The steel company SSAB has operations in China and works directly with Chinese partners on IP-related issues. As SSAB is so heavily dependent on its local IP consultants in China, it is essential that the company feels able to rely 100 percent on the advice it receives.
As a foreign company in China, the Nordic and US-based steel company SSAB (Swedish Steel AB) has learned the importance of establishing local
harmonious relationships in order to succeed in doing business in the country. SSAB has been active in China for many years and has a research and development facility in Kunshan outside Shanghai, where products are tailored to the needs of Asian customers. The facility is one of five in the group tasked with developing new steel products and applications in close collaboration with customers.
“In addition to working on the basic properties of our steels in order both to strengthen them and reduce their weight, we run various R&D projects together with our customers. The focus is on developing new applications for our steel products in the manufacturing industry and for construction projects,” says Daniel Moe, Head of IP at SSAB.
Strong competition on the Chinese market
On the whole, competition in the market for steel products is fairly intense in China. However, SSAB has the advantage of supplying mostly highstrength steels, which are not subject to the same fierce competition as standard qualities.
SSAB’s roots extend almost 140 years back in time, to when the first ironworks that would later form part of the SSAB Group (formally established in 1978) began operations in Sweden. Since merging with the Finnish steel company Ruukki in 2014, SSAB has a presence in around 50 countries and more than 17,000 employees worldwide. Steel production takes place in Sweden, Finland and the USA, but the group also has the capacity to process and finish a variety of steel products in a number of other countries, including China.
The core of SSAB’s business activities is the production of advanced high-strength steel products specially adapted to meet stringent requirements. The group also works with the distribution of steel and with construction solutions for the building industry.
Good relations important
The importance of maintaining harmonious relations with Chinese partners applies equally to the group’s intellectual property activities. Daniel Moe is responsible for all aspects of intellectual property at SSAB, not only the group’s IPR portfolio and IP strategy, but also for the processes that pave the way for product innovations within the group. Experience has taught him that good relations with local partners are crucial for success.
“It’s the key to effective collaboration – not only in China but in every other country, too. To a very large extent we are in the hands of our local IP consultants, so we need to be able to attach great faith to their assessment of the situation. That means relying on them and the advice they give us in all sorts of circumstances.”
These patents can be used as sales arguments in our marketing. They help create the right conditions for us to be able to sell more steel.-Daniel Moe
According to SSAB’s IP strategy, the company must safeguard its essential IP rights in all countries where its products are sold. SSAB has an extensive global portfolio of brands and around 60 patent families. However, much focus is put on the use of business secrets.
“A great deal that relates to the processes behind steel production is protected as trade secrets. These processes are at the heart of our work to develop the high-strength steel segment,” Moe explains.
SSAB also has patents relating to how its steel is used in different types of constructional solutions.
“These patents can be used as sales arguments in our marketing. They help create the right conditions for us to be able to sell more steel,” he adds.
Daniel Moe’s experience of the Chinese IP system is positive. He sees no serious obstacles to prosecuting and enforcing the company’s IP rights in China. In this respect, however, he is especially grateful to have the state authority SAIC as a help to resolve any problems relating to trademark issues.
“According to Chinese Trademark Law, if a dispute arises from a trademark infringement case, the plaintiff can seek help from the courts or SAIC. SAIC is a more efficient solution in terms of time, and is more flexible and less complex, especially when the case is not serious enough to constitute a criminal act. SSAB and its partners enjoy good relations with many local AIC officials,” Moe says.
IP courts – an interesting development in China
Without going into details about the extent of any IP infringements in China, Daniel Moe does not deny that they have occurred. However, the company’s Chinese IP consultants have been able to deal with any situations that have arisen in a way that has ultimately benefited SSAB.
Daniel Moe is also positive about the IP courts currently being set up in China in an attempt to ensure greater consistency in the judgements that are handed down. The three courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou began to consider their first cases early in 2015.
“From my point of view these courts represent an interesting development,” Moe says. “As a general rule it is always an advantage – in any country – to have a handful of judges who specialise in IP law.” ■
Text: Andreas Gruvhammar
Photo: Bo Björkdal/SSAB and Erik Svensson
Published in AWA Magazine 1, 2015.
ABOUT SSAB (From 2015)
• Steel from SSAB is used in earth-moving plant, mining equipment, cranes, buildings, wind turbines, vehicles, etc.
• 17,300 employees in 50 countries
• Headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden
• Listed on the NASDAQ OMX Nordic Exchange in Stockholm and also in Helsinki, Finland