SEPs and the Law in China – Episode 10


March 15, 2022

Watch on YouTube


  • Mark Cohen, University of California, Berkeley

Mark Cohen(柯恒} is a Distinguished Senior Fellow and Director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served as the Senior Counsel, China for the USPTO. Formerly, he was Director of International Intellectual Property Policy at Microsoft Corporation. Prior to that time he was Of Counsel to Jones Day’s Beijing office. Before then, he served as Senior Intellectual Property Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and as Attorney-Advisor in the Office of International Relations at USPTO. In total, he has nearly 30 private, public sector, in house and academic experience on IPR issues in China.

In Marks view: “China is a much more complex and a much less transparent environment than many think it is. If you do not have a governments relation person on your team and if you can’t mine the docket data you can’t win a Chinese SEP litigation.”

Mark has over the years conducted several empirical analyses of the Chinese legal system and SEP litigation cases have drastically increased. SEPs are of the highest importance in China and very often relevant and on the agenda of board room decisions. Here the Chinese patent and legal system has seen a great development. Courts are efficient and, in some cases, often faster than US or European courts. However, still the legal system lacks transparency as not all decisions are public, and the litigation dockets are incomplete. As to the publicly available data it looks as if SEP decisions with Chinese companies involved do not rule in favor of the local Chinese companies. However, if rulings and decisions are not all public it’s very difficult to confirm that with the given data. Also, while judges have access to the dockets and other do not, we see decisions that reference nonpublic court rulings which creates confusion and makes it difficult to win a case.

Despite the incomplete data China has however gained importance as being an international venue for SEP litigation. This may not be surprising given that most worldwide sold smartphones are manufactured in China and that the Chinese single market is the biggest in the world for SEP relevant products such as phones, tablets, smart watches, TVs and so on. SEP owners one the one hand find it adventures to litigate in China as injunctions are much more frequently granted. However, on the other hand damages are much lower compared to Europe and the US. China is not the country of unlicensed products anymore and Intellectual Property enforcement is taken much more seriously. However, Mark stresses again cases matter and if not all of them are public we have a problem as lawyers and judges need to be able to reference and consider decision from past cases.

Mark also worries about the increasing cases of anti-suit and anti-anti-suit injunctions. The Chinese legal system should not be underestimated, and its power and influence will grow. So are the increasing number of internationally active patent owners. Indeed, the IPlytics data confirms that Chinese companies have had the highest growth rates in SEP declarations and standards contribution submissions over the past 5 years with increasing numbers of patent filings not only in China but also granted in the US and Europe. Mark believes that the WTO (World Trade Organization) should help in aligning international rules and guidelines and should be much more recognized not only by China but also the US and other countries.

Mark also discusses the trade war between China and the US and the ban of some Chinese companies on the US market. A company such as Huawei that is banned from selling products in the US but is one of the largest SEP holders in the world with a large valid US portfolio creates a risk for US operating companies. If there is no need to cross license Huawei acts like an NPE in the US and may enforce patents much more aggressively. Also, to recoup its R&D investments and missing income from the product market.

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