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Dan Harris is internationally regarded as a leading authority on legal matters related to doing business in China and in other emerging economies in Asia. Forbes Magazine, Business Week, Fortune Magazine, BBC News, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Economist, CNBC, The New York Times, and many other major media players, have looked to him for his perspective on international law issues.

China lawyerWay back in 2008 I wrote a post immediately after one of my firm’s lawyers returned from a federal court hearing where the judge essentially said — near as I could tell without any basis in law — that service of an English language only complaint on our client was valid even though she did not speak a word of English and even though the Hague Convention rules on service of process for that particular country explicitly stated that the complaint needed to be translated into her native language. In that post, which follows, I raged (well for me it was raging) against a US legal system that fails to sufficiently account for foreign law.

This post is on private, not public international law. That means it has little to nothing to do with such hot button issues as the United Nations, the Kyoto Protocol, or the International Criminal Court. This post is on how American courts deal with business cases involving foreign parties and foreign or international law as that law applies to such cases. No more, no less.

Many years ago, I was representing a Canadian-Australian manufacturer in a big case down in Texas along with two truly excellent Dallas litigators. At some point in the case, I had the “brilliant” idea of arguing that US Federal law had preempted Texas state law, mandating dismissal of plaintiff’s claims against my client. We settled the case before the court could hear our preemption argument, but I still remember the half-joking advice I received from Texas local counsel. It was something along the lines of, “forget about federal law, this is Texas; we don’t recognize federal law down here.”

I am beginning to wonder about the willingness of US courts to apply foreign or international law, even in those instances where US law calls for such application.

In a few months, I will be in Las Vegas (I count myself among the people who love Vegas!) speaking on the Hague Convention rules on Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters, as they apply to Chinese companies. Based on my firm’s experience with getting US courts to recognize international law, I am sorely tempted to just say something like, “forget about international law. This is the United States. We don’t recognize international law here.” Go ahead, just stick your summons and complaint in a bottle, throw it in the ocean, that ought to be enough for you to get a default judgment anyway. And since China never enforces US judgments anyway, why does it matter?

I am sure my speech will be a bit more nuanced by the time I get there, but you get the point.

For at least the third time (two times is coincidence, three times is a trend), a US court has allowed a case to go forward against a defendant despite the plaintiff having clearly failed to abide by the Hague Convention Rules on international service of process. The most recent instance is in a still pending case so I cannot go into the specifics on that one.

Virtually every time we have sought to get the US courts to enforce the Hague Convention or even, in one instance, when we sought to get a US court to pretty much ignore the Hague Convention, the US court has seemed perfectly willing to rule as though the United States has no obligation to abide by a treaty it signed. I have a strong sense US Courts (both state courts and federal courts) will not enforce the Hague Convention’s technical service requirements (including that the summons and complaint must usually be translated into the language of the country in which it is being served). Oh, and getting a US court to throw out or stay (delay) a case so that an already pending case in another country can be decided first — forget it. My conclusion is that US courts are happy to ignore foreign/international law in favor of handling things under US law, whether US law should apply or not.

Since writing the above, our firm has had a Federal Court ignore Australian law in a case without even deigning to explain why and a state court refuse even to consider delaying the US action based on an already pending case in Spain, and get mad at our lawyers for even making the request!

US court judgments are rarely enforced outside the United States and one of the reasons given for this is the failure of American courts to recognize foreign law. Our foreign clients — international businesspeople from countries like Australia, England, Spain, and Germany that are not generally anti-American — are complaining more and more to our lawyers about US courts “think they can ignore the rest of the world.” Add in a President whose response to countries beyond our borders is a big FU and low-life neo-nazis marching in our streets with torches, and you can understand why so many of my non-American friends have been asking if I am concerned about the United States’ standing in the world and the impact all of this will have on our legal system.

My answer is yes.

Strangely enough, I recently thought through much of the above when analyzing an intellectual property matter on which I worked. The matter was for a European company looking to sue an American company under Chinese law in a United States court. (Please nobody ask me to explain either how the parties got into this situation nor why this contortion was even being considered.) What struck me was how despite all of the things about which I wrote above, my opinion to the European lawyers was that if they were to pursue litigation in a US court they could excpect the court to abide by the law, and since the law was clear (and did not really involve court power as did the cases above), we could expect it to apply Chinese law.

I guess I am standing on history (at least that of the U.S. legal system) for now.

Your thoughts?

