Updates

Taiwan’s progress in creating a positive environment for blockchain

The rise of cryptocurrencies and their broad applicability in international trade and finance have inspired some in Taiwan, most vocally legislator-at-large Jason Hsu, to take a closer look at how they can be integrated into the government’s goals of promoting technological innovation and investment. However, differing opinions from legislators, government agencies and industry has meant that while cryptocurrencies have been a hot topic of late, there is still a lack of clear policy direction and no legislation governing these new technologies.

The current legal situation

Cryptocurrencies are considered a “virtual commodity” by the Taiwanese government and are essentially unregulated. The Banking Act and the Securities and Exchange Act, do however provide penalties for issuers who violate articles in either law. In light of this, many issuers abroad have blocked or prevented people in Taiwan purchasing currencies through ICOs to avoid criminal liability. Uncertainty around these issues is seen as a major obstacle in the development of Taiwan’s cryptocurrency and wider blockchain industries.

Industry framework

On 22 May 2018, the Taiwan Parliamentary Coalition for Blockchain (TPCB) and the Taiwan Crypto Blockchain Self-Regulatory Organization (TCBSRO) were inaugurated. While the TPCB aims to create bipartisan consensus on the development of a regulatory framework governing blockchain-related activities at the political level, the TCBSRO is composed of blockchain and cryptocurrency industry professionals and community members with a stated goal of ensuring that their activities remain legitimate and lawful in the absence of established regulations.

Subsequently, Taiwan’s Financial Services Commission has been tasked with drafting legislation regulating cryptocurrencies, a development it expects to have completed by November 2018. With input from both legislative and executive agencies, this will likely give industry and cryptocurrency-watchers insight into the government’s position.

Possible models

So what would regulation in Taiwan look like? Currently, many are looking at some recent examples of similar legislation around the world. These include:

  1. Wyoming: The northern US state signed the Utility Token Securities Exemption bill into law in March 2018. The law exempts certain cryptocurrencies from money transmission laws, and categorizes them as a new kind of asset, utility tokens, rather than as currency, securities, or commodities.
  2. Japan: Taiwan’s neighbor to the east has been at the forefront of the global blockchain trend, and is currently the world’s largest Bitcoin market. Japan’s parliament passed its Virtual Currency Act last April, recognized Bitcoin as legal tender, and began requiring new cryptocurrency exchanges to register with the government.
  3. Singapore: While the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) does not directly monitor the use of cryptocurrencies, it does have regulatory power in cases of money-laundering or the involvement of cryptocurrency in funding terrorism. It has also partnered with R3, an enterprise software firm, on a blockchain-based project aimed at making financial transactions cheaper and more transparent. Singapore is currently considering whether or not to strengthen regulations on cryptocurrencies in order to better protect investors.

Given the conservative stance some countries are taking towards this technology, Taiwan’s current willingness to discuss the development and use of cryptocurrencies, and its hope to create blockchain-related regulations in the near future, could make it an important hub of the rapidly evolving digital economy in Asia.

For more information on blockchain regulations in Taiwan, please contact Christine Chen at cchen@winklerpartners.com.

New employment rules to come into effect 1 March 2018

Amendments to Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act passed by the legislature on 10 January 2018, after much controversy, protest and debate. Generally speaking, these amendments roll back or relax changes which were made to the law at the end of 2016, and may be amended, or clarified, further. The effective date of these amendments is 1 March 2018.

Overtime & Annual Leave

1. The wage for overtime on flexible rest days will be calculated as actual time worked, rather than in four-hour blocks as before. This overtime should be factored into the maximum monthly overtime for each employee, detailed in the next item.

2. Overtime may be calculated over a three month period by employers, and may not exceed 54 hours in one month and 138 hours in three months. In order to implement such an overtime policy, the employer must obtain consent from the relevant labor union or, if there is no labor union, the approval of a labor-management conference. If the company has 30 or more employees, this change must be reported to the local labor authority.

3. If the employee chooses to convert their overtime hours into make-up leave and this is agreed to by the employer, the make-up leave must be equal to the hours of overtime worked. The deadline for make-up leave shall be negotiated by the employer and employees. Furthermore, any remaining make-up leave must be converted back into payment for overtime and given to the employees upon its expiration or upon termination or voluntary resignation.

4. The employer and the employee may agree to carry over unused annual leave to the next year. However, any remaining annual leave must be converted into wages and paid to the employee at the end of the second year or upon completion of the employment contract.

