The China National Intellectual Property Administration has released the Draft Amendment to the Patent Examination Guidelines. The draft proposes revisions to both substantive and procedural aspects in preliminary examination, substantive examination and invalidation proceedings regarding patents. This article analyses the major proposed changes to patent examinations.
In patent infringement disputes, it is possible to narrowly construe a feature to the specific embodiment and its equivalent embodiment by arguing that a claimed feature is a functional one. The accused infringer usually adopts this strategy in its non-infringement defence to narrowly construe the scope of patent protection to obtain a favourable position in the infringement comparison. A recent case serves as a reference on how to determine the functional features in patent infringement disputes.
No one wants to associate toothpaste with insect repellent, but this can happen if the same names and images have been trademarked in different classes of goods. This was the situation in which Hawley & Hazel (H&H) found itself with regard to its toothpaste brand Darlie. After Guangzhou Heiren filed the same iconic image associated with Darlie and the trademark DARLIE in several classes, H&H initiated copyright infringement and bad-faith registration claims.
The revision of the Anti-unfair Competition Law is part of the new effort to enhance the protection of intellectual property in China. It also reflects the ongoing negotiations between China and the United States on various topics, including IP protection. The revisions provide (among other things) a wider definition of a 'trade secret' and introduce the concept of punitive damages and the inversion of the burden of proof.
In 2018 the China Trademark Office launched a consultation for the fourth revision of the Trademark Law, which will enter into force in November 2019. The revision focuses on two important issues: the proliferation of trademarks, which was one of the main issues on which comments were submitted, and enforcement actions against infringers, which are considered insufficiently deterrent. As the new law was promulgated in such a hurry, further explanation and information on how it will be implemented is necessary.
The State Council recently amended the Regulations on the Administration of Technology Import and Export. The previous regulations, which had been in force since 2002, contained provisions pertaining to patented technologies and technological secrets which directly contradicted the Contract Law 1999. As such, they had been the subject of numerous complaints from the foreign business community.
A recent case concerning a culinary utensil invention may serve as a point of reference in assessing technical teaching. In practice – particularly in cases involving machinery – even though a structure extracted from prior art is identical or similar to a technical feature of a patent claim, a technical teaching could be erroneously derived if the structure's effect is considered based only on the extracted structure alone and not the effect that the structure achieves within the whole context of the invention.
Colour combinations have been registrable as marks since the Trademark Law was amended in 2001. However, in practice, this has been difficult, as examiners often opt for the easy solution of refusing such marks on account of their lack of distinctiveness. The Beijing IP Court case involving Andreas Stihl AG & Co KG's orange and grey abstract colour combination trademark illustrates the difficulties in this regard and showcases how to register a colour combination trademark in China.
Against the backdrop of China's changing IP landscape, the administrative enforcement of patents remains a valid option. Although local IP offices are being incorporated into the local administrations of market supervision, their patent enforcement function will remain intact. As such, judicial and administrative protection will likely dovetail in future to achieve complementary advantages. IP practitioners are therefore advised to tailor enforcement strategies to the circumstances of a particular case.
The Ouhai District People's Court in Wenzhou recently affirmed the significance of taking a global view when assessing the similarities between an allegedly infringing product and a 3D trademark. The dispute at issue was between Martell, one of the world's oldest cognac houses, and the Chinese manufacturer of Louis Baron XO brandy, the bottle of which was almost identical to Martell's 3D trademark.
In a recently published case, the Supreme People's Court reaffirmed that the reputation that a prior mark has built up may be extended to a later mark of the same applicant. However, the court categorically denied that a trademark registration can be extended to other marks through any means other than a renewal. This decision has rendered the widespread practice of extending a trademark registration obsolete.
The Office of the Inter-ministerial Joint Meeting for Implementation of the National IP Strategy recently promulgated the Action Plan for Furthering the National IP Strategy and IP Rights Powerhouse Initiative 2018. The action plan offers few new proposals and instead reiterates the major IP initiatives which the government has promoted over the past two years, including institutional and judicial reform, a legislative plan and various national enforcement campaigns.
In October 2018 the National People's Congress decided that all appeals of lower-court judgments rendered in cases with a technical aspect should be submitted to the Supreme People's Court (SPC). Following this decision, the SPC created a detached tribunal known as the SPC IP Court. It also promulgated the Provisions on Several Issues concerning the SPC IP Court, which set out how the new court will function and its jurisdiction.
The 13th National People's Congress Standing Committee recently concluded its sixth session and adopted the Decision on Several Issues concerning the Litigation Procedures of Patent and Other IP Cases. Among other things, the decision provides that first-instance judgments rendered in highly technical civil IP cases will be directly appealable to the Supreme People's Court.
In July 2018 the Supreme People's Court confirmed the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board's decision to invalidate the pre-emptive registration of the trademark 美图秀秀MEITUXIUXIU in Class 3. The court's verdict has put an end to the invalidation proceedings instituted by Xiamen Meitu Technology Co, Ltd against the disputed trademark and confirmed the well-known status of the cited trademark 美图秀秀 in Class 9.
The statutory limit for damages set out in the Patent Act is Rmb1 million, which is lower than the equivalent limit set out in both the Trademark Law and the Anti-unfair Competition Law. As such, it is becoming increasingly important in patent cases to convince the court that the prejudice is higher than the statutory limit. Stokke AS recently managed to do this before a Zhejiang court in a lawsuit against a patent infringer.
In 2017 the Beijing IP Court rendered a groundbreaking decision by awarding the owner of an unregistered well-known trademark Rmb3 million in damages for infringement. According to the Trademark Law (2013 version), the owner of an unregistered trademark can prevent a third party from registering or using an identical or similar trademark on the same or similar goods. However, the law is silent as to whether the owner of such a mark can seek damages from third-party users.
China's State Intellectual Property Office was recently renamed the National Intellectual Property Administration. Simultaneously, the activities of a number of government entities, including the State Administration for Industry and Commerce and the State Intellectual Property Office, were regrouped under the State Administration for Market Regulation. Since the government announced this plan, foreign brand owners have been wondering how it will affect the IP sector.
The Supreme People's Court recently held a public hearing on the retrial of the administrative litigation concerning the refusal of Parfums Christian Dior's international 3D trademark application. The case was far from simple and raised several procedural issues, including with regard to the definition and publication of an application's subject matter, the consistency of examination criteria and the treatment of solely 3D marks.
The Beijing IP Court handles a substantial number of cases each year. Despite a 90% increase in the number of concluded cases since 2015, the court remains under enormous pressure to reduce its case backlog, of which patent administrative cases account for a considerable proportion. In order to reduce this backlog, the court recently began enlisting technical investigators and jurors with technical expertise in court proceedings.