Watson & Band interview: staying ahead of its time

Zhang Yixiang, China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]



Watson & Band was awarded an outstanding IP service team at the 11th China IP International Annual Forum.

From the first patent infringement case of Japanese company v. Chinese enterprise in mainland China, the first patent infringement lawsuit between foreign enterprises in mainland China, to the "UL" trademark infringement series of cases that have been selected as the top ten intellectual property cases in Chinese courts in 2018 and 2019, and administrative dispute over a request for invalidation of a trademark that was determined by the court of second instance to be negative in meaning and slightly lower level, in the span of more than two decades, this series of classic cases have reflected the increasing openness and prosperity of China's market, also condensed the development and changes of China's intellectual property justice. In these "first cases" and "major cases", a well-established intellectual property service provider, Shanghai Watson & Band Law Firm, can always be seen.

Established in 1995, Watson & Band is one of the oldest law firms in Shanghai and even in East China to be involved in the intellectual property business, also one of China’s oldest intellectual property service providers with the qualifications of foreign-related patent agency. Today, Watson & Band has developed into an integrated legal and IP services provider that is represented primarily by Watson & Band Law Offices and Watson & Band Intellectual Property Agent Ltd. Its intellectual property business covers trademarks, patents, copyrights, and various types of new intellectual property rights agency and consulting services, rights protection and litigation services, and commercial intellectual property legal services. After more than 20 years of hard work, Watson & Band has continuously polished its service quality, accumulated service experience and created a large number of classic cases, which has not only gained the long-term recognition of many clients, but also forged its own industry leading position. This year, Watson & Band was selected as one of the "2020 China Outstanding IP Service Teams". At the invitation of Watson & Band, China IP had a conversation about the development history of more than 20 years with Dr. Xiao Hua, the general manager and patent attorney of Watson & Band Intellectual Property Agent Ltd.

Endure Hardships and Be the Pioneer

The predecessor of Watson & Band, Gong Xin Law Firm, was established in February 1995, when China's intellectual property service industry was just starting to develop. In September 1998, Gong Xin Law Firm officially renamed Watson & Band Law Offices. When "intellectual property" was still new in most people's minds, Watson & Band already had a first-mover advantage in this promising new field. Xiao Hua told China IP: "The main founders of Watson & Band were already well known in the IP legal protection industry before Watson & Band was established. All of them had acquired profound English and Japanese language skills while studying abroad. They were qualified as patent agents and attorneys and also had rich experience in litigation and patent representation. So, from the beginning, Watson & Band focused on foreign-related intellectual property services."

However, at the beginning of its establishment, Watson & Band was not qualified as a foreign-related agency. At that time, Watson & Band team were not discouraged but actively played the dual function of an agency and a law firm. With the founding partners and attorneys' superior foreign language skills, solid legal skills and other advantages, they started from the foreign-related intellectual property legal services and gradually developed the initial business map of Watson & Band. "At that time, Watson & Band began to take industry-leading foreign-related IP infringement litigation cases in the Shanghai area. For example, Xu Shenmin, one of the founders of the team, a senior partner and a pioneer in the field of intellectual property, successfully represented the first Japanese company v. Chinese company in a patent infringement case in mainland China and the first patent infringement lawsuit between foreign companies in mainland China. On the other hand, Watson & Band's team also concentrated on exploring domestic agency business. It established cooperative relationships with many famous high-tech enterprises and large manufacturing enterprises in China, and most of the collaborations have lasted till now." Xiao Hua recalled.

Opportunity is always reserved for those who are prepared. After a period of steady operation and business accumulation, just around China's accession to the WTO, in April 2000, Watson & Band was designated as a foreign-related intellectual property agency; in August 2002, Watson & Band Intellectual Property Agent Ltd. was established, which marked the beginning of a large-scale legal and intellectual property service complex under the name of "Watson & Band". In May 2003, Watson & Band was appointed a foreign-related trademark agency, and the layout of Watson & Band's foreign-related intellectual property business became more and more complete. "Twenty years ago, there were very limited Chinese IP agencies available for overseas parties to choose from. To do well in foreign-related IPR business, in addition to basic professional and language skills, the agency also needed to understand the procedures and processes of obtaining IPR rights and to be well versed in the application of IPR in China. This is a very important factor for foreign clients to consider Chinese IPR agencies, and this is where Watson & Band's strength lies." Xiao Hua said. After obtaining the foreign-related patent and trademark agency qualifications, Watson & Band's IP agency business and legal litigation business blossomed on two fronts, especially the foreign-related IP agency business has grown rapidly, thus making a name for itself in the industry. More and more large enterprises from Europe, the United States, Japan and other countries or regions have their intellectual property litigation and other legal business, as well as trademarks, patents and other agency business handed over to Watson & Band, providing the original impetus for Watson & Band to soar.

