China proposes changes to strengthen the criminal judicial protection of IPR

On 17 June 2020, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued the Interpretation on Several Issues Concerning the Specific Application of Law in Handling Criminal Cases of Intellectual Property Infringement (3) (Draft for Comment) (“the Draft”). The proposed changes deliver news for IPR holders as they are expected to strengthen the criminal judicial protection of intellectual property rights. Changes mainly include that a) defining the criminal judicial protection of three-dimensional (3D) trademarks for the first time; b) refining the regulations on the “identical trademark”; c) simplifying the criteria of identifying a “copyright holder”, as well as defining the circumstance of “without the permission of the copyright owner”; d) adding forward-looking provisions on ruling trade secret related criminal cases; e) adding new circumstances of restrictions on the grant of suspended sentences. IPR owners are given more opportunities to participate in the litigation proceedings, which would lead to achieving more favourable outcomes. The points are expanded on below:

1. Defining the criminal judicial protection of 3D trademarks for the first time

Judicial bodies often differ in handling the 3D trademark-related criminal cases due to the particular nature of such marks. The lack of clear guidelines in determining “an identical trademark with the registered 3D trademark” has led to a conservative attitude being held by the case-handling authorities towards the conviction and sentencing of infringers. Our firm has once represented a 3D trademark right holder in a criminal case. We found that significant time and effort was spent in lobbying into the case-handling departments on the necessity and feasibility of 3D trademarks protection in criminal cases. Though a positive outcome was eventually achieved and the infringer was convicted and sentenced, the costs were high. As now provided in Item 4 of the Draft Article 1, the criteria for determining “an identical mark with 3D registered trademark” in criminal proceedings has been clarified for the first time. The law is now that where there is “No visual difference from the three-dimensional registered trademark in terms of the three-dimensional symbol and plane elements” it shall be deemed as “an identical trademark with the registered trademark” (Art. 213 of the PRC Criminal Law). This provision will undoubtedly strengthen the criminal protection of three-dimensional trademarks.

2. Refining the regulations on the “same trademark”

Regarding the circumstances where persons only add a generic name and model of the merchandise to the registered trademark, or add words that directly indicate the quantity and quality of merchandise to the registered trademark, it can also be recognised as “an identical trademark with the registered trademark” in Art. 213 of the  PRC Criminal Law.

In judicial practice, infringers often argue that such acts as mentioned above have substantially changed the trademark. Thus it failed to constitute the circumstance of “an identical trademark with the registered trademark”. The preponderance of such a defence often led to uncertainty in cases. Fortunately, the relevant provisions of the Draft will help to remove obstacles for convictions.

Additionally, we noticed that the catch-all provision stated in Item 6 of Article 1 of the Draft was revised from “fundamentally and visually similar to the counterfeit registered trademark, enough to mislead the public” to “fundamentally similar to the counterfeit registered trademark, enough to mislead the public”. The qualifier “visually” was deleted. The modification leaves room for interpretation of the criminal protection of registered trademarks that present their distinctiveness in a non-visual manner, such as sound trademarks.

4. Simplifying the criteria of identifying “copyright holder” and defining the circumstance of “unauthorised”

In criminal cases related to copyright infringements, it is often difficult to provide the authentication documents, verifying the subject qualification of the copyright owner and the “unauthorisation by the copyright owner” as per the first paragraph of Article 217 of the PRC Criminal Law. This is due to the complexity and particularity of the copyright authorisation of the relevant publications. The lack of an authentication statement of the right holders could often stop the proceedings in some cases. In a number of cases handled by myself on behalf of the right holders, trademark infringement was selected as the main cause (aka, the registered trademark of the publisher is infringed) in order to circumvent this certification requirement for copyright infringement case.

Article 2 of the Draft applies the principle that any person of the signature on the works should be presumed to be the author, which is consistent with Article 11 of the Copyright Law. It did not retain the previous provisions on the collection of related ownership certificates. This change reflects a tendency to simplify the identification of “copyright holder” and “unauthorised”. The new regulations will help to enhance crackdown on copyright-related crimes.

4. Breakthrough regulations on the amount of losses of infringements of trade secrets

The Draft used almost half of the provisions to specify the application of law in dealing with infringements cases relating to trade secrets. It also included a series of refinements on the issues of infringement methods and the determination of the amount of losses.

In judicial practice, it is often difficult for right holders to effectively prove the personal losses caused by the infringements upon trade secrets. This results in the inability to proceed with many cases due to the lack of determination of the amount of losses. Item 1, first paragraph of Article 5 of the  Draft provides a breakthrough provision for the determination of the amount of losses: “If the trade secrets of the right holder were obtained by improper means and have not been disclosed, used or allowed to be used by others, the amount of losses may be determined based on the reasonable license fee for a trade secret.”