China cease and desistHardly a week goes by without an American or a European company contacting one of our China lawyers wanting to retain us to “stop the counterfeits” of their products online and offline. Far too often these people believe one of our IP lawyers can within 24 hours send out a “template” cease and desist letter and within another 24 hours of that, the counterfeit sales will magically cease.
Were it only that easy.
For us to send out a cease and desist letter to a Chinese company that allegedly is engaging in counterfeiting (note the switch to alleged here), we first must determine the legal grounds we have for threatening to sue. Is the alleged counterfeiter actually infringing any registered trademark, copyright or patent? Is any trade secret being illlegally employed? Unfortunately, about half the time, there is no legal grounds for claiming either infringement or counterfeiting at all.  
Do cease and desist letters work with Chinese companies? Sometimes they do, and really well. We have sent cease and desist letters that achieved great results within days. We’ve also sent cease and desist letters that were completely ignored. A cease and desist letter regarding IP infringement usually works well when we have strong legal grounds for sending it and the company to which we are sending it is a legitimate registered company. These letters are far less effective when the legal grounds is weak or non-existent or when the “company” to which we are sending it is little more than a pop-up operation set up merely to effectuate global counterfeiting. 
Why send a cease and desist letter? What can such a letter accomplish? One reason is to get the recipient to cease the infringing. Another is to stake out your rights so as to avoid any potential waiver of those rights. Sometimes we send these letters not so much to stop infringing, but to get the recipient to pay a licensing fee to be able to use our client’s IP. If the letter does not work and we need to pursue litigation, the letter itself — and the recipient’s subsequent ignoring of it — can help prove intentional copying and thereby increase damages at trial or in settlement. 
Something few seem to consider or even realize is that sending out a cease and desist letter is not without its own, sometimes substantial risks. Many years ago, a company sent a cease and desist letter to a client of my law firm that caused our client to investigate the products of the company that sent it. Our client determined that not only was it not violating the IP of the company from which it received the letter, but that company that sent the letter was violating our client’s patent rights. To make a long story short, the company that sent the letter ended up millions of dollars poorer from having acted so precipitously. It is also not uncommon for the recipient of a cease and desist letter to flip around and sue the sender to seek a court ruling of non-infringement.
Sending a cease and desist letter alerts the recipient of your IP concerns and may cause them to destroy evidence that would aid you in pursuing an IP claim or in collecting large damages. Sometimes the better tact is to gather up infringement evidence before sending out the cease and desist letter. It is also possible your cease and desist letter will give the recipient a claim against you for defamation, libel or tortious interference in their business.
Sometimes the best tact is not to send any cease and desist letter at all. 
24 hours from hiring to firing (off) of a cease and desist letter? I don’t think so, and hopefully, you now don’t either. 
Chinese lawyers
Just say no to Hong Kong jurisdiction.

Hong Kong courts are world class and few foreign companies would not rather have their disputes against their Mainland China counter-parties resolved in Hong Kong as opposed to in Yiwu or in Harbin. Hong Kong as the jurisdiction of choice is very alluring. But for all sorts of reasons, it’s a trap.

Let me explain.

Back in 2008 China and Hong Kong entered into a reciprocal enforcement agreement to make judgments from Hong Kong courts enforceable in China, and vice-versa. Foreign lawyers (usually those not experienced with China contracts or China courts) see this and think having their clients disputes resolved in Hong Kong is the way to go. But as is so often true of China, what is on paper does not correspond so well with the real world and most of the time calling for disputes with Mainland Chinese companies to be resolved in Hong Kong is a terrible idea.

Consider a contract between a U.S. technology company and its PRC licensee. [Though our example is of a U.S. company, what we say below holds true for nearly all Western countries/companies as well.] The U.S company seeks to avoid Chinese law by providing for English as the contract language, U.S. law as the applicable law, and enforcement in a U.S. court. The Chinese side refuses and insists on the opposite: Chinese language, Chinese law and enforcement in a Chinese court. As a compromise, the U.S. side proposes the following: English language, Hong Kong law and enforcement in a Hong Kong court. The Chinese side readily agrees and the contract is signed.

Why did the Chinese side agree? It agreed because it knows this “compromise” has created the worst possible situation for the U.S. company. The contract is NOT enforceable against the Chinese company, so the Chinese company is off the hook for any liability. On the other hand, the contract IS enforceable against the U.S. company, giving the Chinese company substantial power in the event of a dispute. The U.S. company has placed itself in the worst possible position. I have Chinese lawyer friends who brag about setting up foreign lawyers with this “trick.”

There is though a chance both parties will be disappointed because there is a risk the Hong Kong court will refuse to hear the case because the matter has no connection to Hong Kong. Remember that Hong Kong is an entirely separate jurisdiction from China. For this reason, a contract between a U.S. company and a Chinese company governing conduct that will occur in the PRC has no connection to Hong Kong. It is therefore entirely possible the Hong Kong court will refuse to further crowd its docket and will simply refuse to hear the case.

But let’s just assume the Hong Kong court hears the case and renders a judgment. What then will happen? If the Chinese company is the plaintiff and if it prevails, its judgment against the U.S. defendant will be easily enforceable in the United States against the assets of the U.S. company. Hong Kong is a common law country with laws and legal procedure based on the laws of England. U.S. courts regularly enforce such common law judgments and the odds are overwhelming they would do so in this situation as well

But If the plaintiff is the U.S. company and it prevails and then seeks to enforce its Hong Kong judgment in the PRC, the situation is quite different. On the surface, it appears enforcement of the judgment should not be an issue under China and Hong Kong’s  reciprocal enforcement agreement of 2008 which on its face makes judgments from Hong Kong courts enforceable in China. However, Chinese courts regularly ignore this statute by not enforcing Hong Kong judgments.