After the big start, Watson & Band soon took steps to expand. In 2006, the Harbin office was established; in 2008, another new office in Beijing; in August 2014, the Hong Kong office of Watson & Band Law Firm was established; in April 2016, the Watson & Band Management Group was established; from 2017 to 2020, Watson & Band expanded successively to Gansu, Yantai, Guangzhou, Chizhou, Suzhou, Chengdu and Zhengzhou. Into the new century, the history of Watson & Band's development is a chronicle of the continuous expansion of business scopes and the blossoming of service areas. And in the business direction, Watson & Band also has new thinking and positioning. "In recent years, China's rapid economic development, the growth momentum of domestic enterprises is extraordinary, and its demand for high-quality intellectual property services is increasingly strong. In line with the economic trend and the trend of the times, Watson & Band has turned its attention back to the domestic market, expanded the scale of the domestic IP service team, and integrated its long-term experience in providing rigorous services for overseas parties into the IP services for domestic enterprises, which has won the unanimous praise of domestic clients." Xiao Hua said.

Value the Talents and Win as Teams

The founders of Watson & Band more than two decades ago might not have envisioned that today, Watson & Band's current scope of practice includes various areas such as intellectual property; corporate and commercial law;data law and IP services; capital market; financial and asset management; restructuring and insolvency; culture, entertainment and sports; construction, real estate and infrastructure; labor and employment; family law and wealth management; trade, customs and tax; litigation and dispute resolution; and investigation, etc. Among all the practice areas, Watson & Band's IP services are the most popular among clients. Xiao Hua introduced to China IP that Watson & Band's IP services cover the whole life cycle of IP mining, application for confirmation, right maintenance, transfer and transformation. Watson & Band has achieved outstanding performance in traditional practice areas such as strategic business planning, corporate operations, management and compliance, IP agency and commercialization, litigation and dispute resolution and emerging practice areas such as Internet +. 

Perhaps even more unexpected to the founders of Watson & Band is the size of the firm's staff and its rich talent pool. Watson & Band has nearly 400 employees, made up of professionals including lawyers, agents, engineers, professors, scientific researchers and senior consultants. The IP agency team includes 50 patent attorneys with master's degrees or above, several senior patent attorneys and senior trademark attorneys with more than 30 years of agency experience, more than ten patent attorneys admitted to the Bar, and more than ten attorneys with overseas study or work experience, encompassing the fields of chemistry, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, machinery, electronics, telecommunications, data, optical physics, automatic control, metallic materials and semiconductors, etc. At present, the scale of Watson & Band's team is still in the process of expansion. "In the context of China's socio-economic transformation and upgrading, and the shift from quantity-oriented to quality-oriented IPR applications, Watson & Band pays particular attention to the technical background of candidates when selecting members for its IPR service team. In addition, after joining Watson & Band, the fresh blood also needs to complete a combined training including large-class courses and one-on-one guidance, and quickly grow into practical talents that meet the needs of the team by receiving different types of training courses such as theoretical classes, case explanation classes, and real-world simulation classes." Xiao Hua said.

The rigorous selection and training have created a combat-ready Watson & Band team. Xiao Hua proudly told China IP, "Watson & Band's IP application team has the hard skills to carry out work from the perspective of "high-quality" "protectable rights" when planning intellectual property rights for each client. Our IP legal team can analyze the technical content and cooperate with the application team to provide a service that perfectly matches our clients' needs in terms of scale and depth. At the same time, Watson & Band also adopts a flat team management approach, keeping each team at a reasonable size and with a fixed number of practice areas and clients to ensure a stable output of team members in handling cases. Watson & Band now takes an average of more than one hundred intellectual property cases per year, and the winning rate is much higher than the average level of domestic and foreign counterparts, and the secret lies in this."

