Addressing IP Rights Issues in China
Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee
It was clear during my recent trip to Beijing, China, that the timing for the visit could not have been better. China is at a crossroads in its economic evolution, and as such governmental officials are considering changes to every aspect of intellectual property law. After a series of high-level meetings, what was clear to both me and my China team—led by Senior Counsel Mark Cohen—was an increased recognition in China of the value of IP to the nation’s economic ambitions. It is through a mutual respect for the importance of IP rights and protections that U.S. companies will be able to fully and successfully compete in the Chinese market.
From May 25th to the 27th, I met with senior leaders across China’s IP landscape, starting with Vice Premier Wang Yang. The Vice Premier stated quite clearly that China aspires to be an innovation-based economy. China is no longer content with manufacturing goods invented by others, he and other leaders said, as the country aims to move up the economic value chain and compete in the global marketplace of inventors. As such, we were told that China recognizes that improving IP rights and enforcement is not just in the interest of the U.S., it is also in the interest of China. We heard this not just from the Vice Premier but in meetings with China’s State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO), the Ministry of Commerce (MofCOM), the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), the National People’s Congress (NPC), and the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).
Much progress needs to be made in China in all forms of IP law, from patents and trademarks, to copyrights and trade secrets. I made clear in my meetings that we seek to work with China to develop a market-oriented, business-driven innovation environment that allows businesses the freedom to license and contract as conditions warrant. Those businesses need to be free from governmental interference in an environment comprising transparency and rule of law. Already assisting U.S. businesses in China are three USPTO IP attachés, including Beijing-based Joel Blank, who was part of my delegation.
We discussed with our counterparts China’s new IP specialized courts, offering input on how to ensure this reform guarantees justice for IP owners. We pushed for reforms to ensure effective protection and enforcement of trade secrets that would include revisions to its criminal law. We emphasized the need for increased protection for copyright and trademark owners while recognizing the importance of reforms already enacted, offering feedback on further reform efforts being discussed in China on those issues. And we did so, in each case, by emphasizing how these changes would be mutually beneficial for both countries.
I also had the unique opportunity to meet with U.S. industry representatives while in Beijing. It’s invaluable to hear about the IP challenges and issues faced by those “on the ground,” and to discuss the ways in which the U.S. government can help them.
This visit built on a successful trip by Deputy Director Russell Slifer to the IP5 Heads meeting in Suzhou, China, a week earlier. Along with signing a Memoranda of Cooperation with the Korean IP Office and the Japanese Patent Office, Deputy Director Slifer met with SIPO Commissioner Shen Changyu. Deputy Director Slifer and I had just hosted Commissioner Shen at the USPTO in April, and I had a productive meeting with him on this recent trip.
During that meeting, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Commissioner Shen that commits the USPTO and SIPO to a general framework of bilateral cooperation. We both committed to educational programs on how best to protect patents in each country’s legal system, and could organize activities related to USPTO programs such as the Patent Prosecution Highway and the Global Dossier initiative. SIPO and the USPTO process more patent applications than any of the other IP offices in the world, and I am encouraged by the furthering of our agencies’ collaboration.
As evidence of this collaboration, SIPO also participated in a cause close to my heart. On May 25, I gave a speech at Columbia University's East Asia Center in Beijing to an audience of 60 people, mostly women between the ages of 25 and 40, on the importance of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. A representative from SIPO echoed my remarks, and emphasized the link between a strong STEM education system and an innovative society.
Engagement with SIPO—and Chinese policymakers more broadly—will continue later this year with the next meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Trade and Commerce that I co-chair with Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Robert Holleyman. This trip helped lay the groundwork for that very important bilateral trade dialogue, in which IP is a top priority. We’re moving forward on plans for that meeting with a commitment to continue to encourage China’s evolution to an innovative economy that increasingly respects and promotes IP rights.