Shift work

5. The employer may shorten the rest time between shifts from eleven to eight hours for those industries or businesses designated by the Ministry of Labor (“MOL”). To implement this change, the employer must obtain consent from the relevant labor union or, if there is no labor union, the approval of a labor-management conference. If the company has 30 or more employees, this change must be reported to the local labor authority.

6. Employers from those businesses or industries that are designated by the MOL and which have obtained consent from the central Competent Authority, may change the placement of an employee’s mandatory rest day. This adjustment allows the employee to work a maximum of 12 consecutive days. To implement this change, the employer must obtain consent from the relevant labor union or, if there is no labor union, the approval of a labor-management conference. If the company has 30 or more employees, this change must be reported to the local labor authority.

Once the new rules come into force, it is likely that government authorities will issue clarifying interpretations on how they expect employers to implement the new rules. It is therefore suggested that employees and employers pay particular attention to these developments.

For more information on Taiwan employment matters, please contact Christine Chen at cchen@winklerpartners.com or on +886 (0) 2 2311 8307.

Taiwan labor law amendments: five key takeaways for employers

In December 2016, Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan made controversial amendments to the Labor Standards Act (the “LSA”) in order to implement a five-day work week and protect employees’ annual leave rights. In order to further clarify how employers can comply with these new laws in practice and to deal with some commonly raised concerns, the Ministry of Labor made various amendments to the Enforcement Rules of the LSA (the “Rules”) which were announced and put into effect in June 2017.

Five of these key amendments most pertinent to employers are:

(1) Working hours on flexible rest days are expressly treated as overtime

In line with recent amendments to the LSA regarding flexible rest days, working hours on rest days are expressly treated as overtime.

(2) Itemization of pay slips and ways of providing pay slips to employees

Employers must provide a detailed itemization of employees’ pay slips, including the employee’s total base salary as agreed upon between the employer and employee, the amount of each item which makes up the employee’s total base salary, any deductions which are required by law or by mutual agreement between the employer and employee, and the actual payment amount. When employers are required to provide employees’ pay slips, they can choose to provide hard copies, send the information electronically, or provide some other means for employees to access and print the information at any time.

(3) Acceptable methods of recording employee work attendance

In order to clarify how employers can record employees’ work attendance and comply with relevant laws, the amendments to the Rules now list the following as acceptable methods of recording employee attendance for both employers and employees to follow:  attendance books, attendance cards, swipe card machines, entry access cards, biometric identification systems, and computer attendance record systems.

(4) Relaxation of the period within which annual leave must be used

While employees’ annual leave is provided based on years of service and calculated from each employee’s on-board date, the period within which accumulated annual leave must be used has now been relaxed. The period must be mutually agreed upon between the employer and employee, and can be based on service years, calendar years, school years, fiscal years, or any other kind of annual system agreed upon between the employer and employee. Furthermore, employers must inform employees that they can arrange their annual leave and their annual leave entitlements within 30 days of the employee being eligible for annual leave.

(5) Calculation and payment of wages in respect of unused annual leave

Where an employee’s service year ends (if applicable) or where their employment contract is terminated, one day’s regular wages must be paid for each day of unused annual leave remaining. An employee’s “daily wage” is based on their regular working hours and wage at the time one day prior to the end of their service year or termination of their employment contract. Where an employee is paid monthly, “daily wage” is based on their regular working hours and wage at the time one month prior to the end of their service year or termination of their employment contract, divided by 30.

Employers can pay this amount either on the employee’s regular pay day, or within 30 days of the end of the employee’s service year. In the case of termination, the amount should be paid to the employee immediately.

Employers should notify their employees of their annual leave entitlements and the total amount to be paid in respect of unused annual leave on an annual basis, and should record this information in each employee’s salary roll. Employees should be notified in writing, electronically, or be provided with some means to access and print out the information, prior to the period when wages are usually paid each year.

For more information on Taiwan employment matters, please contact Christine Chen at cchen@winklerpartners.com or on +886 (0) 2 2311 8307.

Amendments to Trade Secrets Act proposed

The Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (“TIPO”) has recently held a series of public hearings on proposed amendments to Taiwan’s Trade Secrets Act (the “Act”). The amendments under discussion include provisions that would give foreign corporations standing to bring private prosecutions for trade secret misappropriation and extend trade secret protection to foreign nationals from jurisdictions that are parties to multilateral treaties. Participants in the hearings also took the opportunity to urge that a mechanism be created to redact sensitive parts of judgments and that the Act address fair competition issues in trade secret protection.