Chinese courts avoid enforcement in two ways. Sometimes they simply refuse to act. They do not openly reject the demand for enforcement. They instead accept the demand and then do absolutely nothing. This is the most common technique.

The other approach is to find technical reasons to reject the demand for enforcement. Usually the Chinese court will reject the Hong Kong judgment based on a claim that award was based on grounds that violate Chinese public policy. Since Chinese civil law and Hong Kong common law come from an entirely different legal background and legal procedure, it is generally easy for a Chinese court to find a public policy issue.

Often, the Chinese party will not appear in the Hong Kong action. In this case, the U.S. side will obtain a default judgment. Like many Asian courts (and European and U.S. ones as well), Chinese courts are reluctant to enforce any form of default judgment. When the default judgment is from a foreign jurisdiction, the likelihood of enforcement is very low. Knowing this, good Chinese lawyers instruct their Chinese clients not to appear when sued in Hong Kong.

As noted above, a contract between a Chinese entity and a U.S. entity has no factual or legal connection with Hong Kong. Chinese law allows the parties to a contract to chose the applicable law, but when the parties choose a law with no connection to the underlying transaction, Chinese courts typically deem this to violate public policy.

Whether the Court issues a written ruling or simply does nothing, the effect is the same: no enforcement of the Hong Kong judgment against the Chinese party defendant.

So what this all means is that by writing a Hong Kong jurisdiction provision into the U.S. company’s contract with its Chinese counter-party, the U.S. company (or its lawyer) has placed itself in the worst of all positions. First, it must convince a skeptical Hong Kong court to hear a case with no connection to Hong Kong. And since Hong Kong has a loser pays system, the U.S. company usually must post a substantial monetary bond to cover the risk that it will not prevail on its claim. Then it must pay the very high attorneys’ fees and court costs demanded by the excellent Hong Kong legal system. Then it must wait as the Hong Kong court takes what can be a substantial period of time to render judgment when the facts and parties are all foreign to Hong Kong. Then, if and when it finally receives its Hong Kong judgment, the U.S. company will likely learn the hard way that its judgment has no value since it is not enforceable in China. Or even worse, the Chinese party prevails on its counterclaim and the Chinese party is free to enforce its judgment against the American company in the United States. And to top it all off, the U.S. company loses its bond, which goes to pay the Chinese company’s legal fees.

Hong Kong as the jurisdiction for disputes with Chinese companies? Great on paper, but really bad in real life.

China attorneys One of our China lawyers got a weird call a few weeks from a somewhat distraught clothing manufacturer who had just learned that products his company was having made in China may in fact have been made in North Korea. This person wanted to know whether if that were the case whether he might go to jail. When we told him we didn’t know whether it would be illegal or not and that much would likely depend on how much his company knew about the North Korea connection and when, he very quickly lost his ardor for hiring us.

I thought of that call today while reading an article entitled, North Korea factories humming with ‘Made in China’ clothes, traders say. The article essentially says that some clothes that bear a “Made in China” label are actually being made in North Korea. And some are being made in China by North Korean “guest” workers. The degree of culpability for this sort of thing usually ranges roughly along the following spectrum:

  • Those who know and approve of their products being made in North Korea yet labelled “Made in China.” These companies no doubt like the cost savings.
  • Those who don’t want to know where their products are made and make zero effort to prohibit their products being made in North Korea and make zero effort to monitor where their products are being made.. These companies no doubt also like the cost savings and courts tend to categorize them as “having known or should have known.”
  • Those who are actually making a reasonable effort to make sure the products they are sourcing from China are not being made in North Korea.

Now without even discussing whether having your products made in North Korea, funding (albeit indirectly North Korea), and receiving products made in North Korea is legal or not — and this will vary by country — how do you want to be viewed if you are ever before a judge or a jury in your home country? Do you want to be seen as the person/company that tried to stop your products from being made in North Korea, the company that affirmatively didn’t care or the company that encouraged? Now before you answer that, ask any lawyer (no matter what the law is) which category of client he or she would rather defend. The answer to that is obvious. When facing a judge or a jury, the company/person that looks the best is the one most likely to prevail.

Just imagine if opposing counsel gets into evidence some of the things from this article, including how “In North Korea, factory workers can’t just go to the toilet whenever they feel like, otherwise they think it slows down the whole assembly line.” Or that the workers get to keep only ⅓ of their wages, which are only half those in China to begin with, and yet work from 7:30 a.m. until 10 p.m., or 14.5 hours. If facing a jury with those facts doesn’t scare you, I do not know what will.

So when it comes to North Korea how can you be good to look good? It’s like just about everything else with China and with manufacturing: you put how you want your Chinese counter-party to act in your contract (and if you want that contract to actually work, you do these things as well) and you monitor as best you can whether your Chinese counter-party is actually abiding by the terms in your contract.

Simple yet not so simple. But really important.

Your thoughts?

 

China counterfeit lawyers
X out China counterfeits

Full disclosure. This post is on more than what to do when your product is being counterfeited in China. It also is on what to do to position yourself so that if your product is being counterfeited in China, you will have real options on what to do.