According to the provisions of the currently effective 2004 Higher Interpretation on Several Issues Concerning the Specific Application of Laws in Handling Criminal Cases of Infringement of Intellectual Property Rights and the 2010 Provisions on the Standards for Prosecution of Criminal Cases under the jurisdiction of Public Security Organs (2), if the trade secret concerned has not been disclosed, used, or allowed to be used by others and it has not caused the right holder to go bankrupt, it is often difficult to pursue the criminal liability of the infringer for infringing business secrets in practice because there is no specific loss amount and illegal income. The Draft adopted the regulation, adjusting the nature of the crime from a “consequential offense” to a “behavioral offense”, As long as the relevant infringement of trade secrets occurred, even if no specific losses have been caused, or related illegal gains have not been obtained, the amount of losses can still be determined based on the reasonable license fee for the trade secret. , If such provision is approved, it will greatly lower the threshold for the right holder of trade secrets to protect their rights.

In addition, Article 8 of the Draft stipulates that the right holder of trade secrets shall add the necessary remedy costs incurred to reduce the commercial losses directly caused by the infringements upon the trade secrets or restore the confidentiality measures, such as the security of the computer information system, to the amount of losses. This provision further expands the sources of losses that right holders can claim, which will significantly help right holders to pursue the criminal liabilities of the infringers.

Regrettably, Article 8 does not further clarify whether the right holder’s loss of rights protection can be added into the amount of losses, although there have been precedent judgments which confirmed such practice. In a trade secret related criminal case represented by myself, the public prosecutor adopted our argument that the fee spent in protecting the right holder’s right shall be included in the amount of the right holder’s loss, and such allegation was affirmed by the judgment.

Investigations and accusations of violations of the right owner’s trade secrets will often incur certain rights’ protection fees, which is a loss caused by the infringer’s infringement upon trade secrets. Thus, including rights protection cost in the loss amount of right holders is justifiable both theoretically and practically.

5. Adding restrictions on the application of suspended sentence, clarifying circumstance that mainly engaged in infringement of intellectual property rights is generally not applicable

On the basis of Article 3 of the 2007 Interpretation of Several Issues Concerning the Specific Application of Laws in Handling Criminal Cases of Intellectual Property Infringement (2), Article 11 of the Draft adds three types of circumstances where suspended sentence is generally not applicable. It is worth noting that it stipulates that the suspended sentence is generally not applicable to the circumstance of being “primarily engaged in infringement of intellectual property rights”. This provision will effectively increase the intensity of attacks against large scale, industrialised infringers who have been engaged in the crime of infringing IP rights for a long time.

6. “Obtaining the forgiveness of the right holder” can be punished lightly

In judicial practice, there have been several cases, including a few ones represented by myself, where infringers compensated the right holders for the loss of infringement in exchange of the forgiveness of right holders and lenient punishment.

The second paragraph of Article 12 of the Draft clarifies for the first time in the criminal justice interpretation of intellectual property that “who actively compensates the right holder for the economic loss caused by the infringement of intellectual property rights and obtains the forgiveness of the right holder” should generally be given a lenient punishment. In addition to providing more ways of resolving conflicts and disputes, this provision in fact gives right holders more opportunities to participate in criminal proceedings and more leverage to affect the outcome of the case.

7. Once the “later license” is obtained from the right holder, the infringer may be exempted from punishment

Article 13 of the Draft stipulates that if the right holder later license to the criminal suspect or defendant who previously used the registered trademark, trade secret or copied and distributed works, audio-visual recordings, etc., without authorisation, which may be deemed as a minor offence and may not be prosecuted or may be exempted from criminal punishment according to law.

Similarly, this provision also gives the right holder the right to substantively influence the outcome of the case. Right holders can weigh the advantages and disadvantages and choose the solution that is most conducive to protecting and realising their intellectual property rights.

8. Reaffirming the application of the ”prohibition order”

The Draft added provision ‘about prohibition order” against IPR infringers. Specifically, infringers can be banned from engaging in specific business activities once the penalty has been executed or within the period of suspended sentence, considering the specific situation of the crime and the need to prevent further crimes.

There have been many explorations of the application of “prohibition orders” to IP infringers in various jurisdictions. For example, both the 2019 Guidelines on Sentencing of Common Intellectual Property Crimes by the Intellectual Property Court of the Shanghai Higher People’s Court’ and the Guidelines on Sentencing of Intellectual Property Crimes (Trial) by the Jiangsu High Court in 2019, set relevant regulations. The author has also seen applications for many times when representing the right holders. The relevant provisions of the Draft will very most likely further promote the application of the “Prohibition Order” in Judicial practice, which will help strengthen deterrence.

