to be seen what other situations could be considered as emergency and exceptional circumstances. Would an economic, political or trade crisis unrelated to a public health situation or a war, count as such an emergency?

V.   Enforcement and Damages

In China it is often difficult to provide evidence to support a specific claim for damage compensation in a patent enforcement action. The absence of discovery, the difficulty of convincing a judge to conduct further investigations on accounting records and other relevant documents of the defendant, and the illicit bookkeeping practices of many Chinese firms, make it very difficult to obtain evidence that meets the strict probatory standards and supports realistic damage compensation claims. For this reason, and as a palliative in most cases, the law left it to the discretion of the judges to determine the amount of reasonable damages. These are the so called statutory damages set forth by the Patent Law.

The problem, aside from the inevitable discretion of the judge, is that these damages were capped in a range going from a minimum of RMB10,000 (USD1,450) to RMB 1,000,000 (about USD145,000). These caps are far from adequate, especially when we consider that litigation involving foreign patentees in China is rare compared to litigation among local parties, and is normally filed in severe kinds of infringements. The first draft of the patent law amendment realized such shortcoming and proposed an increase of the range to RMB100,000-RMB5,000,000. This was surely an improvement. However, the second reading of the draft amendments now under scrutiny, has changed this again, setting only an upper ceiling of RMB5,000,000 and eliminating the minimum amount. To this problem we add that the statutory damage received is effectively reduced by any reasonable expense that the patentee has incurred in order to stop the infringing act! This is definitely a serious problem, especially when the patentee/plaintiff is not able to collect evidence on its own to eliminate his reliance on statutory damages.

In this respect, the draft seems to help right holders to reach the required evidence threshold by introducing some key presumptions regarding evidence of illicit profit of the defendant. The new draft amendment provides now that, in order to determine the amount for compensation, where the right holder has endeavored to present evidence and the related account books or materials are mainly in control by the accused infringer, the People’s Court may order the defendant to provide those books and materials relating to the infringing conduct. If the defendant does not provide or provides false account books or materials, the People’s Court may refer to the right holder’s claims and evidence to rule on the amount of compensation. This norm may seem revolutionary, but a similar one was already introduced in the China Trademark law back in 2014! Also, the courts are generally willing to grant evidence preservation requests, even when litigation is ongoing, to preserve such books as evidence. Considering also how often the Chinese counterpart will try to provide only part of the required books or even disclose forged ones, we can see that the introduction of this provision in the draft amendment will not be a game-changer.

For these reasons, when a foreign patentee decides to litigate in China, it has to invest large resources in the pre-lawsuit investigations and evidence collection. This will be the most critical phase to ensure a successful outcome of a patent lawsuit.

VI.   Conclusion

It is likely that this second reading will be adopted into a new law amending the current Patent Law by the end of this year or the beginning of 2021. While the draft adds useful improvements, the real impact of some of the major changes is still unclear and will need additional implementing legislation. This is nothing new. Chinese general laws, like the Patent Law, are always drafted in very general terms, leaving more detailed regulations to a sub-set of rules and court interpretations. The main takeaway for now is that China IP is massively on the move and the ongoing changes are the reflection of external political and economic events. On one hand, changes are dictated by China’s desire to keep up with its long term policies of modernization its IP law system, initiated back in 2001 upon access to the WTO and the related TRIPS Agreement. On the other hand, critical changes are now dictated by China’s own policies, like Made in China 2025, or by mounting external pressure like the trade war. Whether all this will make it easier and better for foreigners to protect their IP in China remains to be seen.

This article was originally published on the website of the law firm Squire Patton Boggs

Where alcohol meets IP: how Martell won in China

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Written by Reinout van Malenstein, IP expert and collaborator of the China IPR SME Helpdesk

 

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Real names on fake products. China has often faced this problem in the past thirty years, also in the spirits industry. Fake bottles with Martell, Johnny Walker and other known names could be found in shops and in entertainment venues around the country.

