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Experts: Void from U.S. patent “train wreck” is being filled by China’s patent system

In a few short years China’s patent system has gone from an IP rights wannabe to one of the most responsive and patent-friendly systems in the world.

Leading U.S. IP experts say that underlying this rapid evolution is a desire for China to become a science and technology powerhouse, with the ability to create new and formidable industries that employ many of its 1.4 billion people.

“China wants to be an innovation leader for multiple reasons,” Irv Rappaport, former Chief Patent Counsel at Apple and National Semiconductor, who served on the Uruguay Round of GATT, told IP CloseUp recently. “It is fascinating to see how the U.S. patent system is imploding, while the Chinese system is exploding with activity and purpose.

“For more than a decade the U.S. has been emasculating its patent system, while the Chinese have been studying it and adopting the benefits of a well-coordinated and fast-moving one. The U.S. has gone from being on the global cutting edge in IP in the 1990s, to becoming a patent backwater, because of a well-heeled, anti-patent faction among technology companies that want to stifle competition.

“Train Wreck”

“China has watched the U.S. train wreck and is moving fast to fill the void,”continues Rappaport. “It wants to become the world’s ‘Eastern District of TX,’ that is, a fair and fast adjudicator of disputes that respects patent holders’ rights. China will soon be the world’s largest economy with the biggest population and a middle class the size of England, France and Germany combined. Their commitment to innovation can not be ignored.”

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Peter Holden, CEO of ipCreate and former managing director with London-based Collar Capital and a founding executive with IP Value, has worked extensively with Asian companies and patents. He has traveled to Korea, China and Japan more than 100 times over the past twenty years. “The Chinese have learned from the U.S. and are sincere about making their IP system the best — one that will encourage innovation and help their nation to become the economic leader. It is not merely a thought. It’s an idea that they are dedicated to.

“China’s attitude towards foreign patent enforcement may not always be as generous as it is currently. It knows that it needs to bend over backwards to be fair if it is to be taken seriously on a global scale. To encourage competition there needs to be a level playing field.”

Counterfeits Still Rule

But China’s record on counterfeits is poor, with everything from luxury goods to pharmaceuticals sold domestically and exported globally. According the U.S. International Trade Commission, Chinese theft of U.S. IP in 2009 alone cost almost one million U.S. jobs and caused $48 billion in U.S. economic losses.

“Counterfeit goods are still an issue for China,” says Erick Robinson, a patent attorney in Beijing and author of Defending a patent case in the brave new world of Chinese patent litigation, in the current issue of IAM magazine. “However, sales of fake goods are no longer openly accepted and the government has been on the war path trying to stop them in different ways. Authorities know that in order to be taken seriously about IP rights, they cannot ignore the problem of counterfeit goods.”

For a prior IP CloseUp post summarizing the Robinson article, go here.

“Go-To” Jurisdiction

China is just beginning to build its giant tech companies. They have succeed with Alibaba and Huawei, and acquired Lenovo from IBM, which is now a $45 billion (USD) business. Their big businesses currently have less to lose from strong patents and quick dispute resolution than those in the U.S. and Europe. To create successful businesses and attract investment, incentives need to be provided, and strong patents and a reliable legal system for adjudicating disputes are great for encouraging that.

Perhaps when China has as many big tech players as the U.S. it will start to think more defensively, but for now it is the perfect setting for encouraging new ideas with strong patents and courts that make it easy to obtain injunctions.

“It’s interesting that the Chinese are encouraging large foreign corporations to sue non-Chinese companies in China,” opines Rappaport. “This suggests that they are looking to become the patent litigation go-to jurisdiction.” As their innovation grows and becomes more complex, I believe they will have less interest in exporting cheap knock-
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offs.  Their IP path is similar to that followed by many of today’s developed economies, such as Japan and South Korea.  You start off copying others and gradually move to internal innovation.”

Despite China’s success in facilitating stronger patents and more decisive courts, a huge question is just how prominent a role will patents play in new companies in a data-driven information age.

“Given the accelerating pace of technology development and nature of discoveries, which are frequently software driven, it’s not clear whether existing patent systems can remain relevant in the longer term,” says Rappaport. ” This effect may partially explain why patents currently seem to be less relevant in the U.S.  It remains to be seen whether this is a longer term development. It is a development that needs to watched.”

“100% Win Rate”

“Trust the Chinese government to do what is best for the Chinese people,” reminds Beijing-based Robinson. “It’s less about assisting foreign patent holders than establishing a really viable IP system that encourages innovation and growth, and that attracts foreign investment. Forty-percent of the smart phones in India are currently manufactured by Chinese companies. Innovation coupled with enforcement will drive China’s new businesses and help them grow.”

As reported by Robinson in IAM, “foreign plaintiffs notched a 100% win rate [65 – 0] in civil cases heard by the Beijing IP Court last year, according to a judge who has been on its roster since it was established in 2014.”