Private Prosecutions and Scope of Trade Secret Protection

Currently foreign corporations without a presence in Taiwan do not have standing to file criminal complaints or private prosecutions for trade secret misappropriation.[1] The TIPO has proposed adding a new Article 13-5 to the Trade Secrets Act that would create a statutory exception permitting such private prosecutions.

The TIPO has also proposed amending Article 15 of the Act to extend trade secret protection to jurisdictions that are members of multilateral treaties to which Taiwan is also a party. Since Taiwan is a member of the WTO, this amendment would extend trade secret protection to businesses from other WTO member jurisdictions. Article 15 currently provides that Taiwan’s protection of trade secrets extends to those jurisdictions whose laws protect Taiwanese trade secrets. The draft amendment of Article 15 clarifies that such laws need not be statutory laws. In other words, if a jurisdiction’s case law protects Taiwanese trade secrets, Taiwan trade secret protection would reciprocally protect trade secrets from that jurisdiction.

Access to Confidential Information

The Act currently permits a judge to issue a protective order restricting access to party filings during litigation. A judge can also order closed hearings to protect trade secrets. The TIPO is proposing a new Article 13-6 that would give prosecutors similar powers during the investigative proceedings that precede an indictment. This amendment has been controversial and it is unclear whether the TIPO will revise its draft of 13-6 or abandon it entirely.

Judgements and Fair Competition

In addition to the amendments proposed by the TIPO, participants in the hearings also discussed whether there should be a mechanism to allow parties to trade secret litigation to comment on judgments before they issue. Proponents of this mechanism take the view that the court should consider the views of the parties as to whether a judgment discloses confidential information before the judgment is published. Such a mechanism could ultimately lead to partial redactions of published judgments to avoid disclosures.

Others at the hearings recommended adding language to the Act prohibiting competitors from obtaining trade secrets by means of coercion, incentives, or other unfair means. A similar prohibition in the Taiwan Fair Trade Act was removed in 2015.

Future Developments

The proposed amendments to the Act reflect the continuing concerns that Taiwanese technology companies have about the adequacy of Taiwan’s trade secret protection. The TIPO will now consider the views expressed during the hearings with a view to revising the proposed amendments prior to submitting them to the Executive Yuan for approval. If approved by the Executive Yuan, a bill will be introduced to the legislature where lawmakers may make further changes before enacting or rejecting the bill.

We recommend that businesses concerned with trade secret protection in Taiwan monitor these amendments as they make their way through the legislative process. There will be further opportunities for international businesses to make their voices heard on this important issue before the law is changed.

For more information about trade secret protection and other intellectual property matters in Taiwan, please contact Christine Chen at cchen@winklerpartners.com.


[1] A 1931 Judicial Yuan interpretation generally precludes unregistered foreign corporations from filing private prosecutions under Article 319 of Taiwan Code of Criminal Procedure unless the legislature has created a statutory exception. Judicial Yuan Interpretation 533. Taiwan Copyright, Trademark, and Patent Acts already have statutory exceptions for unregistered foreign corporations. Taiwan’s Supreme Court has however held that US companies may file private prosecutions under the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the United States of America and the Republic of China.

Taiwan constitutional court issues decision on marriage equality

Taiwan’s constitutional court today issued Interpretation 748 holding that Book IV Chapter II (marriage) of the Taiwan Civil Code is unconstitutional to the extent that it does not permit same-sex couples to enter into a permanent, exclusive, and intimate relationship in violation of Articles 22 (freedom of marriage) and Article 7 (right to equality before the law) of the Taiwanese Constitution.

The court gave the Taiwan Legislature two years to amend the current Civil Code or enact a new law consistent with Interpretation 748. While the court deferred to the Legislature to decide what form equal protection for marriage freedom should take, it also set a time limit for legislative action.  If the Legislature fails to take action within the next two years, same sex couples can register their marriages under the existing Civil Code.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor further clarifies new leave rules

Since amendments to Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act (the “LSA”) came into force in December 2016, both employees and employers have often found themselves unsure of how the changes apply in the workplace. In order to clarify how employers can in practice comply with these amendments regarding flexible rest days and avoid potential disputes with their employees, the Ministry of Labor (the “MOL”) has subsequently issued two interpretative letters. Below is a summary of these two letters, and what they mean for employers.