After China became a member to the WTO and become more serious about IP protection, slowly the cases where infringing copycats used the real names became lower. It became clearer to infringers that such copying would mean trademark infringement as most companies would register the name of their product and the name of their company as a trademark in China.

Continue reading “Where alcohol meets IP: how Martell won in China” »

OVERVIEW ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PROTECTION NOTES IN CHINA DURING THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK

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source: https://gowlingwlg.com/en/insights-resources/articles/2020/ip-protection-notes-in-china-during-covid-19/

COVID-19 has swept across the globe causing massive disruption to businesses everywhere. While the impact of COVID-19 on other parts of the world continues to increase, China’s economic activity is now gradually returning to “business as usual”. This note will give an overview on the measures taken by the Chinese authorities in relation to IP during the period of COVID-19 outbreak in China and will shed light on what businesses should be aware of in terms of IP protection during this unprecedented time.

Time-out Period Mechanism

The P.R.C Tackling Emergency Affairs Law, the P.R.C Patent Law, the P.R.C Trade Mark Law, the P.R.C Regulations on Protection of Layout Design of Integrated Circuits and other relevant regulations have provided for a time-out mechanism to be applied in certain situations to prevent the expiration of statutory time limits due to circumstances outside relevant parties’ control. During the outbreak of COVID-19, the China National Intellectual Property Administration (“CNIPA“) issued the No. 350 Announcement to confirm that where a party had missed a stipulated deadline as a result of delay caused by reasons related to COVID-19, leading to the termination of relevant IP rights, the party could apply for restitution of those rights.

For patent and layout design of integrated circuits (“LDIC“) rights, an affected party can apply for restitution of their rights within 2 months from the date of removal of the obstacle ( e.g. a medical reason or restrictive measures related to COVID-19), or at the latest within 2 years from the date of expiration of the time limit. The application is free but the party must submit together with the application form evidence confirming the COVID-19 related reason for delay.

For trademarks, if a party is unable to progress trademark related matters due to issues related to COVID-19, the relevant time period will be suspended from the date on which the obstacle arose until the date it is removed, unless otherwise provided by law. If the trademark is terminated due to the obstacle, a party can request restitution of the trademark within 2 months from the date of removal of the obstacle or at the latest within 2 years from the date of expiration of the time limit, as with LDIC rights. On 27 March 2020, CNIPA announced that the No. 350 Announcement is applicable to all parties located in other countries and regions who are affected by COVID-19. In other words, foreign parties can benefit from the time-out mechanism as well.

With regards to court procedure, Article 83 of P.R.C Civil Procedural Law provides that if a party fails to meet a deadline due to a force majeure or another justified reason, the party can apply for an extension of the deadline within ten days after the obstacle is removed. The People’s Court shall then decide whether to grant the extension.

Online application for registration and online litigation service

For IP application for the IP rights which can only be obtained via registration, such as patents, trademarks and LDIC, the CNIPA has an existing online application system for registration and has encouraged parties to submit their applications online and submit relevant documents by post rather than in person to reduce physical contact.

For IP litigation, filing cases via the online system or by post has become more common. During the outbreak of COVID-19, such off-site filing is preferred by parties. By way of illustration, it was reported that from 3 February to 28 February 2020, the Beijing IP Court reviewed 207 cases that were filed online and 1506 cases that were filed by post, which constitutes a 15% and 700% increase (respectively) compared to the figures reported for the same period last year.

However, with regards to hearing trials, online hearings are not common in China. However, the Supreme People’s Court issued the No. Fa [2020] 49 Notice Concerning Strengthening and Regulating the Online Litigation Work during the Period of COVID-19 Epidemic Prevention and Control Period (the “No.49 Notice”) to encourage the courts to use digital means where appropriate for proceedings. In particular, it points out that courts should consider the technical requirements of the case, the specific situation and the parties’ willingness to proceed with an online hearing. Where the parties disagree with the method of online hearing or there are circumstances such as certain technical obstacles, where parties’ identities or originals of the documents have to be verified in person, or where alleged infringing products would have to be examined, the hearing would not be conducted online.

