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InterDigital execs threatened with arrest in China

China's NDRC tells InterDigital that its executives could be arrested or detained if they attend a meeting to address charges of violating Chinese anti-monopoly law.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

Executives from patent licensing firm InterDigital have been threatened with arrest should they try to attend a proposed meeting in China.

What's behind this threat? The story starts with InterDigital, a wireless R&D company that licenses patents for its inventions.

As outlined by Reuters on Monday, InterDigital filed a patent infringement complaint with the US International Trade Commission against certain Chinese companies, including ZTE and Huawei Technologies.

That complaint clearly upset China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), an agency that holds much power over the Chinese economy. As a result, the NDRC launched an investigation of InterDigital over charges of violating Chinese anti-monopoly law.

To discuss the matter, the NDRC proposed a meeting with InterDigital CEO Bill Merritt on December 18. Merritt replied that he'd be unavailable that day as he's scheduled to attend a board meeting, reported Reuters. Instead, he suggested sending some of his key executives, and apparently the NDRC didn't like that suggestion.

In a letter seen by Reuters, InterDigital said the NDRC told its attorney that it would not ensure the safety of any executives sent in place of Merritt and that they could be arrested or detained. So it's safe to say that those executives won't be taking that trip to China.

"We are simply unable to comply with any investigation that is accompanied by a threat to the safety of our executives," Merritt said in a statement.

In an e-mail to CNET, an InterDigital spokesman confirmed that the Reuters story is accurate. The spokesman also revealed the following information:

Our company received, proactively and without being prompted by an inquiry of ours, a communication from the NDRC that said that our US counsel's safety could not be guaranteed if he were to accompany our CEO to China, and that similarly our executives' safety could not be guaranteed if they travelled to China to represent the company without the CEO accompanying. The meeting, scheduled by the NDRC for December 18 (one day before the ITC is scheduled to rule on our patent case against Huawei and ZTE), was intended by the NDRC to force a "confession" of monopolistic activities on the part of our CEO.

Asked if InterDigital would definitely avoid the meeting, the rep told CNET: "Logistically it would be impossible. Beyond the logistics, at this point we're unwilling to make any commitments whatsoever about future travel to China on the part of our executives."