Make-up leave on flexible rest days

Previously under the LSA, employees who consent to work on flexible rest days could only choose to be provided with overtime payment in respect of their hours worked. The MOL has now clarified that such employees can choose either make-up/compensatory leave or overtime payment after the fact (i.e. after their overtime work has been completed). There must be some written agreement between employers and employees stating clearly the relevant standards for make-up leave, the period within which the make-up leave should be taken, and how any outstanding make-up leave is dealt with at the end of this period. Employers cannot force their employees to choose make-up leave.

This written agreement can be in the form of email correspondence, or a simple consent letter which is signed by the employee each time they complete overtime work on a flexible rest day. In the event of a dispute arising, the burden of proof falls on the employer.

Inability to work on flexible rest days/overtime

A second and related interpretative letter issued by the MOL deals with the situation where an employee agrees to work on a flexible rest day, however due to some personal reason (e.g. sickness) is either (a) unable to come to work at all, or (b) comes to work but is unable to complete the agreed hours of work. Previously, in such a situation, the employee would have to take personal or sick leave and the employer would still have to pay the full overtime pay amount in line with the recent flexible rest day overtime rules (please see our previous update here). This lead to many employment disputes, and was perceived as being unfair to employers. As such, the MOL has clarified that the employees’ consent to work on flexible rest days can be effectively rescinded where they are unable to work due to personal reasons.

In situation (a), this means that the employee will need to inform their employer of their inability to work, and the employer can negotiate with the employee to rescind the employees’ overtime obligation so that they do not need to take leave and overtime pay does not need to be provided.

In situation (b), in respect of the time when the employee is absent, the employer can negotiate with the employee to rescind the employees’ overtime obligation so that they do not need to take leave and overtime pay does not need to be provided. The employee’s overtime period can be dealt with as make-up leave. The details of how the employee’s absence from work in both situations (a) and (b) is dealt with can be mutually agreed upon in writing in a separate agreement, such as work rules, collective agreements (where there is a labor union) or employment contracts.

The MOL has further stated that only the amount of actual overtime hours worked will count towards the total amount of overtime (which cannot exceed 12 hours in one day or 46 hours in one month, under Article 32 of the LSA). This differs from the calculation of overtime payment.

Further developments

As the MOL releases further clarifications on the LSA amendments, employers must ensure that employees are made aware of the rules governing working on flexible rest days, overtime, and annual leave. This will ensure that disputes are minimized or avoided all together, and will prevent administrative penalties being levied on employers.

For more information on Taiwan employment matters, please contact Christine Chen at cchen@winklerpartners.com.

Grand Justices rule pre-approval for cosmetics advertising unconstitutional

On 6 January 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that pre-approval of cosmetics advertising content by local and central health authorities is unconstitutional, as it infringes on the protection of free speech granted by the Constitution. Article 24(2) and Article 30(1), of the Statue for Control of Cosmetic Hygiene have been repealed with immediate effect.

Article 24(2) of the statute states that, ‘Before publicizing or advertising any cosmetic product, the manufacturer or dealer thereof shall first submit to the central, municipal or county/city competent health authorities for its approval all the text, pictures and/or oral statements contained therein; and shall subsequently present the approval letter or certificate to the mass communication institutions concerned for their examination’; while Article 30(1) detailed the financial penalties for not obtaining approval prior to publication.

The ruling came after DHC, a Japanese cosmetics manufacturer, was fined NT$30,000 (approximately US$935) in 2010 for failing to obtain prior approval from Taipei City’s Department of Health. DHC later applied for a constitutional ruling after an appeal and subsequent administrative litigation failed.

Two strategies for speeding up patent applications

In this article, we explore two options available to intellectual property holders in expiditing patent applications in Taiwan.

Electronic Priority Document Exchange (“PDX”)

An Electronic Priority Document Exchange (“PDX”) agreement between the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (TIPO) and its Korean counterpart, the Korea Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), went into effect on 1 January 2016. This agreement follows a similar agreement between the TIPO and the Japan Patent Office (JPO) that came into effect in December 2013.

Both agreements permit applicants filing invention or utility model patents with the TIPO (the ‘Office of First Filing’, or OFF) to obtain an access code that they can then use to file priority documents with either the KIPO or the JPO (the ‘Office of Second Filing’, or OSF). Similarly, applicants filing in Korea or Japan can obtain an access code for a priority filing in Taiwan. The TIPO requests that these codes be received within 16 months of the first filing date.