Rejection of COVID-19 related trademark with negative influence and green channel of IP rights application and IP rights pledge

Similar to trademark laws in many countries, the P.R.C Trade Mark Law rejects trademark registrations that are adverse to the public interest. During the outbreak of COVID-19, applicants tried to apply for trademarks for “Huo Shen Shan” and/or “Lei Shen Shan”; two hospitals built specially to treat COVID-19 patients in Wuhan city, as well as “Li Wen Liang” a doctor who passed away due to infection of COVID-19.

The China Trademark Office deemed that applications of above-mentioned marks were made in bad faith in relation to COVID-19, contrary to Article 10 (8) of the P.R.C Trade Mark Law[1] and that the applications should therefore be refused. Some of the applicants proactively withdrew their applications of the above-mentioned marks. Furthermore, a number of the trademark agents who represented the applicants for the above-mentioned marks were fined a sum of RMB 100,000 (approx. USD 14,000).

On the other hand, however, it is recognised that applications for certain IP rights that seek to improve the state of affairs during the COVID-19 outbreak deserve preferential treatment. In the document Ten Measures to Support Resumption and Production of Enterprises issued by the State Administration for Market Regulation, National Medical Products Administration and Administration and CNIPA, it is stressed that parties applying for patents and trademarks concerning protection against COVID-19 may apply for prioritised and/or expedited examination.

Advice for dealing with IP protection during the COVID-19

In light of the above-mentioned points, we set out below some preliminary advice in terms of IP protection in China in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Firstly, bear in mind that due to the first-to-file IP system in China, parties shall apply for the relevant IP rights as soon as possible. If COVID-19 influences the process of filing, applicants will have to apply the time-out mechanism to secure their rights. Please note that this mechanism is also applicable to foreign parties affected by COVID-19 in their own countries or regions.

Secondly, where applicable, try to use online filing systems and/or postal services. In addition, it is noteworthy that some of China’s courts are willing to explore the possibility of online hearings which is a very new development.

If one is planning to apply for patents or trademarks which genuinely relate to COVID-19, don’t forget to apply for prioritised and/or expedited examination to try to obtain the registered IP rights as quickly as possible.


[1] Article 10 (8) of the P.R.C Trade Mark Law[1] provides that: “[T]he following signs shall not be used as trademarks: … (8) Those detrimental to socialist morality, or having other adverse influences.”

Made in China 2025: OEM Manufacturing and Trademark Infringement in China

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source: https://www.iptechblog.com/2020/06/made-in-china-2025-oem-manufacturing-and-trademark-infringement-in-china/#page=1

For years Western companies have relied on Chinese factories to manufacture their products at low cost and export them back to other markets to be sold with high margin of profit. This is normally referred to as OEM manufacturing, where OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. This was for decades the main business model for China’s industrial and economic development and it earned China the nickname of “World’s Factory”. In recent years, things have changed. China is now a market with hundreds of millions of consumers buying foreign products online or traveling and shopping abroad, while cheap manufacturing is moving elsewhere to be replaced by High-Tech businesses. In this evolving socio-economic landscape, OEM manufacturing has lost its prior standing in the government policies. China is now projected towards a further integration of its economy into the global capital system. Aside from the already renown “Belt & Road” initiative, China has recently launched “Made in China 2025”, a new grand plan to showcase China’s own brands and industries to the world and move away from being the world’s “factory” to an economy producing higher value products and services.This policy change embodied in the “Made in China 2025” program, is also reflected in the recent legal developments concerning the relation between OEM manufacturing and trademark infringement. This article will explore the evolution of such relation and will comment on the most recent leading decision on this topic issued by the Supreme People’s Court this October 2019.OEM manufacturing and Trademark Infringement

First of all, China is a first to file country, where IP rights are owned by those who register them first. It is therefore not uncommon that a Chinese OEM may be manufacturing products upon commission of foreign clients, which bear a trademark that has already been registered in China by another person or entity. In the most typical case, the commissioning party owns that very same trademark in the country of destination of the OEM products. The question is whether affixing such trademarks of others by the OEM on such products meat for export constitutes an act of infringement of the third party’s registered rights in China.

