US accuses China of stealing patents in WTO complaint

GENEVA (REUTERS) – The United States launched a complaint against China at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Friday (March 23), part of a package of trade measures announced by President Donald Trump on Thursday over China’s alleged theft of US intellectual property. 

A presidential memorandum signed by Mr Trump will target up to US$60 billion (S$78.9 billion) in Chinese goods with tariffs, but only after a 30-day consultation period that starts once a list is published. 

The WTO complaint was widely expected as the tariffs come under a US law which requires a simultaneous legal challenge at the global trade body.  China, which dismisses Mr Trump’s allegations, has said it is ready to retaliate against US imports. 

“China appears to be breaking WTO rules by denying foreign patent holders, including US companies, basic patent rights to stop a Chinese entity from using the technology after a licensing contract ends,” the US Trade Representative’s office said in a statement. 

“China also appears to be breaking WTO rules by imposing mandatory adverse contract terms that discriminate against and are less favourable for imported foreign technology,” it said. 

Such policies interfered with foreign technology holders’ ability to set market-based terms in licensing and other technology-related contracts, it said. 

China’s ambassador to the WTO told Reuters on Thursday that China was ready for the US move, and would challenge it at the WTO. 

The US tariffs aimed at China’s intellectual property policies follow two other major trade actions by Mr Trump, with worldwide tariffs on solar panels and on steel and aluminium. 

China’s Commerce Ministry said on Friday that the country was planning measures against up to US$3 billion of US imports to balance the steel and aluminium tariffs, with a list of 128 US products that could be targeted.