Exhibitions’ IP Problems: Self Help and Outside Help

Issue 28 By Zhou Yi, China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]

With 23 years of experience as exhibition organizers, Mr. Li Jiang, president of the Beijing Admire Exhibition Co., Ltd. said: “It was totally beyond my control – the bloody fight! Our exhibition would have been finished if they had not solved the IP problem.”

The clash referred to by Mr. Li was between two companies from Hangzhou during the 2001 China Fish show. Suspecting product infringement, one company resorted to the use of force to “settle” the dispute.

Although extreme, the absurdity illustrates the IPR bottleneck in the development process of Chinese exhibitions.

During the show, counterfeits and trademark infringements were exposed. Companies that had been victimized by infringement could lodge complaints to exhibition organizers, or take matters into their own hands to protect their “legal rights.” The organizers however, have found themselves in a dilemma: solving IPR problems was not their original intent of the exhibitions, but they could not afford to neglect them. The result would endanger the development and survival of the shows.
Although simple, it is a very serious problem

At China Fish 1997, there were several sections of foreign enterprises that were off limits to the Chinese. They nicknamed these areas “castles.” On the last day of the exhibition, many enthusiasts were refused admission to the “castles.” Obstinate people quarreled with exhibitors, and the organizers could offer no help.

How does a “castle” become part of a public exhibition? Li Jiang responded by saying that: “Foreign enterprises are afraid that Chinese enterprises will copy their new products and infringe their intellectual property rights. So they shut the door to all Chinese and open it to foreign visitors alone.” 

Behind an exhibition is an industry. Generally, problems arising during the exhibition mirror problems within the particular sector. The IPR problem is a common phenomenon in China’s manufacturing community. Some Chinese enterprises believe that counterfeiting or copying is not a big deal.

 “Copies and counterfeits are everywhere in the hardware market due to the low technical content and relatively high significance of industrial design. When a new design is shown, enterprises swarm to copy it. This occurrence is highlighted at exhibitions, and many foreign enterprises show their dissatisfaction with Chinese exhibitors,” said Mr. Bai Jingwei, assistant manager of the Information Division of the China National Hardware, Electric & Chemical Products Commercial Association, the organizer of the China International Hardware Fair.

This is a simple problem, but it leads to serious consequences. The development of the Chinese manufacturing industry requires extending Chinese products to international markets. However, to the embarrassment of exhibition organizers who provide such a platform, Chinese products successful in reaching global markets, are regarded as IP defective. Yet, exhibition organizers have also been blamed in part.

In 2000, China Fish became a large international event. In 2008, buyers from 78 countries were in attendance. Expressing his concerns, Li Jiang stated that: “There are so many foreign purchasers coming with big expectations. If what they see are all copies or with IPR problems, will they come next time? Without them, how can our exhibitions develop?”

Since it’s inception in 2000 to present, similar problems have occurred at the China International Hardware Fair. During the fair, foreign enterprises have united and entrusted lawyers to fight against copies and counterfeits. As a result, some guests and buyers chose to leave the exhibition.


Surely, organizers have taken measures to curb the increasingly serious IPR problem.

 With 20 years experience, the organizers of China Fish have adopted a strong attitude against exhibitors with IPR problems. “Many new exhibitions find ways to attract participants. But we needn’t do this. Our exhibition enjoys great popularity. Numerous enterprises want to come every year, so we will refuse those with IPR faults.” said Li Jiang.      

In 2007, foreign media exposed an enterprise from the Beijing Daxing District that had infringed a patent right owned by an enterprise from Britain. Although the infringer was punished by the market, China Fish still refused its participation in the 2008 show.
Along with a tough and definitive attitude, China Fish has taken certain measures to maintain a healthy development. Applicant enterprises must provide relevant documents, such as letters of patent for verification, or evidence of production in case of disputes.

Other powerful measures have also been implemented. To prevent petty theft (copying) at the exhibition site, organizers of China Fish created a rule that after the exhibition hall is opened, all exhibitors must arrive simultaneously, and when the exhibition hall is closed, all must also depart at the same time.

Over the years, the show has witnessed IPR issues once having no significance to top priority, accompanied by numerous practical problems to be solved in the process. But for those newly launched exhibitions, solutions are now in place. 

The China International Auto Parts Expo (CIAPE), first held in December 2007 in Beijing, is an international expo sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce. Its organizer is Genertec International Advertising & Exhibition Co., Ltd. Ms. Qi Haiying from the company’s international exchange department said, “Our exhibition was initiated in 2005. During that period, the Ministry of Commerce raised the IPR issue to a high level, and it required us to hold the exhibition with guaranteed IPR protection.”
There are two compulsory requirements for the participant enterprises at CIAPE: foreign trade value must exceed 1 million Yuan, and it also must be clear of any intellectual property infringements. These two requirements are also applied in locally organized exhibitions, and emphasized by the mechanical and electrical offices.