Wake-Up Call

A decade of weakening has taken its toll on the U.S. patent system and patent holders. It will not be quick to recover unless a concerted effort can be made to take IP rights seriously. Allowing U.S. patent policy to be dictated by those with the greatest financial success and market share may be appealing to shareholders, but it is not necessarily what is needed for the nation to remain competitive in a global economy, and to generate new businesses and jobs.

Hopefully, the wake-up call comes soon for the U.S. and it can retain the title of innovation leader it has held since the 19th Century but is slipping away.

Image source: insideiim.com; chinapatentblog.com; wsj.com

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China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the leading patent system

A few years ago a company whose patents were violated in China had little or no chance of defending its rights. 

Determined to move beyond its role as a low-cost provider of look-alike consumer products, and establish itself as an innovation leader, China has learned from the successes – and mistakes – of other intellectual property systems, especially the U.S. The nation of 1.4 billion inhabitants has rapidly emerged as what is currently among the fairest and most patent holder-friendly systems in the world.

Chinese patent courts second only, perhaps, to Germany in quickly and fairly adjudicating disputes.

A fascinating article in the current IAM magazine, “Defending a patent case in the brave new world of Chinese patent litigation,” details China’s rapid rise from low-cost copier to a patent power, and a nation that has caught the attention of major global technology powers who are often defendants.

Damages awards are relatively small in China, with median awards currently around 35,000 Renminbi or about $5,000, but injunctions, the power to stop a likely infringing product from being sold, are now issued over 99% of the time to winning parties. NPEs, what some U.S. companies refer to as patent “trolls,” are treated fairly as long as they their patents are of sufficient quality and are the companies are generally supportive of Chinese welfare.

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Patent litigation win rates, according to the article, average around 80%. Startlingly, foreign plaintiffs fare better statistically than Chinese. 

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The U.S. effectively ended the granting of patent injunctions in 2006 with EBay v. MercExchange. Now, only operating companies can obtain them in rare circumstances. This removes most of the leverage afforded patent holders. Granted, injunction abuses are a fact of life, and dubious patents have at times been used to enjoin products, costing companies time and money. But without the power to stop a product from being sold, patents have little meaning.

Race to the Bottom

“Largely as a result of the United States’ race to the bottom in terms of patent enforcement, Germany has emerged as a go-to patent jurisdiction, with virtually guaranteed injunctions, quick time to trial and no discovery resulting in a highly efficient system,” writes Beijing-based Erick Robinson, chief patent counsel, Asia-Pacific for Rouse, a global IP strategy firm.

Patent-holder Win-Rates and Median Damages Awards 

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“Enter China. For years the laughing-stock of all things IP related, the Middle Kingdom was ridiculed for the easy availability of counterfeit handbags, software and DVDs. However, over the last 15 years, and especially in the last two to three, China has put together an extremely effective patent enforcement system. Based largely on the German system and all of its advantages, but with selected portions from US law, China has now become a top forum for patent litigation.”

Unlike most countries which enjoin making, using and selling allegedly infringed products in-country, as well as imports, Chinese law also bans infringing exports from leaving the country. So, for example, if the accused device is Apple’s iPhone, not only can sales of iPhones in China be enjoined, but also exports of the devices from China. This would enable a patent owner to achieve an effective worldwide ban, since iPhones are manufactured in China.

Slippery Slope

With U.S. patent protection significantly diminished over the past decade, and China’s on the rise, the U.S. is on a slippery slope when it comes to stimulating R&D, innovation and investment. It is well on its way to becoming a second-rate patent system, and a slip in disruptive innovation, necessary for the creation of new industries, difficult to measure in real-time, has probably started. Certainly, companies and their stakeholders are thinking twice before pursuing or relying upon USPTO-issued patent protection.

It remains to be seen if China, a continuing source of counterfeit goods that are shipped worldwide, is committed to providing its businesses, as well as those outside of the country, with a legal system that can meet the needs of all business holders, and permit fair and timely resolution of legitimate disputes.

High Win-Rates; Low Damages Awards

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China is now the second largest filer in the U.S. and, while its companies have rarely resorted to filing suits in the U.S. against U.S. companies, there is little doubt that it will do so in the future. Technology giants include Alibaba, Xiaomi, Huawei and Lenovo.

China is likely to be more aggressive enforcing its patents than U.S. frequent-filer Japan, which has been reluctant to engage in domestic or foreign patent disputes. (There are some signs that is changing.) Samsung, by far the largest holder of U.S. patents in the world, has shown a greater willingness use its patents for licensing and leverage.

China may or may not be deliberately attempting to embarrass U.S. and eventually surpass its moribund IP system, but the impact is the same. Continued lack of awareness of what IP rights achieve and for whom, and lobbying, has significantly compromised the once-exemplary U.S. patent system. The Chinese are not too new to capitalism not to see this as an opportunity to compete. For the U.S.’ sake, let’s hope it’s not too late to make invention rights a priority again.

Subscribers can access The brave new world of Chinese patent litigation here.

