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IPR cases give credibility boost

2014-04-21 08:25 China Daily Web Editor: qindexing

Increase in foreign lawsuits offers judges chance to show abilities

The rising number of intellectual property rights cases from foreigners will provide a good opportunity for Chinese courts to boost their judicial image and avoid legal misunderstandings, an official of China's top court told China Daily.

The country's courts heard 91,187 civil and administrative intellectual property cases last year, 2,840 of which involved overseas litigants, according to figures from the Supreme People's Court.

Nearly 89,000 civil cases were concluded in Chinese courts last year, including 1,697 foreign-related ones, an increase of 18.75 percent over 2012.

Of 2,901 administrative IP lawsuits, about 40 percent were foreign-related disputes, which mainly involved patents and brand infringements, the court said.

The overall growth in the number of IP cases has slowed since 2010, but the number of foreign-related cases has not decreased proportionately, the court said.

"The rise of foreign-related cases is a reflection of the technical development in our country, and I think it can also serve to urge our enterprises to attach importance to this area," said Wang Chuang, deputy chief judge of the intellectual property rights tribunal at the top court.

Although more foreign lawsuits increased the pressure on judges, they also provide an opportunity to show their ability to handle such cases to the world, "which is good for our judicial image", Wang said.

In the past, most IP cases involved overseas litigants suing Chinese companies or individuals, but now more Chinese enterprises and people understand the need to legally protect their products through copyrights and patents, he said.

In a recent example, US technology giant Apple Inc found itself in the dock in a high-profile lawsuit after a Shanghai-based company claimed that Apple's Siri product, a digital assistant that responds to voice commands on iPhones, infringed its patent for an intelligent robot.

The case is still being heard at Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court, but the first trial in late February attracted hundreds of observers, including media and computer experts and enthusiasts.

Earlier, in 2012, nine Chinese writers, including popular blogger Han Han and Li Chengpeng, sued Apple in a copyright dispute, saying the giant's App Store allowed people to download their works without paying.

The writers finally got about 12 million yuan ($1.9 million) in compensation.

"The issue of IP rights mostly stayed below the surface until several years ago, but now companies that intend to develop amid stiff global competition - especially Web and technology companies - need protection," Wang said.

Some foreign companies have also taken Chinese IP protection as an important part of their investment in the country, he said.

For instance, an international IT giant asked to read IP verdicts in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, before it expanded with a branch in that area last year "because some foreign companies had misunderstandings about our legal protection several years ago", Wang said.

Jiang Ying, senior judge of Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court, agreed, saying China has gaps in the area compared with developed countries.

"It's normal to see foreigners doubt our IP protection that has only developed over about 30 years," Jiang said. "The problem of fake brands and piracy get the most concern among foreigners."

Liu Yinliang, an associate professor specializing in IP cases at Peking University, suggested that the courts disclose more cases to the public.

In November, the top court heard a dispute over monopoly practices between two Chinese technology companies, Qihoo 360 and Tencent, "which is a better way for foreign investors to understand our laws, as well as to establish our judicial authority", Liu said.

"A fair trial is the best medicine to cure these Chinese ills and will improve our courts' credibility around the world," he said.

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