Neither the Trademark Law of China, nor its implementing regulations provide an answer to this question. Therefore, the task of addressing this issue has been left to the People’s Courts. For a long time, courts adopted conflicting interpretations. Some courts deemed that affixing registered marks of others on products meant for export to a country where the consignee owns those same trademarks was not a “use” of the trademark in China and therefore could not cause confusion among the relevant Chinese public. Others held the opposite position. In 2015 and again at the end of 2017, the Supreme People’s Court stepped into the debate and issued a judgments that formed mandatory precedents to all civil judges facing the same type of issues.

The Pretul (2015) and the Dongfeng Cases (2017)

In 2015, the Supreme Peoples’ Court issued a landmark ruling on this issue, known as the PRETUL case[1]. The case reviewed by the court concerned a custom seizure action about the export of a number of products manufactured by the OEM of a foreign company. In this case, the holder of the Chinese mark affixed on these products meant for export claimed that this was an act of unauthorized sale of its registered mark and was therefore infringing its exclusive right. The Court eventually disagreed with this opinion and carved out the conditions and limits for an OEM to raise a successful defense against an infringement claim. In particular, the court concluded that, present the following conditions, an OEM act of manufacturing does not constitute a trademark use in the sense of the Chinese trademark Law and cannot therefore be an infringement:

  • the OEM was authorised to make the products by a foreign company;
  • the authorization was clearly limited to the manufacturing for the sole purpose of exporting the products abroad;
  • the foreign party owns a valid right on the marks affixed on the commissioned products in the country of destination.

A more recent judgement of the Supreme People’s Court in December 2017, further confirmed the PRETUL exception, but added an additional probatory burden to the OEM. In the case known as theDONG FENG case,[2] the plaintiff’s trademark “DONG FENG and Chinese Characters” had been recognized as well-known in China. At the same time, the products under the “DONG FENG” mark, were manufactured upon commission of an Indonesian company who had registered an identical mark in Indonesia in 1987. In this case, the lower court had found for infringement stating that the OEM duty of care stretched to examine and find out the well-known status of the mark “DONG FENG” and to determine whether the Indonesian mark had been filed in bad faith. The Supreme People’s Court rejected this view and concluded that the reasonable duty of care should be deemed discharged when the OEM manufacturer has verified the trademark rights of the foreign purchaser, unless there is evidence proving the contrary. In practice, this duty is discharged once the OEM receives from the consignee a copy of the relevant trademark certificates in the countries of destination. Overall, DONG FANG restated the teaching of PRETUL by confirming that once it is proved that the products are only meant for export, this will not infringe the relevant trademark because there is no use of this trademark in China among Chinese consumers. Therefore, they won’t be confused by the act of manufacturing that is confined to a factory and then the result is sealed and immediately shipped outside China.

Inversion of Direction in 2019

On October 14, 2019 the Supreme People’s Court published a judgment issued on September 23, 2019 in the HONDA case .[3] In this judgment, the Supreme People’s Court has come back to the OEM manufacturing exception, giving the whole matter a second thought and reaching conclusions that overcome PRETUL and DONG FENG.

