For the last 25 years, China has consistently been on the list of the United States Trade Representative’s list of countries needing to improve IP rights protection. This year’s report cited China for inadequate trade secret protection and policies that unfairly disadvantage U.S. rights holders in China. Foreign companies complain of Chinese companies’ violations of intellectual property. Though China has had specialized IP judges for over a decade, these have struggled with inconsistency and lack of expertise.
In 2014, in an attempt to answer criticism that the country is lax in protecting IP rights, China set up specialized courts to handle IP cases in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, which represent three of the top IP jurisdictions there, to be staffed by China’s best IP judges. These three jurisdictions account for about 55% of total IP cases filed in China. Though they encompass only a small fraction of the country, they do represent China’s more innovative regions. The establishment of these dedicated courts shows a strong desire on China’s part to improve its international image. The courts are under subject matter limitations and will only have jurisdiction over the following cases (though the Beijing Court also has jurisdiction over appeals):
(1) Civil and administrative involving complex technology;
(2) Administrative against decisions made by certain government agencies regarding software copyrights, trademark applications and unfair competition; and
(3) Civil involving well-known marks.
The new courts have not yet been given any jurisdiction over criminal matters or trademark infringement. The World Trade Organisation called on China to address further shortcomings, such as publishing all laws in a single official journal. Though the development of these IP courts may not be a complete game changer, it certainly represents a step in the right direction.