Guiding Case No. 45

Beijing Baidu Netcom Science and Technology Co., Ltd. v. Qingdao Aoshang Network Technology Co., Ltd. et al., An Unfair Competition Dispute

GC No.:
45
GC Date of Release:
2015/04/15
GC Batch No.:
10
Area(s) of Law:
Keyword(s):
Attachment:
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Full Text of the Guiding Case

Keyword(s)

Main Points of the Adjudication

An act by [any] business operator engaged in Internet services that forcibly causes advertisements to pop up on the search results pages of other business operators’ websites violates the principle of good faith and generally recognized business ethics, hinders the proper business operation of other business operators, and adversely affects their legal rights and interests. [Such an act] may, in accordance with the principles [set forth in] Article 2 of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law of the People’s Republic of China, [1] be determined to be unfair competition.

Article 2 of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law of the People’s Republic of China

Basic Facts of the Case

Plaintiff Beijing Baidu Netcom Science and Technology Co., Ltd. [2] (北京百度网讯科技有限公司) (hereinafter referred to as “Baidu Company”) claimed: The www.baidu.com website (hereinafter referred to as the “Baidu website”) that it owned [featured] a Chinese search engine. The three defendants¾Qingdao Aoshang Network Technology Co., Ltd. [3] (青岛奥商网络技术有限公司) (hereinafter referred to as “Aoshang Network Company”), the Qingdao Municipality Branch of China United Network Communications Corporation Limited [4] (中国联合网络通信有限公司青岛市分公司) (hereinafter referred to as “Unicom Qingdao Company”), and the Shandong Province Branch of China United Network Communications Corporation Limited (中国联合网络通信有限公司山东省分公司) (hereinafter referred to as “Unicom Shandong Company”)¾used Netcom’s [5] Internet access network services in the region of Qingdao, Shandong Province, to forcibly add advertisements to the search results pages of Baidu Company’s website. [These] acts adversely affected Baidu Company’s goodwill and economic performance and benefit, violated the principle of good faith, and [therefore] constituted unfair competition. [The plantiff] requested that [the court] hold that:

  1. The acts of Aoshang Network Company and Unicom Qingdao Company constituted unfair competition with the plaintiff and [thus, the companies must] cease those acts of unfair competition. The third party [to this case must] bear joint and several liability.
  2. The three defendants [must] publish a statement in the newspapers [apologizing for their acts] so as to eliminate the effects of [those acts];
  3. The three defendants [must] jointly pay the plaintiff 480,000 yuan as compensation for economic losses and 100,000 yuan [as compensation for] expenses reasonably incurred in this case.

Defendant Aoshang Network Company defended its position, claiming: it did not [carry out] any act amounting to unfair competition and [therefore] should not apologize or pay 480,000 yuan as compensation.

Defendant Unicom Qingdao Company defended its position, claiming: The plaintiff had no evidence to prove that [Unicom Qingdao Company] had carried out the alleged act, nor did [the plaintiff] submit evidence to prove the actual losses [the plaintiff alleged it] had suffered. The plaintiff had no competitive relationship with [Unicom Qingdao Company] and [the court] should reject all of the plaintiff’s litigation requests.

Defendant Unicom Shandong Company defended its position, claiming: The plaintiff had no evidence to prove that [Unicom Shandong Company] had carried out the alleged act of unfair competition or the allegedly infringing act. [Therefore,] there was no legal basis for it to bear joint and several liability.

Third-Party Qingdao Pengfei International Air Travel Service Co., Ltd. (青岛鹏飞国际航空旅游服务有限公司) (hereinafter referred to as “Pengfei Air Company”) stated: this case did not actually involve Third-Party [Pengfei Air Company].