Barely a day goes by without one of our China lawyers getting contacted by an American or European company telling us that its products are being counterfeited and would we please get so and so — either the alleged counterfeiter or the online site on which the counterfeit products are posted — to remove the offending items. Were it only that simple. We have for years been writing about how our lawyers have a near 100% success rate at getting counterfeit products removed from Chinese e-commerce websites like Tmall and Taobao and the same holds true for American websites like Amazon and Ebay. But our success rate depends largely on the advertised product is truly a counterfeit, as that term is commonly defined by lawyers not businesspeople.

All of the big American and Chinese e-commerce sites, including the Alibaba family of sites (Taobao, Tmall, Alibaba, AliExpress, 1688.com, etc.), have formal internal procedures for removing product listings that infringe a third party’s IP rights. To secure the removal of infringing listings, you must follow their procedures to the letter. Among other things, you must provide documentation proving (1) the IP owner’s existence and (2) the IP owner’s rights to the IP in question. Only after you have submitted these documents and had them verified by the e-commerce site can you even submit a takedown request. When you do submit your takedown request (assuming everything goes smoothly), most e-commerce sites will remove the counterfeit products within a week or so. When things don’t go smoothly with a Chinese e-commerce site (which judging from our volume of phone calls is rather frequently) it is vital to have a person on your side who speaks Chinese, understands Chinese intellectual property law, and is experienced in dealing with the particular Chinese website that is posting your products. This person is necessary to get to higher-level employees at the e-commerce site and explain to them why the listing does in fact violate your IP.

To date, we have succeeded with every takedown request seeking the removal of products that infringe our client’s trademarks or copyrights. But probably half the time, we have to tell the potential client there is no point in hiring us for the product removal. Why is that? The below email from one of our China lawyers who regularly works on takedown matters across multiple websites (both in China and elsewhere) explains.

Every Chinese website has its own takedown protocols, and the key to getting products removed is to follow that site’s protocols. You express an interest in suing these websites and we do not advise that unless and until we have sought to get your products taken down and failed. Lawsuits are expensive and based on our track record in securing takedowns, the odds are overwhelming that we will never need to file one on your behalf. To put things in perspective, we have never filed one. The lawsuit you mention against Alibaba deals a lot more with why so many counterfeit products show up on Alibaba websites in the first place than on Alibaba’s failure to take down counterfeit products once on one of their sites.

You are correct that only the copyright or trademark owner or its authorized representative can make takedown requests. However, sites vary as to the sort of authentication they require for a Power of Attorney and most of the sites know our law firm well enough that they almost never require we provide them with a formal Power of Attorney to achieve a takedown.

The most important thing is that we show proof that you have registered your IP (your trademark or your copyright) somewhere. Some Chinese sites sometimes will take down products with foreign IP registrations, but China registrations are always much better. Technically, China is obligated to recognize copyrights registered in any Berne Convention signatory nation, but explaining China’s WTO obligations to a 21-year-old customer service representative seldom works. And as you can probably imagine, securing the removal of copyrighted IP for which a copyright has never been registered anywhere is even more difficult. This is why gaming/video/music companies so often complain about how difficult it is to secure counterfeit takedowns from Chinese websites. By the time they get their China copyright registration and can submit a takedown request, the damage has been done. How many people will still be downloading today’s big game six months from now? US websites are not all that different.

Another thing to consider is that the more sophisticated/well-heeled the website, the more likely it is that they have a formal takedown procedure. For the smaller websites, we generally have to contact someone directly because there are no instructions on the website or they are hopeless. But unless the website is a pirate site (which is rarely the case), it does not want to be sued for hosting counterfeit or pirated items and so long as we do all the work for them, they’ll be happy to take down rogue products and content.

Finally, you should be aware that once this whole takedown process begins, it’s pretty much ongoing. The pirates and counterfeiters don’t just give up because their first upload got taken down. And even if we stop one or two of the counterfeiters, we should expect more to pop up. This is why companies hire us to monitor and report and after we remove the existing counterfeits, we should discuss what sort of future programs make sense for your company and your situation.. One of the things we can and should do though is try to figure out who is doing the counterfeiting, how they are doing it, and what we can do — if anything — to try to stop it or slow it down.

My law firm has an Alibaba account that makes us eligible to seek removal of links that infringe our clients’ IP. We do this by submitting proof of identification and authorization, as well as information regarding the IP which is being infringed upon. This is accomplished by our providing the following to Alibaba: (i) our client’s “business license,” (ii) any formal IP registration documents and (iii) (sometimes) a power of attorney signed by the client, authorizing us to file the complaint on its behalf. We also submit the following information: the IP registration number(s), the title of the IP, the name of the IP owner, the type of IP, the country of registration, the time period during which the IP registration is effective, and the period during which the IP owner wishes to protect its IP rights. We translate these documents into Chinese to make things easier on the Chinese website company and because doing so greatly speeds things up. After submission, it typically takes Alibaba a few days to verify our information.

