Interview With John Kajander, the General Counsel of SAIC-GM

By Lilian Li, China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]

Surmount the Difficulties to Forge Ahead
SAIC General Motors Corporation Limited (SAICGM), invested and established by SAIC Motor and General Motors Company, has walked through 20 years of glorious past, which sells Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac brand automobiles, covering all the market gradients from luxury vehicle to economy vehicle, with four manufacturing plants and two power train plants. As the fastest growing passenger vehicle company, the annual sales volume of SAICGM has exceeded 1,700,000 in 2016, while 20,000 in 1999. Through 20 years of hardship and dedication, SAIC-GM has been insisting on the operation principle of "customer centered and market-oriented", keeping making innovation and transcendence, which has grown as one of the most important leading enterprises of Chinese automobile industry.
 
During the 20 years of SAIC-GM's consistent progress towards the goal of "Domestic-leading auto company with international competitiveness to keep leading in the future", the legal department of SAIC-GM has also been developing while assisting in the development of SAIC-GM. The legal department is responsible for all the legal and IP issue of SAIC-GM and its branches. Currently, the legal department is led by John Kajander, General Counsel, and Liu Zhongming, Deputy Director with 17 versatile legal counsels providing valuable legal support and IP protection to the main business chain of the company, balancing the efficiency and risks. As the legal department has been awarded "Chinese Outstanding IP Management Team" in 2017, a memorable year for SAIC-GM, our journalist made an exclusive interview with John Kajander, General Counsel of SAIC-GM, talking about the 20 years of going beyond with unlimited innovation between the legal department and SAIC-GM.
 
Management process: IP application and management automation
At the beginning of SAIC-GM's establishment, the anual total patent application was less than 10, and the so-called patent application and management system of the company was no more than an excel sheet. Mr. Kajander didn't avoid the awkward situation that SAICGM's IP management was faced with during the early years. He said "As the amount of SAIC-GM's patent application was increasing constantly, managing IP information by excel sheet was not enough and must be improved. So we started establish our own IP management process during 2002 and 2003." Mr. Kajander reviewed the progress of establishing IP management process during the interview.
 
"At the very beginning, we improved the IP management process by replacing excel sheet with standalone version. In 2005, we established a preliminary and comparatively complete IP management process which included trademark and patent, and strengthened the process management by using IT system in 2006." Mr. Kajander told the journalist that, "During this stage, SAIC-GM's IP management had achieved great progress as from standalone version to local area network version, from inputting patent and trademark information through IP management system by our patent management staff using standalone version to all the staff could input IP information through this system. However, we thought that the automation level of this system was comparatively low. So we collaborated with IT department and external partners to develop and establish PAMS (Patent Application Management System). This system is customized for our company, helping us realize allround automation. Currently, the company's IP management process is realized all by this system." 
 
However, just like SAIC-GM which never stops forging ahead, the legal department will never let PAMS become stagnant. Mr. Kajander pointed out during the interview that, "We hope that the system can have new progress each year, so we will make pertinent improvement to the system each year." Therefore, Mr. Kajander particularly mentioned the brand new IP management system which is about to be used in 2017, and he said "compared with the former PAMS, the main features of the new system are: regarding the external cooperative agencies and counsels as an important part of managing the system, paying attention to the cooperation between external agencies and company legal counsels, which will reduce the redundancy of work to a great extent, and raise the efficiency of work." 
 
In accordance with the principle of "technology drives law", SAICGM has established and improved the independent IP management system of joint venture, and optimizes the management process of patent, trademark, copyright and trade secret, using the database known both at home and abroad to do the big data management and analysis, realizing the routing and standardized IP management by using IT system and mobile internet technologies." IP management is not isolated, and it needs to be integrated with the overall operation of the company. IP comes from creativity, while different creativity is formed according to the target that the company set for us each year, the comprehensive consideration to the programs and R&D investment. What the legal department has to do is to evaluate creativity from the perspective of technology itself and product protection, choose the most worthy one to realize, and carry out the relevant job of IP application and protection." Speaking of this, Mr. Kajander expressed proudly that the automatic IP management system has played a rather important role in numerous and complicated IP management work. The IP number of SAIC-GM has been increased year by year during the recent 20 years. It is outstanding among the joint ventures of auto companies, with more than 400 annual IP applications and grants, and owns more than 2000 patents. The data rising in straight can prove well that the independent and complete IP management system has made undeniable contribution to the company's IP application and protection work. Besides, Mr. Kajander also told the journalist that, "We are now thinking about upgrading and improving the system by using the technology of artificial intelligence, which can make our management system smarter. This is our next direction of efforts." 
 
Elite team : integration of internal and external cooperation
During the interview, Mr. Kajander introduced the overall structure of SAIC-GM's IP management system, saying that "Besides being responsible for the numerous and complicated IP management process of patent application work, our IP management system has other two important parts. One is mainly about the company staff, including the IP lawyers in legal department and the IP engineers in R&D department and coordinators; the other aspect is about our external partners, including patent and trademark agencies, suppliers developing I P management system, and suppliers of searching system. Now we have established cooperative relationships with a certain number of external partners." The company IP management process does not only emphasize internal process but also needs to pay attention to the interaction between the internal and the external. Therefore, SAICGM's IP management process has become a bridge of communication between legal department of SAICGM and the external agencies. Such close interaction has realized high efficiency of the company IP management system, promoting the company IP applications, protections and management work.
 