The court handled the case and ascertained: The scope of Baidu Company’s business [included the provision of] Internet information services. The Baidu website, the address of which was examined and approved as www.baidu.com, primarily provided network users with Internet information search services. The scope of Aoshang Network Company’s business included network engineering and construction, [the provision of] network technology application services, and computer software design and development. Its website [domain name] was www.og.com.cn. The company stated in the “Corporate Overview” [section] of the above-mentioned website that it had four websites: China Aoshang Net (www.og.com.cn), Ouge Network Marketing Partner (www.og.net.cn), Qingdao Telephone Real Name Net (www.0532114.org), and Peninsula Talent Net (www.job17.com). When the company introduced on its website its “Network Express” business, it stated: no need to install any plug-ins, advertising webpages will forcibly appear. When [the company] introduced how the product “Search Know-It-All” performed, graphics and text were used to list the following procedures:

Step One: enter keywords in the search engine dialogue box.

Step Two: the space for [displaying] Network Express advertisements first appears [on the screen] (five-second display).

Step Three: [While the advertisements appear on the screen] click the above-mentioned space for [displaying] advertisements to directly enter a new window of the promotional website.

Step Four: after five seconds, the original window automatically displays the requested search results of Step 1.

That website also used other formats to introduce the above-mentioned services.

The scope of Unicom Qingdao Company’s business included [the provision of] Internet access and information services. The Qingdao Information Port ([whose] domain name was qd.sd.cn) was a website owned by [Unicom Qingdao Company]. The “Telephone Real Name” [registration system] [6] was a voice search business [7]  jointly operated by Unicom Qingdao Company and Aoshang [Network] Company. [8] The website of the “114 Telephone Real Name Voice Search”, whose address was www.0532114.org, indicated that the copyright owner of the website was Unicom Qingdao Company and the exclusive registration center was Aoshang Network Company. The scope of Unicom Shandong Company’s business included the provision of Internet access and information services. Its website (www.sdcnc.cn) showed that Unicom Qingdao Company was its subordinate branch. The scope of Pengfei Air Company’s business included the provision of agency [services] for airline ticket sales.

On April 14, 2009, [when] logging onto the Baidu website (www.baidu.com) by accessing the Internet through Netcom in Qingdao Municipality, Shandong Province, Baidu Company discovered [the following when entering content] into the dialogue box of the website:

  • When “Pengfei Air” was entered [into the dialogue box] and “Baidu a bit” [9]  was clicked, a page popped up displaying [the phrase] “To Snatch Discount Plane Tickets Before Others, Dial 114”. Quickly clicking that page opened a page displaying the address, http://air.qd.sd.cn.
  • When “Qingdao Talent Net” was entered [into the dialogue box] and “Baidu a bit” was clicked, a page popped up displaying [the phrase] “To Find a Good Job, Go to Peninsula Talent Net www.job17.com”. Quickly clicking the “Click immediately” [button] displayed on that page opened a page displaying the address http://www.job17.com.
  • When “Telephone Real Name” was entered [into the dialogue box] and “Baidu a bit” was clicked, a page popped up displaying [the phrase] “Dial 114 to Search Information, Voice Search is Even Better”. Soon after, this page directed to a corresponding page with “Telephone Real Name” search results.

Baidu Company entrusted an agent to use a computer at a notary office to notarize the operational processes of logging onto various websites, including Baidu Search. The notarial certificate documented the above-mentioned content. After expert discussion of the evidence, it was [revealed that] the linked website (http://air.qd.sd.cn/) and Unicom Shandong Company’s subordinate website Qingdao Information Port (www.qd.sd.cn) had the same domain [name] (qd.sd.cn). The website air.qd.sd.cn belonged to Unicom Shandong Company’s subordinate website, Qingdao [Information Port].

 

Results of the Adjudication

On September 2, 2009, the Intermediate People’s Court of Qingdao Municipality, Shandong Province, rendered the (2009) Qing Min San Chu Zi No. 110 Civil Judgment:

  1. [The court orders] Aoshang Network Company and Unicom Qingdao Company to cease their acts of unfair competition targeted at Baidu Company immediately from the day the judgment comes into effect; [10] that is, [they] cannot use technical means to cause advertising pages of Aoshang Network Company and Unicom Qingdao Company to pop up when network users log onto the Baidu website to conduct keyword searches through the Internet access service provided by Unicom Qingdao Company.
  2. [The court orders] Aoshang Network Company and Unicom Qingdao Company to pay Baidu Company 200,000 yuan as compensation for economic losses within ten days of the judgment’s coming into effect.
  3. [The court orders] Aoshang Network Company and Unicom Qingdao Company to publish a statement on the homepages of their respective websites to eliminate the effects [of their acts of unfair competition] within ten days of the judgment’s coming into effect. The period for publishing the statement should be 15 consecutive days.
  4. [The court] rejects Baidu Company’s other litigation requests.

