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Protecting Your IP From China. The Value And The Peril Of Trade Fairs.

Posted in Legal News

Spoke the other day with a consumer goods client who goes to a couple of trade fairs every year in the PRC.  He told me of some funny (and not so funny) trade fair stories, some of which revolved around intellectual property, intellectual property protection, and intellectual property theft.

Well it all got me to thinking….

Trade fairs can be both bad and good for your intellectual property.  Trade fairs (as my client noted) are a great place to steal someone’s IP.  It therefore is not a place to let your guard down with respect to protecting your intellectual property.  I have gotten far too many calls from people who provided product information to potential manufacturers they met at trade fairs, only to realize too late that they had revealed too much, too soon.

It should go without saying that you should not reveal anything more at a trade fair than you would otherwise, and you should have an agreement in place (an NDA or an NNN) before revealing any trade secret.  For more information on NDA Agreements and NNN Agreements for China, check out the following:

If you think you may be revealing confidential information at a trade fair, get your NNN Agreement drafted before you go.

Trade fairs are also great places to monitor your own IP to see whether it is being copied in China.  There are far too many stories of US companies going to a trade fair, to see their own product (oftentimes with their own brochures, only slightly revised if at all) sitting on a Chinese manufacturer’s table.  If this should happen to you, do not get mad and do not make a scene.  Rather, use this as an opportunity to try to end the infringement both on the spot and in the future; use it as an opportunity for protecting your IP from China.

The best way to do that is to gather up as much information as you can about the infringer.  If at all possible, try to secure the following:

  • The name and address of the company making the product.  Get a business card.  And if you can, get a copy of their business license.  If possible, get the names of those working at the stand.  Get as much of this information in Chinese as you can.
  • Take down the stand number.
  • Take photographs.  Liberally.  Make sure some of the photographs make clear where they were taken and, if at all possible, when.

Then consider going to the company that is putting on the trade fair and requesting that they immediately shut down the offending stand.  If you are going to succeed at this, it would be best if you bring along someone whom you trust who speaks Chinese.  It is also critical that you have proof that infringing/counterfeiting is taking place.  This means that ideally you should provide proof of your own IP filings in China.  Then consider whether you should report the offending party to the Chinese authorities or pursue litigation.

  • Michael Lin

    On the flip-side, trade fairs are also a great place to size-up the competition and see if they are infringing your IP. You can also file official complaints against those infringing your IP (although it is usually a big hassle) and also use the trade fairs to gather evidence of infringement which can later be used in civil cases (very useful, since there is no US-style “discovery” process in China).

    In my previous incarnation, we used trade fairs very successfully to get the word out to the industry that we were being vigilant about our IP – and so if companies were to copy products, then they should copy someone else’s products. and it worked.

  • Robert Walsh

    I remember a hilarious incident several years ago at the CPHI pharmaceuticals trade show in London. Dozens of Chinese and Indian exhibitors were advertising active pharmaceutical ingredients that were still under patent in the EU and US. The London police raided the venue, and once the offending exhibitors realized what was happening, a giant rat race started, guys fleeing the hall, rushing to the toilets to flush samples…