Included in the contracts with participating exhibitors, CIAPE has added commitment clauses on IPR, and attached a letter of commitment for their signatures and return. “But we don’t see a satisfactory returning ratio – about 50% in the year before last, and less in this year.” Qi said.

 “Besides the communication work with enterprises”, Ms. Qi added, “we had spent a lot of time in stipulating measures of dealing with IPR problems (Complaints about IPR Infringement and the Treatment). We were not seasoned in stipulating such measures; neither did we have any example to refer to. Finally, we made it by studying the Measures for the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights during Exhibitions promulgated by the Ministry of Commerce, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the State Bureau of Copyright and the State Intellectual Property Office, Measures for the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights during Exhibitions held in Beijing, and the features of auto parts industry”.

Great efforts have been made, but an exhibition is not held for solving IPR problems, but for signing contracts. In addition, exhibitions are faced with other problems: limited legal enforcement power and limited specialists in the IPR protection area. Therefore, the relevant exhibition sponsor will establish an office in charge of IPR complaints during the exhibition. 

The third party

The China International Hardware Show is one of the earliest Chinese exhibitions that incorporated law firms to set up an IPR office during the exhibitions.

The organizer of the China International Hardware Show established a cooperative relationship with the Unitalen Attorneys at Law in 2004. When an exhibition was held, they created an IPR consulting office to offer consultations and handle complaints. This office was greatly received by both the sponsors and exhibitors. Thanks to the Unitalen Attorneys at Law, the exhibition ran smoothly. Mr. Bai Jingwei said, “I remember when the office was just set up, it received scores of complaint cases every year, and solved every case satisfactorily.” 

Unitalen Attorneys at Law’s IPR-centered service in exhibitions can be traced back to 2002. Li Lei, deputy director of Unitalen Attorneys at Law said, “In 2002, we became the exhibition counselor of China Gem. At first, we didn’t have much work to do. But through deeper understanding and practices, we accumulated a series of solutions to IPR problems.”

The solutions mentioned by Li Lei included: background checks of exhibitors, ownership of patent rights prior to the exhibition, consultations during the exhibition, surveys of IPR status in certain industries, on-site dispute resolution, and follow-up dispute resolutions after the exhibition, and lectures.

More exhibition organizers have looked to the government for help.

In 2007, Li Jiang went to the Beijing Intellectual Property Office and asked for assistance in solving the IPR problem during the exhibition. The Beijing Intellectual Property Office recommended four intellectual property law firms to help. Finally, the Office and two law firms selected by Li Jiang formed the IPR office for the exhibition.

Li Jiang has been quite happy with the intervention of the third parties. He thinks it is quite the problem solver. “Such an office has a sufficiently deterrent effect, deterring enterprises from IP infringement. More importantly, it helps us solve many problems. When exhibitors have questions, they ask for help there; when disputes arise, they look for settlements there.”

One aspect that Li Jiang is especially proud of is that the stationing of an IPR office has gripped the attention of foreign media. A British fishing journal wrote this headline “China started its IPR protection journey!” More importantly, the IPR office promotes the healthy development of exhibitions.
Enterprises and exhibitions -- two sides of the coin

CIAPE’s efforts in solving IPR problems are undeniable. However, problems continually surface at exhibitions.

Germany Lukas deliberately assigned the Lovells Corporation to CIAPE in an effort to crack down on counterfeiting offenses. Honda filed complaints about 11 Chinese enterprises with the office.  

 “What makes me feel so hopeless is that many enterprises commit infringement out of crude ignorance,” said Ms. Qi Haiying. She made the statement after having received the complaints from Honda. With attorneys, she went to the booth of an accused enterprise. They were surprised by what they had found: the company had no literature of its own, but were distributing catalogues of Honda automobiles. The brochure was simply an imitation of Honda’s. When asked why, they explained that they did not mean to commit infringement, but just wanted to let customers know that their products could be used in Honda automobiles. They did not understand that their actions constituted infringement. There were also several other accused enterprises who failed to realize that by copying Honda’s booth at the exhibition ,or directly pasting the Honda logo on their own booths, that they were committing acts of infringement.
Mr. Bai Jingwei has comments on enterprises’ and exhibitions’ IPR problems: “It’s necessary for exhibitions to solve IPR problems. But more importantly, enterprises shall strengthen the sense of intellectual property protection and no violation. I think China’s exhibitions and Chinese enterprises shall both improve themselves in IPR protection and respect.”  

(Translated by Hu Xiaoying)


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