After the judgment was pronounced, Unicom Qingdao Company and Aoshang Network Company appealed. On March 20, 2010, the Higher People’s Court of Shandong Province rendered the (2010) Lu Min San Zhong Zi No. 5-2 Civil Judgment to reject the appeal and uphold the original judgment.

 

Reasons for the Adjudication

In the effective judgment, the court opined: [11] In this case, Baidu Company sued Aoshang Network Company, Unicom Qingdao Company, and Unicom Shandong Company, demanding that they cease their acts of unfair competition and bear the corresponding civil liability. Based on this, the following steps should have been followed to determine whether the plaintiff’s claim could stand: (1) whether the defendants in this case carried out the alleged acts; (2) if [they] carried out the alleged acts, whether those acts constituted unfair competition; (3) if [those acts] constituted unfair competition, how [the defendants should] bear civil liability.

1. On [the issue] of whether the defendants carried out the alleged acts

Domain names are hierarchical character identifiers [used to] recognize and locate computers on the Internet. Based on the ascertained facts, www.job17.com was the website of Peninsula Talent Net which belonged to Aoshang Network Company, and “Telephone Real Name Voice Search” was a business jointly operated by Unicom Qingdao Company and Aoshang Network Company. The domain name, qd.sd.cn, belonged to Unicom Qingdao Company, which actually used it as the domain name of “Qingdao Information Port”. As a subdomain of qd.sd.cn, air.qd.sd.cn was assigned and managed by its upper-level domain name, qd.sd.cn. As the holder of the domain name qd.sd.cn, Unicom Qingdao Company denied that it owned the domain name, air.qd.sd.cn, but did not provide evidence to prove this. [Therefore,] it should be determined that the user of the subdomain name was Unicom Qingdao Company at the time [evidence] was preserved by the notary’s [office].

When logging onto search engines on the Internet to conduct keyword searches, the search results page of the search engine should normally appear and other pages unrelated to the search engine should not pop up. However, in the network area of the network access service provided by Unicom Qingdao Company, a [strange] phenomenon occurred, which was that advertising pages unrelated to the search results forcibly popped up [on the screen]. This kind of popping-up of advertising pages was not caused by the programs installed on the notary office’s computer that was connected to the Internet. Unicom Qingdao Company neither had evidence to prove that the same situation would occur in the network areas of other network access service providers nor did it offer a reasonable explanation for the above-mentioned circumstances appearing in its network access service area. [Therefore,] it could be determined that in the area of the Internet access service provided by Unicom Qingdao Company, [Unicom Qingdao Company] intervened with the search requests made by targets of these network services on the Baidu website, causing the advertising pages that the intervener wished to release to forcibly pop up before the normal search results page appeared.

On the issue concerning [the identity of] the subject who implemented the above-mentioned intervening act: The ascertained facts showed that Aoshang Network Company’s introduction to the forcible popping-up of advertisements, as stated in the introduction to the “Network Express” business [available] on the main page [of the company website], was entirely consistent with the format preserved by the notary’s [office]. In addition, the “Peninsula Talent Net” and “114 Telephone [Real Name] Voice Search” pop-up advertising pages that appeared while [evidence] was being preserved by the notary’s [office] both [were connected to] websites or business operated by [Aoshang Network Company]. Therefore, Aoshang Network Company was the beneficiary of that intervening act. Where [the company] did not provide evidence to prove that there was another subject implementing the above-mentioned act of [causing] advertisements [to forcibly pop up], it could be determined that Aoshang Network Company was the subject who implemented the above-mentioned intervening act.