In this case, Honda Motor, the owner of “HONDA” trademarks in class 12 in China, sued the defendants, Hengsheng Xintai and Hengsheng Group for having accepted an OEM order from a Myanmar company, Meihua Company Limited (“Meihua”), to manufacture 220 sets of Motorcycle parts and export them to Myanmar bearing a mark similar to the “HONDA” marks in China. In particular, Meihua is the licensee of a registered Myanmar trademark “hondakit” in class 12. However, the parts manufactured in China were bearing a trademark “HONDAKit”, where the word HONDA was highlighted in capital letter and in red color, unlike the simple wordmark “hondakit” in Myanmar.

The Supreme People’s Court found that:

  1. The relation between the Myanmary Meihua and the defendant Hengsheng group was that of an OEM arrangement.
  2. However, there can be trademark use in the sense of the trademark law also in case of an OEM arrangement during the processes of manufacturing and attaching trademark in the factory in China.
  3. Therefore, such use can be scrutinized as to whether it is infringing. To determine such OEM use as infringing, the involved enforcer will have to determine whether it can cause confusion among the relevant public in China.
  4. The relevant public standard to determine “confusion” in the trademark use analysis also includes operators of businesses related to the products. Products involved in an OEM arrangement can still be accessed by the relevant public of the PRC either online or when traveling abroad.
  5. Likelihood of confusion is the test, actual confusion or actual access to products is not required.

In sum, PRETUL and DONG FANG have been overruled. While in the prior jurisprudence of the Supreme People’s Court OEM manufacturing was always presumed not to be a “use” of a trademark in the sense of the Trademark Law, in HONDA, this presumption has been flipped around. After HONDA, the OEM may face infringement liability even if it was licensed by the foreign client to manufacture for export purpose only, and the foreign client can prove he validly owns the same mark in the country of destination. As long as the Chinese right holder can prove that the affixing of the marks in that specific case has the ability to create confusion among the relevant public in China, the OEM will have infringed the Chinese Trademark Law.

At the heart of this inversion is a reinterpretation of the role of OEM manufacturing in the current Chinese economy and development planning. In the past, when OEM manufacturing was the main driver for economic development, China needed to secure it from any risk of disruption. With PRETUL the court had insulated OEM manufacturing from being challengeable under the Trademark Law. After HONDA, OEM manufacturing is open to trademark infringement claims under the relevant provisions of the Trademark Law of the PRC. The court has expressly recognized that in the new economic context and in light of new government policies, it is no longer justifiable to put OEM manufacturing automatically above the trademark law and that other interests, such as those of the consumers or other right holders (including Chinese right holders) are to be weighed into the infringement equation.

The Proof of Confusion

For the holder of a Chinese trademark, these can be good news. Unlike PRETUL, he will have now a chance to stop the OEM from exporting those products and pay compensation in spite of the latter fulfilling all the PRETUL criteria. However, in order to succeed, the right holder must still prove that the OEM act of affixing his trademark on the commissioned products, can cause confusion among the relevant Chinese public for that type of products. Although HONDAdoes not require the proof of an actual “confusion”, this is still a difficult task. In OEM cases, there are no direct end users of those products in China because the OEM products are meant to be directly shipped abroad. How could this use then cause confusion? In order to lighten the burden of proof of the Chinese right holder, the Court has stretched the scope of “relevant public”. In particular, the Court has stated that Chinese users of the kind of products in question can theoretically see and buy them online or when they travel abroad. In both cases, it is abstractedly possible that the exported OEM production may find its way back to China. The court has stressed out the fact that nowadays Chinese people have access to the Internet and are online shoppers as well as travel abroad more often than before. Furthermore, the Court in HONDA has added that when determining the relevant public, we should not only look at the end user of the product, but, in case of spare parts like in HONDA, to the intermediate users, i.e. the people involved in the export logistic or any other person involved in the business of these spare parts. This will therefore help right holder in China build a case of “confusion” against an OEM.

Is there any room for an OEM to defend itself after HONDA?

