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Members of the media photograph the Byton M-Byte after it was unveiled at a press event by Chinese electric vehicle maker Byton, ahead of the opening of CES 2020, at the Mandalay Bay Convention Centre on January 5 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Agence France-Presse

Chinese attendees of CES consumer tech show offered free legal help in case US authorities seize their stuff

  • Country’s trade watchdog is offering pro bono legal services to Chinese exhibitors on the sidelines of the annual technology gathering in Las Vegas

“We will cooperate with you. We have lawyers who represent us. So before you seize our products, we would like to speak with our lawyer.”

This is not a line from a Hollywood script but a sentence that Chinese attendees of the CES consumer electronics event in Las Vegas have been advised by Beijing to learn and use should they face any unexpected attempts by US police to seize their exhibits, amid ongoing tech tensions between the world’s two-biggest economies.

Beyond the one-line tip, the country’s trade watchdog is offering pro bono legal services to Chinese exhibitors on the sidelines of the annual technology gathering in Las Vegas that runs from January 7 to 10, according to a post on the homepage of China’s Ministry of Commerce.

A joint consortium including the Chinese consulate general in San Francisco and the Ministry of Commerce will open a service station inside the exhibition venue, offering free legal consultations on intellectual property-related issues.

How AI and human rights became embroiled in US-China tech war

All Chinese exhibitors are cautioned to travel with documents that can certify their IP rights and reach out to the service station immediately if caught in a dispute, according to the Friday notice. The service aims to “better defend the legitimate rights of Chinese exhibitors” and reduce possible damages as much as possible, it noted.

The extra caution and warning comes as the tech cold war between the US and China ratchets up, despite a phase one trade agreement agreed in principle at the back end of last year. This year’s CES event will also welcome a bigger-than-usual contingent of senior officials from the Trump administration, including White House adviser Ivanka Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and US Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios.

The seizure of exhibits would likely take the form of “emergency temporary injunctions”, a new legal approach by the US that can catch “unprepared” defendants out, according to the Ministry advice. “Lawyers … caution exhibitors [from China] to pay high attention and prepare beforehand,” according to the notice, which also provides a list of emergency contacts.


The event is expected to draw over 175,000 visitors and 4,500 companies exhibiting their latest technologies and products, although participation from Chinese companies is forecast to fall.

CES 2020: 8K TVs, smarter homes, even sex tech – event preview

Chinese exhibit space at the trade show is projected to be down 5 to 6 per cent compared with last year, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

This year's exhibitors from China include electric car start-up Byton, autonomous driving company AutoX and Lidar developer RoboSense. Some CES participants from last year, including iFlyTek and Hikvision subsidiaries, will be absent at this year’s edition of the annual trade show.

Both companies were among a group of others added to the US Entity List in 2019, barring them from buying US-origin technology after the Trump administration said China had used surveillance technologies to breach the human rights of Uygur Muslims and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

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