Once Alibaba verifies the information we provide, we provide the infringing links and removal virtually always quickly occurs. For complaints concerning patent rights, we also need to provide proof of the connection between the infringing material and the IP being infringed. Alibaba normally takes a few more days to process the complaint, which typically consists of passing along the complaint to the infringing party.

If the infringing party does not respond to the complaint within three working days of receipt, either by deleting the infringing link or by filing a cross-complaint, Alibaba will delete the infringing link. Absent prior written permission from Alibaba, the infringing party would then be prohibited from posting the same information on Alibaba again. If the infringing party files a cross-complaint, we would then need to deny the cross-complaint, and then Alibaba would handle the “dispute.” Alibaba normally resolves such disputes within a few days. As you would probably imagine, counterfeiters almost never file a cross-complaint; they typically just slink away.

We have achieved similar results with China’s other leading and legitimate online marketplaces. But as you would expect, China’s smaller and sketchier marketplaces are more problematic when it comes to IP protection.

If your IP (especially your trademark or your copyright) is registered in China, securing the removal from Chinese websites of products that infringe on your IP can be relatively fast and easy. If your IP is registered in a country other than China, securing the removal from Chinese websites of products that infringe on your IP can be accomplished, but not always. If your IP (your unregistered U.S. trademark, for instance, or your unregistered copyright) is not registered anywhere, your best strategy for securing removal of infringing products is to register it first and then seek removal, rather than to seek removal first. The same generally holds true for US websites, but US websites are a lot less likely to remove products that infringe on your patent rights than are Chinese websites. US websites typically take the position that you need a US court order stating that the product or products infringe on your patent for a removal.

In other words, plan now with your IP filings for takedowns later.

China lawyersOne of the joys of blogging is finding gems in unlikely places (pun intended). The gem is a post entitled Jewels Plating Problems: Can You Trust Chinese Factories? I say unlikely because neither (nor I would bet, most of our readers) have much interest in jewels plating problems. Heck, I am not even sure what those are and I wonder whether the writer (who I presume to be French) mistranslated. But I looked at the post because it is a truly excellent blog and the post is actually highly relevant for anyone doing any sort of manufacturing in China. The blog is written by a Shenzhen-based factory auditing company with whom our China lawyers have worked on many China manufacturing matters, and rest assured — for jewels plating or whatever — these people know whereof they speak when it comes to China manufacturing. And this post is no exception.

The post ostensibly deals with how relatively inexpensive jewels (jewelry?) made of brass and plated with gold so often have quality problems. The post then does a great job digging into why this just keeps happening in this industry. This is an industry our China lawyers know well because much of it is based in Qingdao or thereabouts and our firm has long-standing connections to that city. This is also an industry with low profit margins (for just about everybody) and — as President Trump might stupidly put it — a lot of bad hombres.

The post starts out asking “what is happening in this industry? Are they [the Chinese manufacturers] cheating the buyers, or are they simply careless?” It then gives the following three part explanation:

  • Profit maximization with a “calculated risk” approach — what is sometimes referred to as “quality fade.”
  • Reliance on so-called experience — not on facts and objective data.
  • Buyers who don’t define their quality expectations clearly enough.

To which I say, yup.

The post then analyzes/explains each of these three things.

1. Profit maximization with a “calculated risk” approach. Once a Chinese supplier ships its goods, the shipment has usually been approved and paid for and the transaction is fully completed. There are a few reasons for that:

  • High logistics costs
  • The process to return jewels is a nightmare
  • Customs clearance (cost and time) at both the supplier and buyer sides

The above means that China manufacturers try to ship products “as cheap to produce as possible, and yet are likely to be accepted by the buyer. For example, if a buyer is asking for 1um gold plating, the jewels might only have a gold layer of 0.5um.”

2. Reliance on so-called experience — not on facts or objective experiments. According to the post, most buyers are surprised by this. “Chinese factories in general barely have an R&D team. Their expertise is based entirely on their intuition (which they call their “experience”), and unfortunately it can’t be fully trusted.”

Again, I can only assent.

When buyers bring a new case to their Chinese supplier, the supplier tries to remember similar cases. This might work in a factory that has been in business for many years with a stable staff and good problem solving abilities, but it doesn’t work in a small workshop started recently.

3. Buyers who don’t define their quality expectations clearly enough.

The post does not free buyers from at least partial blame. I personally see the foreign buyer as at least partially at fault most of the time. Not saying the Chinese manufacturer is not also at fault, because it usually is, but most of the time had the foreign buyer taken action before the problem arose, there would have been no problem. I wrote extensively on this in China Factory Problems: Always YOUR Fault?

The title is somewhat of a stab at humor. It stems from my blaming most (but certainly not all) China factory problems on the foreign buyer. We have written countless times of what is required to secure good product from Chinese factories:

How To Get Good Product From China; Specificity is THE Key To Your OEM Agreement.

China OEM Agreements. Ten Things To Consider

China OEM Agreements. Yet Another Reason To Have One

China Supply Agreements. Why The “Perfect” OEM Agreement Should Cost Less

OEM Agreements With Your China Supplier. Not Just For The Big Boys

China OEM Agreements. Why Ours Are In Chinese. Flat Out

The Five Steps To Successfully Buying Product From China.]