Although it is going to be a much tougher battle than it was under PETRUL, an OEM still has defenses. First of all, the OEM must fulfill the PETRUL standards. This is in fact the starting point. Without an order from a foreign right holder (i.e. a foreigner that legitimately owns that same mark in the country of destination), the manufacturing and the export of the trademarked products would be an act of open infringement by counterfeiting.

Furthermore, there must still be at least a high similarity or identity between the foreign trademark affixed on the goods and the one registered in China by the third party. In HONDA, the OEM affixed a mark that was different from that registered by the foreign consignee in Myanmar and was more similar to that owned by Honda Motor in China. Had the defendant used the mark in the exact font and type as the one registered in Myanmar, they may have had a better chance to argue for non-identity of the marks in dispute. Therefore, mark similarity may be a defense line depending on the specific case. Eventually, in HONDA the court found for infringement because the mark “HONDA” in class 12 in China was recognized to be a well-known mark. This teaches us that the likelihood of infringement increases with the degree of notoriety of the Chinese mark. OEMs will therefore have a good chance of repelling attempts at enforcement of those Chinese marks that are little or not used by their holders in China and have not built any reputation among the relevant Chinese public. In that case, it is obvious that there won’t be any risk of confusion.

OEM may also try to build a defense around the delimitation of “relevant public” in each specific case. Although the HONDA interpretation of relevant public is rather broad and favors the Chinese right holder, it cannot stretch without limits and the facts of the case may offer natural and logical limitation to the creation of that test, which may help the OEM prove that there cannot be confusion in that specific case.

Conclusions

So, what is the practical impact of this decision? Certainly, it will make the holders of a registered trademark in China more inclined to sue an OEM once they find out it is manufacturing products with that trademark even if upon a legitimate commission by a foreign party. It is also clear that any administration (e.g. Customs, MSA or Police) or civil court called upon in a trademark enforcement action, will be less inclined to apply a blanket OEM exception as in PRETUL. The HONDA decision seems to provide now an assumption that OEM manufacturing is a trademark use and therefore potentially infringing as long as the China trademark holder can prove confusion of the relevant Chinese public. We can expect an increase of this type of litigation in the near future and an increase in the cases favorable to the Chinese right holder rather than the OEM and its foreign partners.

It is clear that the courts in particular, will be keen to implement this new jurisprudence in light of the final policy goals set forth in the “Made in China 2025” agenda. Likely, the ongoing trade wars will make judges even more sensitive about their policy enforcing role when confronted with OEM manufacturing cases of trademark infringement. It seems that a new IP front has now been opened!

[1] Fokker Security Products international Limited v. Pujiang Ya Huan Locks Co. Ltd.

[2] Shanghai Diesel Engine Co. Ltd v Jiangsu Changjia Jinfeng Dynamic Machinery Co., Ltd.

[3] Honda Motor Co., Ltd. v. Chongqing Hengsheng Xintai Trading Co., Ltd. et Chongqing Hengsheng Group Co., Ltd. [Min Gao Fa Zai No. 138/2019].

COVID-19 OUTBREAK: Applying for an extension of the term to supply documents with the Beijing IP court

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Author: Michele Ferrante, Founder and Managing Partner at Ferrante IP.
Source: http://www.ferrante.asia/en/details.html?81

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 In consideration of the disruptions caused in many countries by the COVID-19 outbreak, the Beijing IP Court has opened the possibility for foreign plaintiffs to apply for an extension of the deadline to supplement notarized and legalized documents in administrative proceedings.

Under normal circumstances, the term for supplementing such documents is 3 months from the preliminary filing. Applications for an extension are open to foreign plaintiffs who are prevented from meeting the deadline by measures taken in their own jurisdiction to contain the spread of the disease.The application needs to explain the reasons for the delay and how it is caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Solid evidence proving such delay is needed, such as a formal notice of temporary closure of authorities or relevant media coverage.

The Beijing IP Court will decide whether an extension can be granted based on the circumstances of each case.

Reach out to our litigation team for more information (legal@ferrante.asia).