FUTURE POST: What patent experts believe China’s patent-friendly system means for the U.S. – Experts: Void from U.S. patent “train wreck” is being filled by China’s patent system

Image source: IAM magazine

US-Patents

Samsung is the leading US patent holder, 24,000 ahead of IBM

Of the top eleven active US patent holders, only four are American companies.

But who gets the best return on their innovation rights is less clear. 

It is no surprise that many foreign companies are significant US patent holders. The leader in active US patents, Samsung, with 63,434, is now more than 24,000 issued invention rights ahead of the American leader, IBM, with 39,436. But US patentees are learning that they do not all need to be top banana to succeed.

What this tells us is that for some companies – especially foreign ones – the quantity of US patents still counts, even if quality appears to be somewhat of a moving target. And besides, big technology companies seldom put their patents to the test. US-Patents

“Depending on the stage of a corporation’s development, intellectual property may be a primary value driver,” according to an article, “The largest US patent portfolios are shrinking,” by Michael Chernoff of MDB Capital in the May IAM magazine.

“This list provides insight as to whether a company’s portfolio has been growing and the impact that those assets appear to be having within their technology verticals.”

Big and Growing

Of the top 100 holders, Alphabet (Google) had one of the highest three-year compound annual (patent) growth rates (CAGR), 16%. They were outdone only by Apple, 19%, Ford, 19% and Taiwan Semiconductor at 22%. Huawei’s CAGR was a 26%, but on a lower base.

Alphabet is #12 and Apple #26 on the top 100 active US patentees list. Microsoft is now four, displacing Panasonic.

Seven entities moved up the ladder and made it onto the US Patent 100 list during the last year: Avago Technologies (36), Kyocera (81), Merck (84), Huawei (86) Caterpillar (97), EMC Corp (98) and Halliburton (100). While most of these new entrants won their place as a result of sustained IP development, some are due to significant acquisitions, as noted in Chernoff’s article. (I understand that Google also, has been an active acquirer.)

Getting vs. Having 

While IBM has received the most patents granted by the USPTO every year for the past twenty years, or so, it does not have the most active US patents. Samsung does, and Canon has inched ahead of IBM.

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This is one area where lack of leadership can be strength. IBM allows many patents to lapse once it knows that rivals will not secure them or they are not likely to provide much value. The company also generates many defensive publications that prevent others from securing patents on inventions it may wish to use or build trade secrets (consulting “know-how”) around.

Because IBM is more selective and may have a greater number of quality assets than some of its foreign rivals, the company’s patent portfolio is likely more relevant for out and cross-licensing, and occasional sales, which in past years it has engaged in with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google. Fewer active US patents also means lower maintenance costs.

Image source: http://www.diyphotography.net; www.thenextsiliconvalley.com

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Mobile & Other Patents will Play a Role in Pantech Bankruptcy Sale

Expect a transaction to yield some clues about which smart phone-related patents are interesting, what they are worth and to whom.

Struggling South Korean handset maker, Pantech, announced this week that it is up for sale. Pantech’s financial troubles could be other technology companies’ gains, especially if they are interested in cracking the lucrative Korean smart phone market.

A Pantech sale for all or parts of the company also will test the volatile market for US cell phone patents many businesses and NPEs still covet.

After filing the equivalent to Chapter 11 bankruptcy  earlier this year patent-rich Pantech, which sells in the US through AT&T, Verizon and others, announced recently that it was for sale.

Envision IP published a report yesterday that provides a snapshot of Pantech’s patent portfolio. While the size of the portfolio is only a fraction of Samsung’s (60,000 total US patents) and LG’s (30,000), the patents it contains, a number covering signal transmission, appear to be similarly valid based on citation analysis.

Pantech currently owns 291 US patents, with 269 utility patents and 22 design patents. Pantech also owns 2,654 foreign patents, with the 2,239 of these being Korean patents, and 211 European patents.

“In terms of reverse and forward citations, the portfolios of all three companies are relatively comparable,” said Maulin Shah of Envision IP. “The citation analysis indicates that Pantech’s patents, on average, are technically as strong as Samsung’s patents from a validity standpoint, based strictly on the reverse citation count.  With regards to how

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innovative Pantech’s patents are to the mobile device sector, the patents appear slightly less fundamental than both LG and Samsung’s patents, based strictly on the forward citation count.”

Korean network carrier SK Telecom has been considered the front-runner for the bid. Other Korean conglomerates such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai Motor Group have also been mentioned as potential buyers. (In 2013 Samsung acquired a 10% stake in the struggling company.)

No US or European buyers have been named.

“The possibility of a foreign company nabbing Pantech is also very real,” reports CNET. “Earlier in April, an Indian consumer electronics giant, Micromax, had considered buying a sizeable stake in Pantech. Chinese handset makers Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi could all benefit from acquiring Pantech, forging entry into the nigh-impenetrable Korean handset market.”

Image source: pantechusa.com; envisionip.com


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