Can a Taiwan company be held liable for damages under the U.S. Patent Act based on goods it manufactured in China and delivered in Hong Kong, even if it never imports anything to or sells anything in the U.S.?
Yes, despite the fundamental principle that patents are enforceable only within the countries where they are granted, there are circumstances in which U.S. law authorizes liability, either as a direct or indirect infringer, for what appears to be foreign conduct. While proper evaluation of any legal scenario requires consultation with a qualified attorney, this article will briefly summarize a few basic points concerning the extraterritorial reach of U.S. patent law. Continue reading
On March 28, Apple Inc. appeared in court in Shanghai to defend charges that Siri, its voice-recognition, personal-assistant software, allegedly infringes a Chinese patent. The plaintiff and owner of the patent, Zhizhen Internet Technology Co., claims its version of the software has over 100 million users in China and is requesting the court to ban all manufacturing or sales of Apple’s product in China.
This was not the first time Apple faced patent infringement claims in China. Last summer a Taiwanese man sued the company in China for alleged infringement relating to its Facetime technology; in 2010 a Shenzhen company threatened to sue concerning iPad design; in 2008 Apple was sued for the iPod; and in 2012, a Hong Kong company launched GooPhone I5, an android-based replica of the iPhone 5, reportedly based on leaked photos of the iPhone. GooPhone claimed to have patented the design and threatened to sue Apple if it dared to sell the genuine article in China.
Nor is Apple alone. French company, Schneider Electric lost a $48 million patent infringement verdict in China and Samsung lost one for $7.4 million. Sony, Phillips, Canon and Dell have all had their battles and GooPhone sells knockoffs of other smartphones in China with apparent impunity. Of course it’s possible in some cases the Chinese technology may be first and the Chinese patent legitimate. However, foreign companies face a growing risk that Chinese entities may unscrupulously patent foreign technology in China and demand a toll to do business there. Not only that, but in coming years companies will increasingly face challenges worldwide from the growing landslide of patents coming out of China. Continue reading
When two companies enter in to a relationship for the manufacture and supply of goods, both sides often have legitimate concerns about the volume of future orders and production.
The customer seeks assurance that all of its orders will be filled, so it won’t be left in the lurch in times of high demand. The supplier seeks assurance that purchasing volume will remain steady, or increase, so its initial investment will be recaptured, profit margin will be realized and it won’t be stuck with a warehouse full of costly, unwanted inventory.
Those legitimate concerns on both sides may largely be alleviated through the artful drafting of several possible contract provisions. The variations are endless, but here are a few basics. Continue reading
Here in Asia, it’s surprising how often technology companies will team up with a business partner and commence manufacturing, with no contract in place, placing trust in a few emails, oral conversations and purchase orders. I know, because they will then come to me, after problems have arisen, with questions about their legal rights. Regardless of whether the manufacturer is an ODM, OEM or contract manufacturer, much risk and uncertainty can be eliminated if the parties will first negotiate and sign a basic manufacturing agreement.
Below are a few key terms that may be clarified in such agreements.
Product and Pricing. Naturally, the agreement should include precise descriptions of the product, packaging and pricing, including design, specifications, materials, components, logos, and so forth. Such items are best described in addendums to the agreement, so they may be easily modified as needed. The agreement may also describe the process for making any price adjustments.
Quality and Inspections. The agreement should specify all governmental, environmental, industry, compatibility and customer quality requirements to be complied with, as well as required testing and certifications. It may permit quality audits by the customer (the customer may outsource that task if needed) and should clearly describe inspection rights and remedies for non-conforming products. Continue reading
Can a Taiwan company that manufactures products in China and delivers them in Hong Kong, pursuant to contracts signed in Taipei, be held liable for infringing U.S. patents based on those transactions, even if it never imports the goods to or does business in the U.S.? Surprisingly, yes.
Direct Infringement. Under Section 271(a) of the U.S. Patent Act it is unlawful to make, use, offer to sell, sell or import in/into the U.S. any device that makes use of a valid patent, without authority from the patent owner. To do so constitutes direct infringement.
It’s not always clear what constitutes U.S. sales. In MEMC v. Mitsubishi, a Japanese supplier sold goods exclusively to a Japanese customer, but placed shipping labels on the products indicating a U.S. destination and otherwise helped facilitate importation by the customer. Nonetheless, a U.S. court found the supplier didn’t engage in U.S. sales.
However, in LightCubes v. Nothern Light, the court found a supplier engaged in U.S. sales despite delivering the goods in Canada, because it sold them to U.S. customers. And in SEB v. Montgomery Ward, the court found U.S. sales despite delivery in Hong Kong, because the supplier manufactured the goods with North American electrical fittings, affixed U.S. trademarks on the goods, and stated U.S. destinations on the invoices. Continue reading