On the issue of whether Unicom Qingdao Company was a subject who implemented the allegedly infringing act: The type of intervening act implemented by Aoshang Network Company was not carried out through methods such as the installation of plug-ins or programs on clients’ computers, but could be carried out in specific network access service areas. Therefore, this type of act could not have been carried out without the cooperation of a network access service provider. Unicom Qingdao Company had no evidence to prove that Aoshang Network Company implemented the above-mentioned act through the intervention of its Internet access service by illegal means. At the same time, Unicom Qingdao Company was the owner of the domain name, air.qd.sd.cn. [Any] liability for infringing upon others’ legal rights and interests arising from the ownership or use of a domain name is borne by the owner of the domain name. Unicom Qingdao Company and Aoshang Network Company jointly operated a telephone real name business, which meant that Unicom Qingdao Company was also a beneficiary of the above-mentioned act. Therefore, it could be determined that Unicom Qingdao Company was also a subject who implemented the above-mentioned intervening act.

On the issue of whether Unicom Shandong Company implemented the intervening act: Because Unicom Shandong Company and Unicom Qingdao Company were both sub-branches of China United Network Communications Corporation Limited, there was no evidence to prove that the two companies had a relationship whereby one established or was established by [the other], nor was there evidence to prove that Unicom Shandong Company was involved in the implementation of the intervening act. As a subject in civil [law], Unicom Qingdao Company was eligible for bearing civil liability. Therefore, the litigation request of Unicom Shandong Company was not supported. Baidu Company listed Pengfei Air Company as Third-Party to this case. However, [Baidu Company] did not indicate in its complaint or during the trial process that Third-Party [Pengfei Air Company] had [implemented] any act of unfair competition, nor did it demand Third-Party to bear civil liability. Therefore, it was inappropriate [for Baidu Company] to list Pengfei Air Company as Third-Party, and [any litigation request related to Pengfei Air Company] should not be supported.

2. On [the issue] of whether the allegedly infringing acts constituted unfair competition

Articles 5 to 15 of Chapter Two of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law of the People’s Republic of China (hereinafter referred to as the “Anti-Unfair Competition Law”) use a listing method to regulate acts of unfair competition. With respect to an act that is not listed in the specific provisions, it can be determined to be an act of unfair competition [if and] only if [the act] can be determined, in accordance with generally recognized business ethics and common understanding, to be in violation of the principles set forth in Article 2 of the [Anti-Unfair Competition] Law. In order to determine whether an act of a business operator constitutes unfair competition, the following aspects should be considered: (1) [whether] the person who implements the act is a business operator as defined by the Anti-Unfair Competition Law; (2) [whether] the business operator, not following the principles of voluntariness, equality, fairness, and good faith when engaging in business activities, violates the provisions of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law and generally recognized business ethics; and (3) [whether] the business operator’s act of unfair competition adversely affects the legal rights and interests of a proper business operator.

First, according to the provision concerning business operators as stated in Article 2 of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law, the confirmation of [a party] as a business operator does not require that [the concerned] plaintiff and defendant belong to the same industry or service type. As long as a market entity is engaged in the business operations of commodities or for-profit services, it can be a business operator. Unicom Qingdao Company, Aoshang Network Company, and Baidu Company were all market entities engaged in the Internet business and were business operators as defined by the Anti-Unfair Competition Law. Although Unicom Qingdao Company was an Internet access service business operator and Baidu Company was a search service business operator, and [thus their] service types were not entirely the same, the business act implemented by Unicom Qingdao Company that [caused] advertisements to [forcibly] pop up before the Baidu search results appeared had a competitive relationship with Baidu Company’s paid search model.

Second, [if] any business operator with business relationships [involved] in market competition violates the principle of good faith and generally recognized business ethics, improperly hinders the proper business operation of other business operators, and adversely affects their legal rights and interests, [the business operator’s acts] may be determined to be unfair competition in accordance with the principles [set forth in] Article 2 of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law. Although releasing advertisements and conducting business activities on the Internet are quite different from the traditional business model, the competitive advantage of business operators engaged in the Internet business should still be obtained through good faith and fair competition. They cannot use another’s services or market share to conduct business activities and thereby derive benefits without the other’s permission.

