Interview: Joel Blank – Intellectual Property Attaché, US Embassy, Beijing

Author: InnoXcell

October-24 2016

Joel Blank is the Intellectual Property attaché at the United States Embassy in Beijing. Joel spoke to InnoXcell about the progress made in IP protection ahead of his speech at the IAS Beijing on October 25th.

China recently is about to mark its 15th anniversary as a member of the WTO. Can you describe some of the biggest changes in their global economic presence that have occurred over the last decade?

The world has certainly changed a great deal since 2001, when China became a member of the WTO. The multiple booms and busts in the global economy during these past 15 years have changed all countries in various ways. China’s role on the global stage has grown tremendously, and without a doubt what happens here has ripple effects throughout the world. The tremendous growth, and subsequent slowing down, of China’s economy has widespread ramifications.

As one of the world’s largest economies that is still growing quickly, China continues to be a market that foreign companies view as highly important to their success. It should go without saying that developments in technology have further spurred this growth, and will continue to do so in the coming years. One particular area that will continue to impact the global economy is China’s transition to an R&D focused/innovative economy. This transition, if undertaken in ways that promote healthy global competition and non-discrimination, can help the global economy rise and create opportunities for consumers around the world. China is becoming a significant player in global IP landscapes. China is a member of the IP-5 (the five largest patent offices), the TM-5 (the five largest trademark offices), and the recently created ID-5 (a new framework for engagement on industrial designs). Through these and other global IP groups, China is positioned to play an increasingly important role in the future of global economies and IP regimes.

Are the issues of trademark and copyright infringement hindering the conduct of foreign business in China?

While China has made great strides in its IPR protection and enforcement systems over the last 15 years, there is still much work to be done. Foreign companies report that protecting their IP continues to be a top priority in doing business here. Pirated and counterfeit goods still can be found quite easily in China. Many brick and mortar stores have been replaced with online portals, which in many ways are more difficult to monitor yet can easily reach millions of consumers instantly. China is already the world’s largest e-commerce market, and is growing at a record pace. It is more important now than ever before to stop the online sale of counterfeit and pirated products. Both foreign and Chinese brand owners say that online counterfeits hurt their sales, and artists and innovators of all types continue to suffer from free or inexpensive access to copyright infringing works online. To truly incentivize investment in the innovative and creative industries, by domestic and foreign companies, further progress must be made to deter all types of IPR infringement and better compensate those whose IPR is infringed. This means both better laws and stronger enforcement systems and cooperation. One area we are seeing progress in is building partnerships. Here is an example of what I mean; Chinese technology companies are licensing TV shows, movies, sporting events, and other content from U.S. copyright owners and distributing that to Chinese viewers through websites, apps, and more. This is legitimate commerce and this type of partnership creates allies who join forces to keep pirated content ‘off the airwaves’ and protect legitimate revenue streams. These and similar partnerships are how we fight infringement and promote legitimate commerce.

What steps is the US government taking to ensure IPR protection and safety?

The U.S–China bilateral trade relationship is the most important in the world. IPR protection and enforcement is a large part of our ongoing dialogue, and is a consistent area of focus at all levels of our engagement. For example, IPR is a prominent topic within the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT), the high-level dialogue through which both sides seek to address trade-related issues. The JCCT will take place later this fall in Washington, DC, and we hope will result in several agreements on ways to improve protection and enforcement of IPR here. However, the JCCT and other fora like it are just one of the ways that the U.S. seeks to work with China to develop practical solutions to our shared IPR challenges. The U.S. Government, led by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), places a high priority on working together through cooperation and collaboration to find the right solutions. In fact, the USPTO has MOUs with several partner Chinese IP agencies, under which we develop annual work plans for capacity building, technical assistance, and other cooperative programs. Through these and other similar programs, we share experiences and practices that can be incorporated here and will address specific challenges facing right holders or IPR enforcement authorities. We are also pushing for more government-to-government cooperation on cross-border enforcement. According to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 83% of the infringing goods seized at the U.S. borders originated from China and Hong Kong. That shows both that there is more we can do, together, to stem the flow of infringing goods and that effective joint enforcement here can have a significant impact on the trade in infringing goods. Some great work is being done, but more is needed.

To what extent is the IP attaché program tailored to each city in which they hold office?

Our first bilateral IP attaché position was created in Beijing back in 2004. This shows just how important China has been to our IPR efforts. We now have 13 Attachés stationed around the world, with three offices in China (Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou). Attachés are very diverse and from many different IP-focused backgrounds, yet they are all seasoned IP lawyers with international experience. For example, I have been working on IP and China issues on behalf of the U.S. government for over 12 years. Mike Mangelson, the IP Attaché in Shanghai, was in private practice handling China-focused IP cases for almost 20 years. Whenever possible, the Attachés have prior experience in the country in which they have been hired to serve. Our roles, while similar in many ways, differ in that each region we cover has its own suite of priority areas. Each of us works closely with colleagues in our regions and from the USPTO policy team to address those priority areas in ways that are most effective within the region. That allows us to bring our personal backgrounds and experiences to our approach and to develop tailored strategies that are informed by the broad experience and expertise of our entire team.

Which methods of trademark enforcement have proven most successful in China?

We’ve seen a lot of success through government-to-government co-operation. Earlier this year, for example, U.S. and Chinese customs conducted a joint IPR enforcement operation that stopped more than 1,400 shipments of fake products of all types. Company and government collaboration has also proven successful. Recently, a famous U.S. motorcycle company worked with the Guangdong police to close down a counterfeit ring. They seized more than 5,000 fake goods and 15,000 raw components for making more fakes. But while these types of examples should be praised, a more consistent system is needed here. Consistent application of rules and enforcement across the country is the ultimate goal. Right holders should not have to work ‘one-off’ with government agencies to ensure that their trademarks are protected. Instead, new, practical, and effective solutions should be developed to deter the sale of counterfeits.

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