A couple of weeks back, we did a post entitled, Protecting Your IP From China. The Value And The Peril Of Trade Fairs.  In that post, we talked about the benefits of securing a Non Disclosure (NDA) or an NNN (Non Disclosure, Non Compete, Non Circumvent) Agreement from potential Chinese manufacturers, before revealing your trade secrets to them.

Renaud Anjoran, of the Quality Inspection Tips blog did a follow-up post to ours, entitled, China Trade Shows: Don’t Get Your New Product Designs Stolen.  In his post, Renaud points out that using an NDA or an NNN Agreement “is good advice, but not always sufficient. I think this is a case where non-legal strategies are far, far more effective.”

I whole-heartedly half agree.  I agree that a signed agreement is not always going to be sufficient and I also agree that non-legal strategies for protecting your IP from China are absolutely critical.  I just am not sure which is more important between the legal and the non-legal strategies, because I view both to be essential and I think that their importance can vary with the product and other factors.

Be that as it may, Renaud (as usual) raises some valid points, especially his pointing out how many walk around trade shows with fake name cards and how securing a fake signature on a document is not worth much:

Many people walk trade shows with fake name cards. And, even if they identify themselves correctly, they can easily use another company (their supplier, their brother…) to circumvent the agreement. So having them sign any kind of confidentiality agreement on the spot, without checking them up, is a weak strategy.

Renaud then provides a couple of interesting real-world examples of trade show strategies by companies with “sensitive IP”:

One exhibits on a small booth at the Canton fair, and shows only his latest developments in silicon kitchenware. When people stop and show interest, my friend takes their name card, asks a few questions, and says “we’ll be in touch” (he takes the time to check them up before sending them photos, prices, and so on). And he makes sure no photo is taken on the spot. Two people can easily monitor a 9 sq.m. booth.

The other one exhibits on the toy fair in HK. They have a big booth, with a third of the space open to the public and the rest as a private showroom. Only companies they trust are allowed in the showroom where the really unique designs are displayed.

The bottom line for protecting your IP from China: do what you can on both the legal side and the non-legal side to protect your IP from China.  It’s tough out there and the more “weapons” you employ, the better your chances.

What do you think?


Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog (www.chinalawblog.com). Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.