China Manufacturing Agreements. Make Liquidated Damages Your Friend.

We have also written how our China lawyers constantly get calls or emails from American and European companies that have received bad product from their Chinese factory suppliers and how there is nothing we can do for them. We wrote about this just last week in How To Get Bad Product From China With No Legal Recourse. To a certain extent, we like being able to blame the victim in these situations because that way we as lawyers can comfortably sit back and tell ourselves that had they only contacted us BEFORE they started having problems, we could have prevented all of their problems.

But what about where the Chinese company just up and suddenly shuts down. How can the American or European buyer be blamed for that? Well guess what, they can and in Doing Business In China Safely. The Due Diligence Basics, I explain the following situations where blaming the victim is really pretty easy.

This post rightly blames buyers for not explaining their quality and manufacturing standards clearly enough to their Chinese manufacturers:

In some cases, the buyer asked for the plating to last for at least 6 months or 1 year. That’s better than nothing. But some factories see this requirement, confirm the need for 1um (or sometimes for 0.5um) gold plating, offer a competitive price, and are likely the get the customer’s business.

For a case of greenish effect on the skin, I called and discussed with tens of Chinese factories. The result was surprising. A few (yes only a few) provided real expert feedback. Most of them provided different requirements (some of them scientifically ridiculous) and said “do not worry, we will provide great quality if your client buys from us”.

Plating, be it on jewels or other products, is an expertise area that most factories haven’t mastered. If plating is critical on your product, you might have to acquire the knowledge to guide (or force) your suppliers to be compliant with clear quality standards.

The post then goes on to explain how to be clear with your plating standards.

What this post does not do though is explain the various ways you as a buyer of manufactured goods from China can avoid quality problems. For that, I suggest you read Five Keys To Getting Good Quality Products From China. In that post, I assure our readers that if they consistently do the following five things, they will get good quality products from China:

  1. Use a Good Company.  Sounds rather basic, but we constantly see this rule violated. If you do nothing else that we suggest in this post, do this one thing as it matters as much as all the other things put together. For how to learn more about “your” China company, check out Basic China Due Diligence. Is This Chinese Company Legitimate?
  2. Use a Good Manufacturing Agreement. Good contracts ensure that your Chinese company knows what is required of it and what will happen if it fails to provide it. For what constitutes a good Manufacturing Agreements herehere  here, and here. Most China contracts we see are completely worthless, with a good chunk of those being even worse than having no contract at all. See Why Your NDA is WORSE Than Nothing for China and Is Your China Contract Worthless?
  3. Use Detailed Documents. Chinese factories tend to do exactly what you tell them to do. This means that what you tell them to do needs to be clearly conveyed and that means your instructions and specifications should be detailed and in. Be specific.
  4. Visit the Factory. Either your own people or a third party QC company should pay regular visits to your factory. Doing this allows you to make sure it understands what you want and lets them know that you are serious about making sure you get it.
  5. Inspect. Perform regular product inspections appropriate to the product you are having made.
Do the above and your odds of getting good product go way up. Don’t do the above and they go way down.Your thoughts?

China LawyersI often internally cringe when listening to someone back from their first two week trip to China. Those people virtually always come back raving about the place and talking as though it is flawless. Some amazing combination of Paris and Fiji or something.  That’s fine, but what too few seem to realize — and which I am going to have to write about somewhat elliptically for this to stay up on the net — is that at its heart, China can be a risky country. I am not telling anyone to be afraid or not to go there, but I am saying that it ain’t Kansas.

Directly and indirectly from people who call the China lawyers at my firm and from friends who live in China and from what I read, I am sensing there has been an increase in foreigners getting into legal trouble in China. Criminal trouble. Yes, in nearly all of these cases these foreigners did something stupid . . . but still.

Let’s ignore fault and blame for now and get straight to practicalities. Do not contest your cab fare and then get into a an argument with your taxi driver in China. Because if you end up coming to blows, there is a decent chance you will end up in jail and there is even some chance you will end up in jail merely for not paying. I do not know what the odds are in either situation but I do know that it happens more than most people realize.

The same is true of bar fights. In many countries the police will take both inebriated fighters to jail and release them a day or two later. But in China it is not unheard of for the foreigner to face years of prison time.

What should you do to prevent these sorts of problems? One, let it go. You’ve been scammed out of ten dollars? Put that in perspective and move on. You’ve been dissed by some loser at a bar? Walk away. Disarm that person with humor. Be the rabbit. Two, if you are arrested and given an offer that will involve you quickly getting freedom, consider taking it, because it probably will be the last offer you get. And whatever you do, don’t believe it will all just eventually pass over, because if anything it will get worse. Your Embassy or Consulate will usually do whatever they can to help you, but that oftentimes consists of little more than alerting your relatives and giving you a candy bar or two. It’s not that they don’t want to help or are unwilling to help, it’s just that legally there is very little they can do to help.