In précis, the Draft clarifies many issues that right holders are concerned about with regards to judicial practice and the tendency shown is positive and encouraging. Once the Draft is promulgated and implemented, it will become a great weapon for effectively combating IPR crimes and safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of IP right holders. We are looking forward to such an impact.

 

知产刑案解释(三)征求意见稿的亮点

617日,最高人民法院、最高人民检察院发布了《关于办理侵犯知识产权刑事案件具体应用法律若干问题的解释(三)(征求意见稿)》(下称“意见稿”)。笔者现从维护权利人合法权益的角度,试就其中的相关条款评述如下:

 

一、首次明确了对立体商标的刑事保护

由于立体商标的特殊性,办案机关对于如何实现对立体商标的刑事保护存在不同的意见。特别是针对立体商标如何认定商标相同的问题缺乏明确指引,导致办案机关在定性和量刑上态度保守。在笔者代理立体商标权利人的一起案件中,代理人投入了大量的时间和精力就立体商标刑事保护的必要性和可行性向办案机关提交意见。虽最终侵权人被定罪判刑,但维权成本较高。意见稿第一条第四项首次在刑事司法领域明确了认定立体商标相同的判断标准。该规定与国知局于同日颁布的《商标侵权判断标准》第十四条第四项相衔接,明确立体商标的三维标志及平面要素在视觉上基本无差别的,可以认定为刑法第二百一十三条规定的“与其注册商标相同的商标”。此规定无疑将极大促进立体商标的刑事保护。

 

二、关于“相同的商标”的细化规定

对于侵权人在注册商标上仅增加商品通用名称、型号或者直接表示商品的数量、质量的文字,但不影响体现注册商标的恶意规避情形,根据意见稿第一条第五项,可认定为刑法第二百一十三条规定的“与其注册商标相同的商标”。司法实践中,侵权人往往辩解其实施上述行为属于对商标的实质改动,故不构成 “与其注册商标相同的商标”,导致一些案件的定性出现争议。意见稿的相关规定无疑为权利人在该类案件的处理上扫除了障碍。

此外,笔者留意到意见稿第一条第六项的兜底条款将之前在司法解释和相关文件中一直沿用的“与被假冒的注册商标在视觉上基本无差别、足以对公众产生误导”的表述改为“与被假冒的注册商标基本无差别、足以对公众产生误导”,删除了“视觉上”这一限定词。该修改为以非视觉方式呈现其显著性的注册商标(如声音商标)的刑事保护留下了想象空间。

 

三、简化“著作权人”和“未经许可”的认定

在著作权侵权刑事案件中,在证明著作权人主体资格以及刑法第二百一十七条第一项规定的“未经著作权人许可”的问题上,由于相关出版物版权授权的复杂性和特殊性,证明文件的取得往往存在较大困难。一些案件因为缺乏权利人的鉴定证明而无法推进,导致放纵犯罪的情况。在笔者代理权利人办理的多起案件中,为了绕开这一证明要求,只好选择商标侵权的案由,以侵权人在出版物上使用了出版商的注册商标来寻求追究侵权人的刑事责任。

意见稿第二条沿用了与《著作权法》第十一条一致的“署名推定”原则。而对于2011年两高一部《关于办理知识产权刑事案件适用法律若干问题的意见》第十一条的相关规定,意见稿只沿用了该条第二款关于在难以取得权属证明等文件的情况下仍可认定为“未经著作权人许可”的表述,而未再保留该条第一款关于收集特定权属证明等证据的规定,体现出一定的简化倾向。新规定将有利于推动刑事追诉进程,提高对著作权侵权犯罪的打击效率。

 

四、对侵犯商业秘密损失数额的突破性规定

意见稿用近一半的条文细化明确了办理侵犯商业秘密犯罪案件的法律适用,对侵权手段、重大损失、损失数额的认定等问题进行了一系列的细化。

司法实践中,权利人往往难以有效证明自身因商业秘密被侵犯造成的损失,导致很多案件因缺乏损失数额的认定而无法推进。意见稿第五条第一款第一项对损失金额的认定进行了突破性的规定:“以不正当手段获取权利人的商业秘密,尚未披露、使用或者允许他人使用的,损失数额可以根据该项商业秘密的合理许可使用费确定”。根据现行2004年两高《关于办理侵犯知识产权刑事案件具体应用法律若干问题的解释》以及2010年高检公安部《关于公安机关管辖的刑事案件立案追诉标准的规定()》的规定,对于尚未披露、使用或者允许他人使用的,又未导致权利人破产的,由于没有具体的损失数额和违法所得,实践中往往难以追究侵权人侵犯商业秘密的刑事责任。意见稿的该项规定,实有将该犯罪从“结果犯”调整为“行为犯”的倾向:即只要实施了相关侵犯商业秘密的行为,即使未造成具体的损失或未取得相关违法所得,仍可根据该商业秘密的合理许可使用费确定损失数额,进而实现追诉标准的满足。该条如若得以实施,无疑将大大地降低商业秘密权利人的维权门槛。

