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The Supreme People’s Court of China has released a report on IP cases heard by Chinese courts in 2011. It shows a dramatic increase in their workload. First instance courts across the country accepted 59,612 IP cases during the year and disposed of 58,201 - rises of 38.86% and 39.51% respectively. In specific areas of IP, the report states:
Among the cases accepted in 2011, 7,819 were patent cases, up 35.16% year-on-year; 12,991 were trademark cases, up 53.56% year-on-year; 35,185 were copyright cases, up 42.34% year-on-year; 557 were technology contract cases, down 16.87% year-on-year; 1137 were competition cases (18 were monopoly-related), up 0.53% year-on-year; and 2,193 were other intellectual property cases, up 11.55% year-on-year. Among the cases disposed in 2011, 1,321 involved foreign parties, down by 3.51% year-on-year; and 635 involved Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan parties, up 128.42% year-on-year.
These are pretty spectacular jumps in numbers by any standards and dwarf figures that come out of any other country. However, anyone with a passing interest in the development of intellectual property in China may not be that surprised, as the IP landscape has been characterised by similarly impressive figures in recent times. The number of patent applications in particular has been rocketing for a number of years now, and the trend shows no sign of slowing, with the latest figures showing a leap of over 33% in 2011. However, hand in hand with this growth has been a question mark over the issue of the quality of patents granted. So it is understandable that the Chinese authorities are at pains to emphasise the fact that as well as growing in number, IP cases are also becoming more sophisticated. The report says:
The number of major, complex and difficult cases, and new type cases has increased. Cases that involved foreign parties or attracted international attention were proportionally higher. There was also a growing percentage of cases where the legal provisions were too general and the courts had to define the boundaries of the law, or cases where the outcome of the judgement affected the parties significantly.
Further indicators of an increase in sophistication, according to the paper, are a rise in the number of cases involving the high-tech, environmental and pharmaceutical sectors, and an increasing number of disputes over patents developed by native Chinese companies.
Although “sophistication” is not an easy thing to measure, it seems that the SPC has got a pretty strong argument here. That more foreign companies are choosing to go to court in China is a good sign that they feel confident about the competency of the judiciary and lawyers. And the increasingly complex cases that are being heard means that the experience and expertise of Chinese legal professionals can only continue to improve.
One company that would probably agree with the white paper’s conclusion is a Lifetime, a Utah-based outfit that last week won a patent infringement lawsuit against a Chinese manufacturer regarding a folding utility table. This is not Lifetime’s only success recently; last year the company won a trademark case against another Chinese company that was using their logo. "We are thrilled with the Chinese court's findings," Lifetime president Richard Hendrickson said of the latest victory. “More important to us than the monetary compensation is the significance of this achievement of successfully enforcing our Chinese patents in a Chinese court for the very first time. Now we have protected both a trademark and a patent in a foreign court which is a huge milestone for any manufacturer.” Lifetime’s experience may be just one example, but it is still strong evidence of a western company that has chosen to engage with the Chinese court system, and found that it is up to the task.
IP management, Brands, IP litigation, Copyright, Patents, IP business