WeChat has a large number of active users; communication channels and payment channels and the use of WeChat mini programs also provides more convenience for WeChat users. The COVID-19 outbreak has been affecting most physical stores in China in recent months so much so that the sales of stores from even major brand have declined sharply. Recently, Chinese citizens have chosen to stay at home and avoid going out, in this case, simple and convenient online shopping has become even more popular.

An increasing number of luxury brands have chosen to sell their products through WeChat mini programs, which makes it easier and more controllable to provide online shopping services, so as to avoid the difficulties of finding and loading official websites. Since 2016, luxury brands such as Christian Dior, Givenchy, Burberry and Channel have taken the lead in WeChat sales and have achieved interesting results. At the same time, under the mode of brand using WeChat mini program for sales, certain problems tend to appear. Whether WeChat is an online trading platform, how to determine the legal liability boundary of platform operators and how to define the ownership and intellectual property of the mini programs.

Developers of WeChat mini programs can test, upload and use them after development, and users do not need to download and install them on their mobile phone like Apps to use them. According to Article 2.3 of the WeChat Mini Programs Platform Service Terms, developers shall conduct initial development management such as design, internal testing, editing and maintenance of registered mini programs. Taking Dior as an example, “Dior official mall” is an “e-commerce mini program “, which is developed and coded by Christian Dior. After entering the mini program, it will be displayed in the WeChat interface as a product customization and purchase interface.

We tend to understand mini programs as a “Web App” from a simple point of view. Users only need to search the name of the mini program in WeChat to find and use the mini program. The brand relies on a WeChat mini program platform to develop, operate and manage mini programs. WeChat users also have the function of using mini programs relying on the mini program platform.

As for service content, according to Article 1.2 of WeChat Mini Programs Platform Service Terms, “this service refers to the technical services provided by Tencent to users in accordance with this term, including remote interface call, front-end framework development, service connection channel, data encryption transmission and related Internet application technology, etc.” According to Article 6.2 of WeChat Mini Programs Platform Service Terms, “Tencent only provides you with app services or relevant neutral technical support services under this term”.

Therefore, we believe that Tencent’s mini programs products currently provide the following services:

(1) Provides a mini program platform. Tencent relies on its copyright, patent and other intellectual property rights to provide businesses with “mini program platform” and related technical services, so users can develop mini programs needed for brand marketing in the mini program platform.

(2) Open the entrance and guide social media flow. Tencent has opened the WeChat portal to access mini programs. At present, mini programs have multiple portals such as group sharing, friends sharing, search, QR code scanning, etc., which can bring an influx of Wechat’s huge amount of social media users

(3) Payment. All online transactions eventually return to the payment problem, and all mini programs support WeChat payment.

The ownership and intellectual property rights of the mini programs are relatively clear. According to Article 1.3 of WeChat Mini Programs Platform Service Terms and Article 6.1 of WeChat Public Platform Service Agreement, the mini program belongs to the WeChat public account, and the ownership of the WeChat public account belongs to Tencent company. Users may only receive the right of use of the WeChat public account, and the use right of the account is prohibited from donation, borrowing, lease, transfer or sale. Therefore, the mini programs registered and developed by those brands belong to Tencent, and the brand only has the right of use.

According to Article 5 of the WeChat Mini Programs Platform Service Terms, the intellectual property rights of the services provided by Tencent (including but not limited to web pages, words, pictures, audio, video, charts, etc.) and the copyright, patent and other intellectual property rights of the software on which Tencent relies shall belong to Tencent; the intellectual property rights of the content generated by the user in the process of developing the mini program belong to the user or the relevant right holders. Therefore, for the mini programs developed and the intellectual property invested by the brand, such items shall still be owned by the brand.

Under the promotion of technological innovation, WeChat has also set foot on e-commerce platforms. However, its platform rules, credit evaluation system, third-party complaint and dispute handling system have not been improved. The relatively low registration threshold and audit standard of WeChat mini programs will most likely face many problems moving forward.

*This article was published on the Nanjinger magazine on May 2020.