Yesterday, The George Washington University Law School hosted its third annual China Intellectual Property (“IP”) Conference: Patent and Trade Secrets: A Public Discussion on How to Protect Technologies in China. The Conference focused on the impact of the resolution and spirit of the recent Third Plenum of the 18th Communist Party on the commercial rule of law and IP. Moderated by Mark Cohen, Senior Counsel, China, United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) and John Whealan, Intellectual Property Advisory Board Associate Dean for Intellectual Property Law Studies, George Washington Law School, the Conference featured a deep bench of legal experts from academia, government, corporations, trade associations, and domestic and international law firms. Keynote speakers included Randall R. Rader, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, David J. Kappos, Former Director, USPTO, and Teresa Stanek Rea, Former Deputy Director, USPTO. Rather than a typical PowerPoint-type presentation format, the Conference featured roundtable discussions with input from the audience, who included seasoned IP prosecutors and litigators with experience in China.
The first panel discussed overall fiscal and other developments in China and how they related to IP changes. Whealan noted that it has been difficult to develop an Chinese economy that depends on IP when the corporate managers are government employees (i.e., no “real” managerial class) and the judicial system is semi-legislative (e.g., it added copyright law before there was a formal copyright law). Rader said that the Chinese use IP as an “area of experimentation” beyond the usual, where he saw some positive movement in the judicial system. For example, Rader explained that he used to say that companies should use something other than the courts to enforce their patent rights; now, he thinks if you do “everything right,” you can win. Rader has also been involved in IP information/education exchanges with the Chinese judicial system, which has helped to lead to thoughts about developing a specialized IP court in China. He was also encouraged by the selection of a lawyer for the Supreme People’s Court. Further, over time he has witnessed a transformation from China’s manufacturing economy that undervalued IP to an economy more dependent on innovation, where there has been a need for greater IP protections.
Cohen observed that while China has been developing its IP program, there has been less emphasis to protect pharmaceutical patents and no national trade secret protection. In some sense, China approached IP protections backward: first there was IP (1983) then there was property law (2007), which never allowed IP law to develop properly. Cohen believed that the Chinese judicial system needs more transparency–important or “embarrassing” cases often are deliberately not published, leading to disclosure of “model decisions” that do not mirror what happens, and no “real Markman [claim interpretation] cases.” Added to that are provincial government control differences, Conrad Wong, Attorney-Advisor, Enforcement Unit, Office of Policy and External Affairs, USPTO, described, and differences of opinion regarding nondisclosure agreements (e.g., employees believe they are not bound by IP rights to their previous employer).