Whenever we write posts like this we get comments and/or emails accusing us of deliberately scaring off people so as to pad our own pockets. Wrong. Our pockets get padded the more people go to China, not the less. No, we write posts like this because we do not want to see foreigners (mostly young foreigners) get into trouble in China. So don’t. Please.

There are all sorts of other ways foreigners can and do find themselves behind bars for doing things they never realized could lead to criminal prosecution, and the below posts detail some of them:

Your thoughts?

UPDATE: On a somewhat related topic, Foreign Policy Magazine just came out with a hard hitting article on hostage taking to ensure debt repayment, entitled, Hostage Taking Is China’s Small-Claims Court: Everyone in China — including the police — treats kidnapping as just the price of doing business. Wow.

China trademark lawyersThe New York Times has a story today on Donald Trump’s trademark filings in Greater China, entitled, Trump Company Moves to Protect Brand in Chinese Gambling Hub. And here is something I never thought I would say: there is a lot to be learned from how Donald Trump (or at least one of his companies) is handling things, with respect to China trademarks anyway.

According to the NYT article, “the company that manages the Donald J. Trump brand has moved to protect the name in Macau” by filing for trademark protection there. There are at least five things to be learned from Trump’s Macau trademark filings.

The first lesson to be learned from is that protecting your brand name via trademark registrations in the PRC does not protect your brand name in Macau. To protect your brand name in Macau, you must register your brand name as a Macau trademark. This also holds true for Hong Kong and Taiwan. As I wrote in China And Hong Kong Trademarks. Think Puerto Rico, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan all have separate and independent trademark systems:

Hong Kong and China are the same way [as Puerto Rico and the United States]. And Taiwan and Macau too. I am constantly having to explain this to our clients, at least half of whom just assume that a trademark registration in the PRC operates as a trademark registration in Hong Kong and vice-versa. And who can blame them, since Hong Kong is one with the mainland, right? Same with Macau, right? Many have this same view regarding China and Taiwan as well. None of this is true.

If you want your brand or mark registered and thus protected in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, you must register them in China, Hong Kong, Macau andTaiwan. If you thought you were protected in more than one of these places simply because you had registered in one, you had better get moving and start registering in one, two, or three more.

The New York Times article goes on to note that Trump’s filing for trademark protection for Trump hotel and casino brand names in Macau does “not necessarily indicate that President Trump or the Trump Organization will eventually open a Trump hotel or casino there.” This gives rise to the second lesson, which is that it often makes sense to register your brand name as a trademark in China (and elsewhere) even if you are not doing any business there, at least just yet. China is a first to file country, which means that whomever registers “your” brand name there first gets it. So if you are thinking you will be selling your product or your services in China say three years from now, it probably makes sense for you to register your brand and your logo as trademarks there now. See Register Your Trademark In China: Now. Just Ask MikeChina Trademark Basics and Register Your China Trademark Now. Then Register It Again With Customs.

The third lesson to be learned is the need to make sure your trademark registrations are both current and include sufficient classes to truly protect you. Our China trademark lawyers are constantly getting contacted by foreign companies seeking IP protection based on their trademark filings, only for us to have to tell them that gaps in their trademark registrations are big enough for rival companies to drive a truck through or even that their registrations have expired or never existed. The article notes how Trump’s company already owns more than a dozen trademarks in Macau (for casinos, constructions, hotels and real estate) and it is not clear whether it is adding to that total or just re-upping existing trademarks. For the need to stay on top of your trademark filings, check out New Year’s Resolution: Check Your China Registrations. Just last week I got a call from a U.S. company that four years ago paid a company in China to register three of its trademarks there and just learned that despite having received “official confirmation of the approvals,” no such filing was ever made. Needless to say the Chinese company (a fake law firm) that did this no longer shows up on the web nor probably ever really even existed. See Is Your China Lawyer Real? I have no doubt Trump is using a real law firm for his filings.

The fourth lesson to be learned is that once you secure your trademark registration you monitor it to make sure nobody is treading on it and if they are, you do something about it. The article notes how Trump last year “won a legal battle with a Macau company that had registered to use the name ‘Trump’ in coffee shops and restaurants.”

 The fifth lesson is that you should consider securing a trademark that protects your brand in both the English language and the local language. The article notes that Trump’s registrations “include ‘Trump,’ ‘Donald J. Trump,’ ‘Trump Tower,’ ‘Trump International Hotel and Tower’ and ‘Chun Pou’ — a Cantonese version of Mr. Trump’s name.”

Chun Pou, who knew?

Getting money out of ChinaOur China lawyers have of late been getting a massive upsurge in emails and phone calls from American and European companies and lawyers seeking our assistance in determining the strength of their claims for getting paid on indemnification or settlement agreements or for breaches of investment or merger contracts. China’s tightening of capital controls has made getting money out for these things difficult. To get a better sense of the issues related to China’s crackdown on money leaving the country, start with Getting Money Out of China: It’s Complicated, Part 6 and read the first five parts of this series also. And if you think this is not going to get even worse, I urge you to read China regulators plan to crack down further on overseas deals.