The powerful and cohesive team helped Watson & Band successfully reverse the unfavorable situation caused by the 2020 epidemic. "Throughout the epidemic, all Watson & Band employees were united in their determination to promote the transformation of Watson & Band's overall office model and to strengthen Watson & Band's confidence and determination to move toward computerization and paperless. Thanks to Watson & Band's self-developed business system, even during the most stressful phase of the epidemic, Watson & Band's operations, especially those involving the submission of cases to official agencies, were not affected at all. In addition, Watson & Band has implemented a flexible hybrid on-site and home-based offices and designed a series of more scientific and humane management systems to harmonize the work and family relationships of our employees, ensuring the efficiency of their work and the stability of their process management." Xiao Hua then said, "along with the national epidemic prevention and control policies continue to optimize, Watson & Band also continue to optimize its business management system to adapt to the rich practical experience accumulated, which has laid a good foundation for the team to further expand the scale in the future. The intellectual property industry is an industry that is very much affected by the economic situation. Thanks to the faster domestic economic recovery and Watson & Band's own effective countermeasures, throughout 2020, Watson & Band's domestic IP business grew by about 10% compared to 2019; although foreign business was affected to a certain extent, we were able to minimize such negative impact with the support of Watson & Band's good process control and computer system. Next, Watson & Band will continue to widely apply Internet communication means to actively liaise with foreign parties to promote the layout and maintenance of their intellectual property rights in China."

Face the Future and Live up to the Times

For Watson & Band, 2020 was another bumper year. Having withstood the pressure of the epidemic, Watson & Band continued to increase its market development efforts and improve its service quality and won a number of international awards in the field of IPR by virtue of its own solid investment and operation in the field for many years. Watson & Band received numerous awards, including designations as "ALB IP Ranking" in the field of trademarks and patents, Chambers and Partners in the field of intellectual property litigation and commercial IP-related legal services, The Legal 500 in the field of intellectual property "Recommended Law Firm of the Year", 2020 LEGALBAND China Top Law Firm Ranking, Business Law Magazine's "2020 Law Firm of Excellence Award" in the area of privacy and data protection, the 2020 "WTR1000 List of World's Leading Trademark Firms", IAM Patent 1000 "Top Law Firms in China for Patent Litigation", Asialaw Profiles "Recognized Firms in Intellectual Property", Benchmark Litigation 2020 Asia-Pacific Dispute Resolution Rankings, etc. We can see Watson & Band's name in almost all the major international rankings of IP service providers. In addition, Watson & Band has won many awards in the domestic industry and media, such as the "Outstanding Trademark Agency 2020" by China Trademark Association and Shanghai Trademark Brand Association, "Outstanding International Service Agency and Outstanding Worker in Intellectual Property" by China (Shanghai) International Technology Import and Export Fair, and "Outstanding Trademark Agency and Outstanding Worker in Intellectual Property" by Shanghai Trademark Brand Association. Excellent Trademark Agency and Trademark Agents" and "Excellent Trademark Agency Cases" of Shanghai Trademark and Brand Association, etc.

The past glory does not let Watson & Band people stop the footsteps of continuing to move forward. Over the years, Watson & Band has always been open-minded in the work of intellectual property agency, trying various new technologies that can help improve efficiency. Today, a typical example is Watson & Band's self-developed computer business system. "Watson & Band's computer business system is the pivot of Watson & Band's entire computerized operation system. The stable operation of the computer business system has laid a solid foundation for Watson & Band's entire IP service process management. In the past two years, we have been trying to connect the excellent computer software in the market with Watson & Band's system, absorbing the advantages of these softwares while taking into account the individual needs of Watson & Band's intellectual property team. As a result, Watson & Band's financial system, translation system, and search system have all been greatly enhanced in recent years. In the future, Watson & Band will continue to actively absorb and use emerging technologies with an open mind, and always stay on top of the trend in the intellectual property service industry." Xiao Hua said.

Of course, Watson & Band's expectations for the future do not stop there. "Looking ahead, Watson & Band will continue to make efforts in three major directions. First of all, we will continue to expand our team and increase the layout of domestic branches to achieve two-way growth of business scale and team scale; secondly, we will continue to improve our business capability, especially to strengthen the accumulation of talents and ability training in computer, chip and other fast-developing emerging fields, in order to provide the most complete IP support services for future star enterprise clients; finally, we will further improve our comprehensive service capability and evolve from the tactical level to the strategic level, and get closer to the needs of domestic and foreign enterprises. Nowadays, IPR has been elevated to a national strategy, and its importance in social and economic transformation and the growth and upgrading of enterprises is becoming stronger. After the intensive sorting-out process, only the long-term organization that insists on quality-oriented and professional services can survive in the increasingly competitive IP service industry and obtain the best quality development resources, which is exactly the service tenet that Watson & Band has always upheld. The historical opportunity has been placed in front of us, and Watson & Band will definitely live up to itself and the time." Xiao Hua concluded.

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