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Women in IP Interview: Min Gao, senior IP counsel, adidas China

Managing IP speaks to Min Gao, winner of the Managing IP In-house Award at the 2017 Euromoney Legal Media Group Asia Women in Business Law Awards, for our latest Women in IP interview series

Min Gao adidas
"We have witnessed that Chinese courts are more willing to grant higher damages in civil IP lawsuits, thereby increasing the cost of counterfeiters in their illegal business"
Min Gao’s IP journey started as a government officer back in 2002 working for the Shanghai Intellectual Property Office for almost seven years. After that, she started to practice law in China for a UK firm, focusing on IP litigation and enforcement, before she joined adidas as head of the IP department in China in 2015. Her IP work has allowed her to develop experience in macro governmental supervision, cross-industry case and project management, and IP management for an international brand.

Min’s career has had a number of highlights, especially in litigation. During her time as a government officer she participated in creating policies around patent enforcement. As a private practice lawyer, she successfully represented many international clients in defending their legitimate rights in China, for example, she won a case for a German cosmetics company in a trade mark infringement lawsuit, and was awarded for Quality Brands Protection Committee of China’s Ten Best Practices 2011-2012.  She also acted for a luxury brand in launching a non-infringement declaratory action against a foreign-registered trade mark owner, eventually forcing the trade mark owner to waive all its infringement claims.

After joining adidas as an in-house counsel, she has been involved in many successful legal actions to protect the brand. One example was the first successful criminal copyright litigation against counterfeits of adidas’ World Cup footballs, and a trade mark infringement litigation in Wenzhou that scored more than RMB 1 million ($151,474) worth of damages and was elected as top 10 cases in Zhejiang Province.

China is seeing rapid IP development but Min thinks that working in China still has many challenges. “China is the fastest growing market for adidas, and at the same time it is one of the main hubs for counterfeit products worldwide,” she says. “It is a vast country and IP protection also varies in different provinces and cities. In some challenging areas like Fujian province, it is still difficult to get adequate protection for international brands.”

Focusing on the products and areas that are important to her business is what guides her work. “For example, the 2018 World Cup is a very important event for adidas and the focus has been on the official footballs and jerseys of the adidas sponsored team,” she says. “The next World Cup will be held in Russia in 2018 and we will be focusing on cities along the routes from China to Russia.” 

Min sees China’s IP landscape changing in a positive direction. “We are now able to take more criminal actions against the counterfeiters who severely infringed adidas IP rights,” she says. “We have been seeing greater momentum in various authorities in cooperating with brands and supporting us to protect our IP. We have also witnessed that Chinese courts are more willing to grant higher damages in civil IP lawsuits, thereby increasing the cost of counterfeiters in their illegal business.”

However, challenging issues remain in some areas, for example, trade mark squatters are still rampant in China and international brands constantly become victims and it is generally difficult to seek remedies.

Speaking of challenges, the nature of Min’s work requires her to travel frequently, which poses some challenges on work-life balance. In cases where she needs to join raid actions, sometimes it can get confrontational and involves a certain level of safety risk, which can be a major disadvantage for women in her role.

Looking back, Min says she “enjoys IP and feels as energetic as [she] did on the first day of [her] career.”

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