The acts implemented by Unicom Qingdao Company and Aoshang Network Company took advantage of [the fact that] the search engine on the Baidu website had been widely used by Internet users in China. [Unicom Qingdao Company] used technical means to [cause] advertisement pages that were released by Aoshang [Network] Company and that were closely related to the search keywords and content to forcibly pop up before the display of the normal search results, when Internet users using the Internet access service provided by Unicom Qingdao Company logged onto the Baidu website to carry out keyword searches. These acts induced Internet users, who originally could search for corresponding information through the Baidu Company search results, to click on the advertisement pages, affecting the paid search service and promotional services provided to Internet users by Baidu Company. [These acts] used the search service provided by Baidu Company to seek benefits for [the companies] themselves. These acts not only were not consented to by Baidu Company, but were also contrary to the will of [the company’s] Internet access service users. [These acts] easily caused Internet users to mistakenly believe that [the act of] causing advertising pages to [forcibly] pop up was carried out by Baidu Company and caused Internet users’ assessments of Baidu Company’s provision of services to become less favorable, [thereby] negatively impacting Baidu Company’s goodwill and adversely affecting Baidu Company’s legal rights and interests. At the same time, [the acts] also violated the principles of good faith and generally recognized business ethics and constituted unfair competition.

3. On [the issue of how the defendants should] bear civil liability

Since Unicom Qingdao Company and Aoshang Network Company jointly implemented the acts of unfair competition, [they] should, in accordance with Article 130 of the General Principles of the Civil Law of the People's Republic of China, bear joint and severable liability [for these acts]. Pursuant to Article 134 of the General Principles of the Civil Law of the People's Republic of China and Article 20 of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law, [they] should bear civil liability for ceasing infringement, paying compensation for losses, and eliminating the effects [of their acts].

First, Aoshang Network Company and Unicom Qingdao Company should immediately cease [their] acts of unfair competition, meaning that [they] would no longer be able to use technical means to cause the two defendants’ advertising pages to [forcibly] pop up when Internet users using the Internet access service provided by Unicom Qingdao Company logged onto the Baidu website to carry out keyword searches. Second, based on [factors including] the reasonable expenses incurred by the plaintiff in this case and the circumstances and duration of the acts of unfair competition [implemented] by the defendants, [the court] decided after deliberation that the two defendants [should] jointly pay [the plaintiff] 200,000 yuan as compensation for economic losses. Finally, when Internet users logged onto the Baidu [website] to carry out searches and saw advertising pages forcibly pop up, [they] would usually consider [the acts] to have been carried out by Baidu Company. Therefore, the two defendants’ acts had certain negative effects on Baidu Company, and [they] should bear civil liability for eliminating [those] effects. Because those acts occurred on the Internet, and [because they] occurred in the Internet access service area provided by Unicom Qingdao Company, [the court] therefore determined that the two defendants should publish a statement eliminating the effects of [the acts of unfair competition] on the homepages of their respective websites.

 

 

Endnotes

*           The citation of this translation of the Guiding Case is: 《北京百度网讯科技有限公司诉青岛奥商网络技术有限公司等不正当竞争纠纷案》(Beijing Baidu Netcom Science and Technology Co., Ltd. v. Qingdao Aoshang Network Technology Co., Ltd., An Unfair Competition Dispute), China Guiding Cases Project, English Guiding Case (EGC45), Nov. 15, 2015 Edition, available at http://cgc.law.stanford.edu/guiding-cases/guiding-case-45.

This document was primarily prepared by Jasmine Chen, Jeffrey Chivers, Oma Lee, Jeremy Schlosser, Yifan Yang, and Shiyue Zhang. The document was finalized by Sean Webb, Jordan Corrente Beck, and Dr. Mei Gechlik. Minor editing, such as splitting long paragraphs, adding a few words included in square brackets, and boldfacing the headings to correspond with those boldfaced in the original Chinese version, was done to make the piece more comprehensible to readers. The following text, otherwise, is a direct translation of the original text and reflects the formatting of the Chinese document released by the Supreme People’s Court.

