Trade

Impact on IP: What Effect Will The US-China “Phase 1” Trade Deal Have

Ian Sannes, MJLST Staffer

After 18 months of intense negotiations, the US and China finally reached an agreement with many provisions covering a wide variety of topics. Although the agreement has a focus on tariffs, it also addresses intellectual property (IP) rights both in China and the US. This deal is referred to as “Phase 1” and went into effect last week. In part, the deal is meant to increase and facilitate the ability of US businesses to operate in China.

From the US point of view, this deal strengthens IP rights of US patents in China. In fact, this strengthening of IP rights is arguably the most significant part of the entire deal. However, China also benefits from this because, as the previous deputy director of the National Economic Council Clete Willems said, “better intellectual property protection means more investment in China.” This makes sense, if US products are protected in China, then US companies will want to invest heavily to develop those products in a country that has more purchasing power than any other country in the world.

So, what changes to IP protections have been made?

The cornerstones of the IP protections implemented in the deal are wide-ranging. They include increasing trade secret protections, increasing pharmaceutical IP protections, extending patent terms, combating counterfeits, reforming trademark provisions, and improving judicial enforcement in IP cases. Some of these changes are discussed in more detail below.

The deal also put a stop to “forced technology transfers” that require US firms to share technology with Chinese companies to compete in their market. However, some are concerned that since this provision requires a wronged company to file a complaint with the Office of the US Trade Representative that may depend on other Chinese government approvals, this provision may be hard to enforce in practice.

Many US companies believe certain judicial proceedings in China are a pretext to force them to disclose valuable trade secrets. Phase 1 prohibits any proceeding from forcing such unauthorized disclosure of information. The deal also shifts the burden to the defendant in a trade secret case to prove their innocence after the plaintiff survives dismissal of the case. The deal brings the Chinese definition of trade secret more in line with the definition used in the US by expanding it to include “electronic intrusion and breach of confidentiality.”

The deal also increases patent terms for pharmaceuticals “to compensate for unreasonable delays” made in granting the pharmaceutical patents. This makes it easier for US drugs that took many years to make it through the Chinese patent system to recoup the development costs and to turn a profit. The deal allows for up to five years of extension to patent terms. Furthermore, the deal includes provisions for “effective and expeditious” actions against “counterfeit medicines and biologics, including active pharmaceutical ingredients, bulk chemicals, and biological substances.”

Finally, the deal also increases the severity of punishments for stealing or infringing IP rights. Besides improvements to detect and stop infringing counterfeits, audits may also be used to show that the Chinese government itself only uses licensed software.

These are just some of the many provisions included in Phase 1. The deal helps to make the US and Chinese IP systems “further aligned” and this can create efficiencies in standardization, improve clarity, and promote cooperation. This deal strengthens both the US and China economies and promotes trade and investment in each country while protecting IP. Furthermore, a Phase 2 trade deal is likely in the future. Hopefully, this new deal will include more IP protections for both countries and strengthen the economic bond between the countries even more.