Chinese equipment maker Safe-Run fails to exploit estoppel doctrine

China’s Supreme People’s Court on July 5 rejected Chinese tire building equipment company Safe-Run Intelligent Equipment Co., Ltd.’s invalidation claims on its Holland rival VMI Holland B.V.’s patent.

In December 2016, VMI filed a lawsuit with the Suzhou Intermediate People’s Court in China’s Jiangsu province accusing Safe-Run of infringing its patent CN 200880006690.4 concerning a cutting device for tire building machines. The patent in dispute was granted by the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) in 2012. The court ruled in VMI’s favor ordering Safe-Run to stop infringement and pay VMI 3.06 million yuan ($478,000) in damages.

Safe-Run filed a lawsuit with the Beijing Intellectual Property Court to invalidate the allegedly infringed patent in 2017. The court ruled in Safe-Run’s favor and invalidated it in 2020.

VMI and the CNIPA appealed the decision to the Supreme People’s Court. In its defense, appellee Safe-Run claimed the viability of the doctrine of estoppel on the grounds that VMI provided inconsistent information about the specifications of the patent in discrete criminal and civil complaints regarding the patent to its advantage. The top court rejected Safe-Run’s claim and overturned the lower court’s decision. The court also accentuated the significance of the consistency in the patent holder’s descriptions about the patent.