Sinosure and its US collection companies and law firms are stepping up their collection efforts against American companies that allegedly owe money to Chinese companies.
First a bit of background on the Sinosure players my law firm’s international litigators see again and again. I am providing this to give you background on how Sinosure typically handles its U.S. collection claims and on the people with whom you will likely need to deal.
The first to appear on behalf of Sinosure is usually an Illinois based company, Brown & Joseph. Brown & Joseph calls itself “a commercial and credit collection firm” and our clients pursued by Sinosure usually start by getting a barrage of threatening emails, letters, phone calls and even personal visits from Brown & Joseph stating something like the following (I changed the company name and the amount to remove any identifiers:
Please allow this correspondence to serve as notice that this firm has been retained by China Export & Credit Insurance Corporation (Sinosure) on behalf of their policy holder Dongguan ________Sewing Machine, Ltd.
All further communications regarding this matter should be directed to my office.
The claimed amount of default is $345,862.23 in which the policy holder has now filed for credit insurance due to nonpayment.
Your immediate cooperation is needed to resolve this issue out of litigation. Pursuant to the attached Trust Deeds all rights have been assigned to Sinosure to collect this on their behalf.
Your failure to cooperate may result in future import and credit implications of goods from the People [sic] Republic of China.
With that being said, please review the attachments and acknowledge the invoices and amount owed of $345,862.23 for verification purposes.
In addition, I will anticipate your payment in full via wire directly to our firms [sic] escrow account. The wiring instructions are listed below. Please email me with the wire confirmation number and upon receipt I will confirm closure of this case.
Domestic Wire Transfer:
Routing Bank: First Bank & Trust, Evanston IL
Account #: 4084168
Beneficiary: Brown and Joseph, LTD
If you are unable to remit payment in full, you will be required to contact me directly before the end of business tomorrow to discuss a reasonable payment plan for our client to review.
I look forward to your immediate response as I only have a limited time to resolve this file in my office prior to litigation.
This letter threatens both litigation against the U.S. company that allegedly owes money to a Chinese company and it also threatens to impact the U.S. company’s “future import and credit implications of goods from the People [sic] Republic of China.” I am not sure whether the threat to future imports and credit from China is deliberately unclear, but what Brown & Joseph seems to be saying here is that if you do not pay, Sinosure will cease providing insurance on your credit purchases from your Chinese suppliers. U.S. companies that buy products from China on credit need to take this threat very seriously.
If the American company cannot reach resolution with Brown & Joseph, The Leviton Law Firm usually steps in. The Leviton Law Firm has this to say about its commercial collections practice:
While not always possible, it was our philosophy and goal to negotiate amicable settlements and workouts between our clients and debtors in order that the parties may attempt to continue their business relationships in this very challenging economic environment.
Note how it says “it was” their philosophy. It’s not clear whether putting this in past tense is a typo, bad grammar, or if indeed its philosophy has changed. But I can tell you that from my firm’s dealings with Sinosure (when represented by the Leviton Law Firm or by Brown & Joseph), I would use words like “relentless” or “unyielding” or even “tone deaf” to describe the philosophy of those who are tasked to collect Sinosure debt. I mention resolute and unyielding because it is virtually impossible to settle for anything less than the whole and “tone deaf” because it is not uncommon for Sinosure to seek from foreign companies more than they actually owe and then still not back down at all on the amount without massive proof and prodding.
Brown & Joseph also seems to describe itself as a law firm and boasts of its international debt collection prowess and of its China expertise:
U.S.-Based Collection Law Firm.
Brown & Joseph, Ltd. is the leader in North American debt recovery for Chinese manufacturers who export goods all over the world. After 15 years of international recovery experience successfully handling cases for the groups that oversee credit insurance on exports, Brown & Joseph can offer significant resources that help to locate shipments, resolve disputes and gain immediate settlements, overcome language and cultural barriers, and recover money owed.
Our U.S. based firm has worked with many leading global trade credit insurers to reduce write-offs, protect their interests by legally securing debt in the local domicile, all while keeping your out of pocket costs minimal by working on a contingency basis. If there is no money recovered that is owed to you, there is no fee. Our contingency based fees for our recovery services (no success-no charge) apply the same to accounts whether the debtor company is foreign or domestic.
The #1 International Debt Recovery Agency in China
Over the past 11 years Brown & Joseph has come to be recognized as the #1 most effective collection firm recovering from U.S. businesses that owe international credit grantors….
Between China and the U.S., much like between any two countries, if you are not able to efficiently bridge [sic] gap between language and cultural barriers you will not succeed. Brown & Joseph has succeeded. We currently have lawyers in both the U.S. and China and unlike most law firms, we perform all of our services on a results oriented contingency basis. We are only paid when we collect.
Am I the only one who finds it ironic that in the very sentence in which Brown & Joseph brags about being a bridge between language and cultural barriers it makes an obvious linguistic error? Susan Notarius of Brown and Joseph is usually the first point of contact on Sinosure collection matters.
What though should you do if Sinosure, Brown & Joseph, the Leviton Law Firm, or Susan Notarius — or, more likely some combination of these companies and people — are knocking at your door? There are many strategies you can employ but are reluctant to reveal online because we do not want to tip off the “enemy” to how we combat them.
I can though tell you that the first thing you should do is make sure your intellectual property is in order in China, especially your trademarks.
If Sinosure/Brown & Joseph/Leviton Law Firm/Susan Notarius are on your tail it is because a Chinese company is contending you owe it money and that Chinese company is no doubt unhappy about not getting paid and one of the things it can (and often does) do to gain leverage against you is to register your brand name as its own trademark in China. If it does this, it will own “your” brand name as a trademark in China and this will allow it to stop your products from being made in China with your name on them and to stop products with your name on them from leaving China. See 8 Reasons to Register your Trademark in China.
This sort of trademark usurping became so common in China it is now technically forbidden. Your factory company cannot register or hold your brand name as its own trademark. However, because pretty much every company in China is now aware of this prohibition, they also know exactly how to get around it. If you owe $345,000 to a factory in Dongguan, it will not register your brand name as its own Chinese trademark; instead, the owner of the Dongguan factory will get his cousin in Shenzhen to register your brand name as his company’s trademark, making it difficult to impossible for you to challenge it.
The best tactic is to register your brand names in China as a trademark NOW. See China: Do Just ONE Thing: Register Your Trademarks. And by now, I mean before Brown & Joseph or Leviton Law Firm start demanding you pay Sinosure money you allegedly owe. But if you are too late for that and you already in trouble with a Chinese company, if you act really quickly you may be able to preserve your name in China, but you need to be really careful. If your company owes a company in Dongguan $345,000 and you have a trademark (or even a copyright or a patent) in China, those assets are sitting right there in China to be seized by whomever you owe the money. If a Chinese court enters a judgment against your company whatever China IP you have registered in your company’s name will be sitting right there in China available for seizure as payment of the judgment.
We have seen companies set up multiple companies with one of its companies buying products from China and another company owning its China trademarks. This can provide protection before you have a Sinosure debt collection, but if you are in the midst of such a problem the solutions get considerably more complicated.
The best protections against Sinosure are best enacted before you have a Sinosure problem. There are protections and defenses against Sinosure after it seeks to collect from you, but we cannot reveal those here because we do not want Sinosure and its minions to know about them.
For more on dealing with Sinosure and China manufacturing disputes, check out China Sinosure: What You NEED to Know.