The following Guiding Case was discussed and passed by the Adjudication Committee of the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China and was released on April 15, 2015, available at http://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2015/04/id/1602323.shtml. See also 《最高人民法院关于发布第十批指导性案例的通知》 (The Supreme People’s Court’s Notice Concerning the Release of the Tenth Batch of Guiding Cases), Apr. 15, 2015, available at http://www.chinacourt.org/law/detail/2015/04/id/148149.shtml.

[1]           《中华人民共和国反不正当竞争法》(Anti-Unfair Competition Law of the People’s Republic of China), passed and issued on Sept. 2, 1993, effective as of Dec. 1, 1993, available at http://www.npc.gov.cn/wxzl/wxzl/2000-12/05/content_4600.htm.

[2]           Translators’ note: the name “北京百度网讯科技有限公司” is translated here as “Beijing Baidu Netcom Science and Technology Co., Ltd.” in accordance with the name used in an announcement about a patent application filed by the company on December 3, 2011, at http://www.google.com/patents/WO2012126259A1?cl=it:.

[3]           Translators’ note: the name “青岛奥商网络技术有限公司” is literally translated here as “Qingdao Aoshang Network Technology Co., Ltd.”. The term “奥商” is translated here as “Aoshang” in accordance with the translation used on the company’s website, at http://www.og.com.cn/emotionlist.aspx.

[4]           Translators’ note: the name “中国联合网络通信有限公司” is translated here as “China United Network Communications Corporation Limited” in accordance with the name used in an announcement made by the company on August 28, 2014 to meet certain legal requirements in Hong Kong, at http://www.chinaunicom.com.hk/fileservice.ashx?f=yDy%2FJ2mrNWSl9N%2F7Y6egvmzzpAkId%2BHiRSDHrEhgKwQu9jgxqsjLa2SjR%2B6h1JyBVgCxWI4gm2qlg2JM9dg%2F4SOlwrD1nFyZ.

[5]           Translator’s note: the name “网通” (“Netcom”) likely refers to “中国网通” (“China Netcom”), the abbreviated name of “中国网络通信集团公司” (“China Network Communications Group Corporation”). In January 2009, the corporation and China United Network Communications Group Company Limited (中国联合通信有限公司) merged to form China United Network Communications Group Co., Ltd. (中国联合网络通信集团有限公司), which is generally known as “China Unicom” (“中国联通”). For more information, see China Unicom’s Corporate Profile, at http://eng.chinaunicom.com/about/Eng-gsgl/index.html.

[6]           Translator’s note: the term “电话实名”, literally translated as “Telephone Real Name”, is a telephone registration system that uses names of persons, enterprises, or products as identifications of telephone numbers so as to replace numeric telephone numbers currently used. For more information, see, e.g., http://www.baike.com/wiki/电话实名.

[7]           Translator’s note: the term “语音搜索业务”, literally translated as “voice search business”, is a service that allows customers to carry out voice requests through a server to conduct searches.

[8]           Translator’s note: “奥商公司” in the Chinese text is likely meant to be “奥商网络公司” (“Aoshang Network Company”).

[9]           Translator’s note: “百度一下”, literally translated as “Baidu a bit”, refers to the icon next to the search engine on the Baidu website that allows Internet users to click and search for information related to the keywords they input into the search engine. It also refers to the act of searching for information by inputting keywords into the search engine on the Baidu website and clicking “Baidu a Bit”, see e.g. http://www.baike.com/wiki/百度一下.

[10]           Translators’ note: the original text reads “判决生效” (“the judgment comes into effect”). According to Article 155 of the Civil Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China, judgments and rulings that have come into effect are judgments and rulings of the Supreme People’s Court as well as judgments and rulings which, according to law, may not be appealed or which have not been appealed within the prescribed time limit. See 《中华人民共和国民事诉讼法》 (Civil Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China), passed, issued on, and effective as of Apr. 9, 1991, amended two times, most recently on Aug. 31, 2012, effective as of Jan. 1, 2013, available at http://www.gov.cn/flfg/2012-09/01/content_2214662.htm.

[11]           Translators’ note: the Chinese text does not specify which court opined. Given the context, this should be the Higher People’s Court of Shandong Province.