A problem in these situations is that the Chinese government may be preventing the money from leaving or perhaps the Chinese company simply has decided it does not want to pay and is using “China government capital controls” as a convenient excuse. Another problem in these situations is that it can be difficult — often impossible — to know whether payment is not occurring due to the fault of the Chinese company or because the Chinese government has blocked it.

Chinese companies virtually never carry insurance for indemnification or for most (pretty much all) sorts of settlement payments and we are skeptical about their getting permission from the Bank of China to convert RMB into dollars for these kinds of payments. This means your odds of getting money for these things are not so good to begin with, but in every instance in which we have been contacted, the American and European companies (and their lawyers) have already done things to reduce their odds of ever getting paid. In most of these cases, our “sense” is that the Chinese companies deliberately had the contracts written to make payment difficult. And why not? What company that has been sued and had to settle for millions of dollars will not try to set things up so that it does not actually end up having to pay? This holds true with equal force on the indemnification side as well. And on the transactional side, Chinese companies tend to encourage contracts that make payment difficult, figuring that if they do end up wanting to complete the deal, they can agree to a revised contract that will make government approval of payment more likely.

We are seeing this problem of non-payment quite often these days in investment deals as well. The Chinese side will enter into an agreement with a foreign company to buy that company or invest in it. The contract will require the Chinese company make an X dollar (or Euro) payment at some early stage and it oftentimes will also include a liquidated damages provision setting forth what will happen if the deal does not close. The Chinese company never makes the first payment, claiming the Chinese government is not letting them do so. The American or European company then wants to sue for breach of contract damages (one company that contacted us even went bankrupt waiting to get paid!) and/or for the liquidated damages. These companies and lawyers often come to the China lawyers at my firm expecting us to bless their pursuing litigation against the Chinese companies, but in most instances, we throw cold water on those plans by pointing out how the applicable contract(s) make prevailing and collecting on any claim difficult or even impossible.

We typically see two main problems in these contracts, one of substance and one of procedure. The substantive problem is that the contracts’ force majeure clause broad enough to be able to claim that their inability to pay due to Chinese government capital controls is a force majeure. And if the American/European company cannot prove non-payment is for some other reason — and as I stated above, this is usually not possible — the Chinese company may very well prevail on this argument. For more on this issue, check out China Payment Risk. And for some ways you can reduce these risks, check out China Payment Risk, Part 2. The typical procedural problem is the dispute resolution clause. See e.g., Enforcing US Judgments in China. Not Yet.

For you to be able to get paid from China in the situations described above, you need to think about how that is going to happen before you draft your contract, not after you have not been paid. This holds true for any sort of contract with a Chinese company that involves payment leaving China. You need to draft these contracts with extreme sensitivity to China’s hard currency controls, otherwise the Chinese company be able to point to the Bank of China as its reason for not paying and then what can you do? You should not enter into any agreement, even one that seems “purely domestic” without accounting for the payment from China issue and for what is required to get paid under Chinese (not domestic) law and practice.
China lawyers China attorneys
Better to shut the barn door BEFORE your IP leaves

As China lawyers, one of the worst parts of our job as China lawyers is when a foreign company (usually an American or European or Australian company) contacts us after having essentially lost its IP to a Chinese company. In those situations, we review the relevant contracts and relevant IP (trademark, copyright patent and licensing) registrations to determine whether or not they have a good case against the alleged IP infringer. The overwhelming majority of time they do not and it is no fun essentially telling them that, “sorry, you’ve lost your IP and there is little to nothing we can do because YOU didn’t do what you needed to do beforehand to protect your IP from China, but hey, if you want to prevent this from continuing to happen to you….”

One of the best parts of our job as China attorneys is working with foreign companies to prevent the above sort of situation before it happens. The below email is a fairly typical sort of email we send to existing clients, explaining what they must do beforehand to protect their IP from their Chinese counterpart, which in this case is one of China’s largest and most powerful companies.

If ____________ [big and powerful China company] does “development work” absent a formal written agreement that deals with the development work, it can claim rights to the development work and it also can claim certain patent rights based on the development work on an incremental change, new work basis. China like Germany does not require very much of an incremental change to allow a new patent, especially for design patents and similar “junk patents” popular in China.

The way to deal with this is to enter into an product ownership/product development agreement that directly confronts the issue. In a situation where you are asserting the entire ownership of everything done with respect to your product, such an agreement is not complex. IF the Chinese side’s goal is to infringe on your product, they will be reluctant to sign the agreement. However, IF they sign the agreement, the protection is powerful, but only against the parties that sign. What we would do with _______ is to say: If you release our information to anyone, YOU are liable for the breach, without regard to your own fault. We can normally draft this as a very specific agreement, however, we can also just include this type of provision into any form of global agreement with these companies.

My cautions are as follows:

You should never do a deal with a company you believe intends to infringe; you are not looking for a lawsuit. As you know, recovery from infringement carried out by a huge entity like _______ will be difficult for a company like yours.

__________ is a giant company that basically “owns” _________ [a specific third tier China city]. Thus any legal proceeding against them in ________ would be difficult. This again calls for caution and a program where you receive adequate payment BEFORE it has a chance to infringe.