由于商业秘密尚未被披露或使用,犯罪行为造成的危害也相对较轻。意见稿第十二条第三项规定,在该种情形下,一般应当从轻处罚。

此外,意见稿第八条规定,商业秘密的权利人为减轻侵犯商业秘密行为直接造成的商业损失或者重新恢复计算机信息系统安全等保密措施所支出的必要补救费用,应当一并计入商业秘密权利人的损失数额。该规定进一步扩充了权利人可主张的损失数额来源,有助于追究侵权人刑责。

遗憾的是,第八条并未更进一步把权利人的维权损失明确为损失数额。类似的认定在司法实践中已有先例。在笔者代理权利人办理的一起侵犯商业秘密刑事案件中,公诉机关采纳了代理人的意见,将代理人的维权费用计入权利人的损失数额并最终得到了法院的支持。权利人对侵犯自身商业秘密的行为进行调查和控告,往往会产生一定的维权费用,这无疑也属于侵权人侵犯商业秘密造成的损失。在侵犯商业秘密刑事案件中,将维权费用计入权利人的损失具有其理论基础和可操作性。

五、增设缓刑适用限制,明确“主要以侵犯知识产权为业的”,一般不得适用缓刑

2007年两高《关于办理侵犯知识产权刑事案件具体应用法律若干问题的解释(二)》第三条的基础上,意见稿第十一条增设了三种一般不得适用缓刑的情形。值得注意的是,其明确规定,“主要以侵犯知识产权为业的”,一般不得适用缓刑。该项规定无疑将有效加大对已呈规模化、产业化的,长期从事知识产权犯罪的侵权人的打击力度,值得期待。

 

六、“取得权利人谅解”可从轻处罚

在司法实践中,已大量存在侵权人通过赔偿获得权利人谅解从而换取从轻处罚的案例。笔者也曾代理权利人办理多起类似案件。2019年《全国检察机关加强知识产权司法保护工作情况》第四点“创新工作机制,全面提升知识产权司法保护水平”明确指出“鼓励犯罪嫌疑人自愿认罪,弥补权利人经济损失,积极促成侵权人与权利人达成刑事和解,依法给予侵权人从宽处理,争取达到案结事了,防范化解社会矛盾,减少社会戾气。”

意见稿第十二条第二项首次在知产刑事司法解释中明确“积极赔偿权利人因被侵犯知识产权造成的经济损失且取得权利人谅解的”,一般应当从轻处罚。该规定在提供了更丰富的化解矛盾纠纷的途径之余,也实际上赋予了权利人更大的参与诉讼、影响案件结果的权利。

 

七、获得权利人“追认许可”的,可免罚

意见稿第十三条规定,权利人对侵权人未经其许可使用的注册商标、商业秘密或者复制发行的作品、录音录像制品等予以追认许可的,可以认定为犯罪情节轻微,依法不起诉或者免予刑事处罚。

与前述第六点同理,该规定亦赋予了权利人极大的影响案件结果的权利。权利人得以权衡利弊,选择最有利于保障和实现其知识产权权益的解决方案。

 

八、明确“从业禁止令”的适用

意见稿增加了对知识产权侵权人“从业禁止”的规定,可以根据犯罪情况和预防再犯罪的需要,依法禁止其自刑罚执行完毕后或缓刑考验期限内从事特定经营活动。

对知识产权侵权人适用“从业禁止令”在各地已多有探索。如2019年上海高院知产庭《关于常见知识产权犯罪的量刑指引》和2019年江苏高院《关于知识产权犯罪的量刑指引(试行)》即设置了相关规定。在笔者代理权利人的案件中也曾多次适用。意见稿的相关规定,无疑将进一步促进“从业禁止令”在司法实践中的合理适用,有利于防止侵权人重复实施侵权行为,切实实现特殊预防的刑罚目的。

综上,意见稿对司法实践中权利人关注的众多问题进行了明确,导向积极,令人鼓舞。如果颁布实施,无疑将成为有效打击侵犯知识产权犯罪、维护知识产权权利人合法权益的一大利器。我们对此充满期待。

 

This article was first published in China IP Magazine in June 2020.