What are some of the big issues affecting British businesses’ intellectual property assets in China?
There are two frequently reported problems that the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) deals with. The first is the registration of UK companies’ trademarks including logos and company names, which are then used by third parties to make similar goods, or are offered to the UK company for sale.
The British Embassy and CBBC are working with Chinese authorities on how laws can be updated to better protect British companies IP rights, and also to help companies understand what the laws are in China and how to utilise them effectively.
Secondly, the advertising and sale of copied designs or counterfeit goods in markets most frequently is online marketplaces such as ecommerce platforms or social media. Other issues include pirated works such as books, music, film and TV shows, and the exchange of companies’ internal proprietary documentation on cloud servers and document sharing sites. Much of this type of activity happens online because it provides a level of secrecy and anonymity to the sellers that isn’t possible offline.
What have the CBBC and WeChat owner Tencent agreed in the new memorandum of understanding? How will the agreement be implemented?
The agreement covers many areas of cooperation, of which a number have been made public:
● All parties emphasise the importance of intellectual protection, and the positive step of creating the WeChat Brand Protection Platform;
● Facilitation of CBBC and International Publishers Copyright Protection Coalition in China (IPCC) members to better utilise Tencent’s IP protection systems;
● An ‘express channel’ will be set up to prioritise the needs of CBBC and IPCC members within mainland China; and
● Stated ambitions around the development of enhanced IP protection mechanisms.
The WeChat Brand Protection Platform is a portal whereby brands can make complaints about IP infringing products, which are being advertised by third-party users for sale via the WeChat platform.
If there has been an infringement of an IP right exclusively owned by the complainant, then Weixin will remove the listing and or revoke the user’s right to operate the account.
There is also an innovative mechanism whereby consumer complaints are sent directly to rights owners for them to verify if the product advertised is IP infringing or not prior to removal.
It’s important that ecommerce and social media platforms have systems such as this (usually known as notice and takedown systems), and that they evolve over time.
CBBC welcomes the development of such systems, and hopes that by encouraging companies to use the systems then we can provide a feedback mechanism that can help Tencent to continually improve its operation.
And as part of the cooperation, the express channel will be a way of expediting CBBC and IPCC members’ requests for takedowns of infringing products, while we provide Tencent with constructive feedback on how it’s working.
Other areas of cooperation include:
● The parties will work together to explore offline cooperation with law enforcement agencies;
● Support will be provided to Tencent for any construction and improvement of technical and legal measures; and
● Regular meetings will be held to discuss systemic improvements on IP protection.
CBBC will be supporting Tencent and British brands in the pursuit of criminals (in accordance with Chinese law) that use online platforms for sale of illicit goods such as counterfeits.
There are some technical and legal issues around the gathering of electronic evidence and cross-border enforcement, which will need to be worked out through dialogue and cooperation.
Dialogue is an important aspect of any cooperation agreement, so we’ll be holding regular meetings with Tencent on behalf of British industry and together with UK brand owners in the coming months.
How successful has the agreement between CBBC and Alibaba Group been? What has it entailed?
The CBBC-Alibaba Group agreement on IP protection since 2014 has been hailed as a success by both UK industry and government, so we’re keen to emulate it across internet companies in China more broadly. Alibaba and CBBC meet almost every month to have in-depth discussions together with British brand owners about IP protection, or to provide training or sharing on best practices for online IP enforcement. One area we’ve made real headway with is with offline IP enforcement (catching criminals). CBBC supported a project together with Alibaba’s investigations team and leading British engine lubricant producers in 2015 where we uncovered a network of counterfeit manufacturers, distributors and sellers across six provinces. It led to 22 arrests and the confiscation of RMB 120 million ($17 million) worth of oils, which was the largest enforcement by Alibaba in 2015.
This year Alibaba and CBBC have got an even bigger enforcement project ongoing regarding the trade in counterfeits between China and Southeast Asia. These enforcements send a strong message to infringers and would be criminals to think twice before using online platforms to sell counterfeit goods. The UK IP minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe said at the UK-China IP Symposium: “The Alibaba-CBBC IP agreement has improved the global ecommerce environment, making it safer for consumers and the small businesses that use Alibaba sites as part of their supply chain.”
What is CBBC working on in this area for the future?
CBBC is continuing and broadening the scope of our cooperation with Alibaba this year, and we’ll be looking to use our Tencent agreement as a springboard for IP protection collaboration regarding WeChat too.
We’re also having less formal discussions with business-to-consumer ecommerce platforms such as JD.com and Suning.com, which is a different situation in terms of IP protection issues because there are more restrictions for sellers. And we’re talking with search engine Baidu about copyright protection, including in support of a cooperation agreement that it has with CBBC’s close partner, the IPCC.
We’re also working with the UK government and British brands on trying to disrupt trade links in counterfeit goods between China and Southeast Asia. Note that Southeast Asia is rising as an exporter and China has been rising in terms of consumer buying power, so we’re starting to track the flow of counterfeit goods being imported into China in addition to combating traditional flow of exports from China.
CBBC will also be supporting UK government work in bilateral IP events, such as the annual UK-China IP Symposium, and important governmental visits going from China to the UK, or from the UK to China.