The legal department itself is the core and soul of SAIC-GM's IP management system undoubtedly, with 17 versatile legal counsels, among whom the postgraduates ratio has exceeded 70%, CPA qualification, patent agent and Chinese and US lawyer qualification are owned by most staff, and the average practice years are more than 12 years. Such an elite team is pretty amazing. When being asked about the talent selecting standard, Mr. Kajander chose "Smart" and "Young" as the key words, which surprised the journalist very much. "On the basis of satisfying the industry standard and requirement (eg. Succeed National Judicial Examination, Patent Agent Examination), we care more about whether the newcomer can be familiar with the company business in really short time. Actually, the highest state is young and smart that we talked about." Mr. Kajander further explained that "smart" and "young" means that the team values the learning ability of the young people. "We pay more attention to whether the person has the active learning attitude, and the passion of learning new things and learning ability. This is the factor that our team pay most attention to when selecting talent. Because what he has now stands for his past, and what he will have in future depends on his passion and motivation for learning. "Crossover" is one of the important features of the modern enterprises. So it is necessary for the company legal counsels to keep acute about new things and the edge issues when following the development of the company." Mr. Kajander pointed out that their team always try their best to provide convenient learning approaches and excellent learning resources, "We hope to attract smart young people to join our company. Our department pays much more attention to train new members after they join us. Our team has set the mode of "the experienced stuff guide and support new members", which means the experienced staff will provide necessary support, such as IP, commercial trade, and business process, to the new members. Meanwhile, our department make annual training plan, providing staff with training opportunities, inviting the experienced lawyers and other professionals to hold lectures about edge issues of IP and organize members to study. What we value most is how to make our members have sense of accomplishment every day during their work, and whether the members can get experience and achievement during work and learning." 
 
The other end that the company IP management process connects is the external agencies of SAICGM, besides legal department itself. SAIC-GM has established long term cooperation relationship with many famous law firms, IP agencies, database suppliers, which infiltrated in every aspects of daily IP management work. The secret of such perfect cooperation is just like Mr. Kajander said, "We take the external agencies as our long term partners more than just suppliers." 
 
"Regarding them as our partners means that we need regard the work of partners and our department as a whole. Both resource sharing and benefit balance should be taken into consideration." When it came to this, Mr. Kajander took the cost control in IP management process as example, explaining the principle of integrity of team and external partners, "Our workload is increased day after day with the steady increase of patent applications, while patent application is just a part of our IP work. As faced with so big workload, we have to attach importance to cost control. Therefore , we have reached agreement of raising working efficiency, reducing work cost, most mainly avoiding repetitive work with the partners who have cooperated with us for more than 10 years and those who are about to have long term cooperation relationship with us." For the issue of reducing repetitive work, the legal department regards the daily work of both parties as a whole, and have found practicable way of resolution. For example, we have made a set of cooperation guide with our cooperative partners to regulate the relevant issues in the cooperation, which will definitely ensure the communication efficiency for both parties.
 
Trademark protection: provide escort to brand
"Unlike other industry, auto industry is directly faced with final consumers, commonly known as B2C. Since trademark has direct influence on the customers, so trademark protection is very important for us." Mr. Kajander acknowledged that brand protection has great importance for SAICGM, "Trademark represents a lot of things, such as making decision of selecting between sporty and luxury vehicle; representing personal image in friends and relatives; sometimes it is even symbol of status. There are many customers think that Buick and Cadillac represents different characteristics, which reminds us that each trademark has its distinctive speciality and this further shows the importance of trademark protection " 
 
As auto industry is very strict about trademark or brand, SAICGM pays much attention to product naming. Mr. Jon Kajander told the journalist that, "all the naming of vehicle is not a random decision made at the last gasp, but closely connected to vehicle launching and R&D process. We will start the internal discussion with marketing department and PR department, in order to get the impressive naming which can attract the consumers." 
 
"We have not experienced many trademark lawsuit cases so far. Moreover, by considering the lead time and the cost, our team more prioritize the own protection measures and the advanced prevention of the trademark and brand protection. For example, in recent years we gradually strengthened the label & identification of parts & components to assist the following brand protection campaign." Even so, the team never slack off the work on the trademark infringement dispute. Mr. Kajander told the journalist: "To deal with the brand protection, SAIC-GM Legal Department established the joint working team with Sales & Marketing Department, the joint team will take the corresponding measures to c ope with the trademark infringement dispute if necessary. About eliminate the trademark infringement of counterfeit & shoddy products, the joint team cooperate with the local Industrial & Commercial Bureau and the Public Security Bureau, adopt the effective measures to fight against, safeguard the brand image and strongly protect the trademark." 
 
Following this discussion, Mr. Kajander also expressed his own feeling based on his 7-year's working experience in China. He highly commended the high attention of China Mainland on the brand protection. He said: "Refer to my personal working experience, currently China pays the similar scale of the importance on the brand protection which equals to Europe and North America. Particularly the high attention in terms of the regulation and legislation, for example, China prominently focuses on the relevant policies on subsidiary measure on brand protection and forged & fake commodity prohibition which quite gratified us and enable us to be quite confident of future brand protection." 
 
For the upcoming 20th SGM anniversary, Mr. Kajander also expressed his deeply wishes. He wishes SGM would "Be committed to the mission to go beyond with unlimited innovation", wish China IP Magazine to be "the Best Friend & Tutor of China's Intellectual Property Manager".
 
 

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