These agreements can help applicants receive expedited review of patent applications claiming priority among these three jurisdictions. In 2015, 12,284 invention patents were filed by Japanese applicants in Taiwan, the largest number originating in a foreign jurisdiction. In the same year, there were 1,614 filings from Korean applicants, placing them third behind the United States. According to statistics from the JPO, Korea accounted for 10.8% of all patent applications made in Japan in 2013, showing that the PDX agreements between the three intellectual property offices can potentially serve a considerable number of applicants. Visit NK Patent Law to get more information about patents and trademarks.

The Patent Prosecution Highway (“PPH”)

The Patent Prosecution Highway (“PPH”) is aimed at expediting the examination process for corresponding applications filed in different intellectual property offices around the world. The PPH program can only be used for invention patents, and does not apply to utility model or design patent applications. To date, the TIPO has collaborated with the USPTO, the JPO, the KIPO and the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office (SPTO).

Under the PPH, an applicant who receives a ruling from their OFF that their application is allowable or patentable, may then request OSFs in which the patent application is pending to fast-track the examination of corresponding claims.

Cooperation through the PPH program allows OSFs to exploit the patent search and examination results of OFFs, allowing applicants to reach final dispositions more quickly and efficiently than under standard examination prosecution procedures. The TIPO says that applications using the PPH program on average receive their first office actions within two months from the date of the PPH request, and a decision within six months, compared to a normal time frame of 18-36 months. For applicants filing numerous patents in many jurisdictions around the world concurrently, this is clearly advantageous.

For more information on patent matters, please contact Peter Dernbach at pdernbach@winklerpartners.com or Betty Chen at betty@winklerpartners.com.

Taiwan Personal Information Protection Act amended

Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan passed a bill amending the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) on 15 December 2015. The bill was the first amendment to the PIPA since it took effect in 2012.

In 2012, the Executive Yuan declined to put Articles 6 and 54 of the PIPA into force on grounds of administrative impracticability. In response, the Legislature has now amended Articles 6 and 54. In addition, the Legislature added medical records to Article 6′s list of sensitive information that in general cannot be collected, processed, or used unless one of six enumerated exceptions applies. Consent of the data subject is now a permitted exception.

According to media reports, the Ministry of Justice has suggested that it will put the amendments to PIPA including Articles 6 and 54 into force in March of this year.

2 March update: The amendments will go into effect on 15 March 2016. Read our full feature on the PIPA changes here.

National Development Council announces plans to simplify incorporation

The National Development Council and other agencies recently announced three planned measures to simplify procedures for foreign investors wishing to establish business entities in Taiwan.

1. A university may allow a startup to register its business address at a university incubator

A business in Taiwan must register the actual premises from which the business is conducted as its address. Universities however have been reluctant to allow startups to register their business addresses at university incubators because universities are in general not permitted to allow for-profit businesses to use university property.

As a solution, the NDC, the Ministry of Education and the tax authorities have reached a consensus that allowing universities to permit startups  to register their businesses addresses at university-operated incubators serves policies to encourage academic-business cooperation. Consequently, a university incubator will be permitted to allow a student startup to register its business address at the incubator instead of having to make other arrangements such as leasing off-campus premises. It appears that student startups will include startups founded by non-degree students who take courses in entrepreneurship.

2. Foreign investors may appoint agents to open bank accounts and file for tax registration

Currently, a foreign investor must come to Taiwan to open corporate bank accounts and register for taxes in person.  In many cases,the foreign investor must make two trips to Taiwan during the process. The NDC now plans to allow foreign investors to appoint an agent (typically a lawyer or an accountant) to open corporate bank accounts and file for tax registration on behalf of the foreign investor.

3. Foreign investors may appoint an agent to use the online company registration system without use of a digital certificate

The Ministry of Economic Affairs has created a one-stop website that investors can use for routine company filings including name reservation, incorporation, and business registration. To use the website, users must currently create a cumbersome digital certificate using a Chinese interface. To simplify use of the website, the Ministry of Economic Affairs has agreed that foreign investors will be permitted to authorize an agent to make routine filings on their behalf without the foreign investor’s having to obtain a digital certificate.

According to the NDC’s press release, these measures will be adopted in one month.

While all of these measure are steps in the right direction, allowing agents to open bank accounts and file for tax registration  has the most potential to simplify the process of setting up a business in Taiwan for foreign investors.

 

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