At the end of 2014, China introduced new specialist intellectual property (IP) courts. Although China had IP tribunals within the People’s Courts, the reform to establish separate IP courts was touted as a significant step in establishing the rule of law in the governance of IPRs in China. This is not surprising considering that an independent judiciary is central to the rule of law. This institution affirms and enforces private rights, as well as providing necessary impartiality in the process of decision-making among peer institutions. China has recently undergone several legislative reforms which amend substantive IP law. It is not surprising that this was followed by both administrative and judicial reforms. Introducing a specialized court with exclusive jurisdiction will likely affect other institutions with similar competences, e.g. general courts or administrative tribunals. Institutional choices significantly affect the outcome of decision-making because the processes of decision-making differ and will involve different stakeholders. Often, institutions move together and a change in one of them is likely to cause a change in another, even without explicit efforts to effect such changes. Therefore, any institutional reform project needs to reflect measures to contain or coordinate unintended consequences or impacts on other institutions resulting from such changes. This paper places Chinese specialized courts in a global context. We will first describe the function of a specialized IP court from a comparative institutional perspective. Next, we place the Chinese specialized IP courts in the context of the national administration-driven IP strategy to highlight the Chinese characteristics. In its analysis, this paper explores whether the perspective of institutional comparison may be applied to Chinese institutional reforms. It also argues that the rationale for introducing specialized IP courts in China may be more than merely improving technological competence and concentration of expertise of the court; it signals a step towards independent judicial decision-making, towards the establishment of the rule of law and market-oriented decision-making.
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See, however, a sceptical view on the role and function of the administrative agencies in the US Constitution, Epstein (2008), p. 491.
In an earlier work by the co-author, Lee has examined the dilemma of keeping legislation general enough not to become outdated and yet specific enough to form binding rules through the lens of the “technological neutrality” principle in the TRIPs Agreement. See Lee (2016), pp. 362–363.
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See, however, how this effort to future-proof the law is impossible, Moses (2007).
See generally Lemos (2013), pp. 89–106, on the presence of “common law statutes” in the US which invite courts to make law.
For example, harmonization of the standard of originality in copyright in the EU seems to be entirely based on the case law of the CJEU and its interpretation of copyright directives, often characterized as judicial activism, Rosati (2013). This trend is noticed in the landmark decisions on originality such as Infopaq, FAPL, Painer and subsequent cases. Infopaq Int’l A/S v. Danske Dagblades Forening, CJEU, C-5/08, ECR I-6569, ECLI:EU:C:2009:465 (2009). Football Association Premier League Ltd and Others v. QC Leisure and Others, CJEU C-403/08, ECLI:EU:C:2011:631 (2011). Eva-Maria Painer v. Standard Verlags GmbH and Others, CJEU C-145/10, ECR 2011, I-12533 ECLI:EU:C:2011:798 (2011).
A similar trend is also noticed in trademark law where the Court seemed to create the notion of a new function of a trademark, which is an expression that is not visible in the trademark regulation nor in the directive, L’Oréal v. Bellure, CJEU C-487/07, 2009 I-05185, ECLI:EU:C:2009:378 (2099). See for a commentary on such a tendency of the CJEU, Kur et al. (2009).
See for a general description of courts among the institutions in China, Chen (2016).
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In patent law, for example, the doctrine of equivalents is one such example that is now found in various jurisdictions. Similarly, in cases with complex facts (technological facts, which are litigated in various countries, courts have a tendency to informally harmonize their practices). See Lee and Li (2016).
De Werra (2016).
For example, TRIPs Agreement, Art. 58.
For example, TRIPs Agreement, Art. 61.
See, for example, People’s Republic of China Patent Act, Arts. 3, 60–61, 63–64, on patent counterfeiting; Copyright Act, Arts. 7, 48; Trademark Act, Arts. 2, 60–62. See comment by Li (2014), pp. 143–157. For a general description, see Nie (2006), pp. 217–226. See also Chen (2016), pp. 802–810; Dimitrov (2009), pp. 115–145.
See, for example, what is allowed for the member states as provided in the TRIPs Agreement, Art. 41 et seq.
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See generally De Werra (2016), p. 22, reporting such trends in Austria, China, Finland, and Russia.
The IP High Court was created as a result of implementing the Basic Law on Intellectual Property (2003) in 2005, after several years of attempts at subject matter forum centralization with exclusive subject matter jurisdiction in the division of the district courts and high courts (Tokyo and Osaka). Tokyo High Court (some subject matters) and the IP High Court each have exclusive jurisdiction on IP matters by virtue of Art. 6(3) of the Code of Civil Procedure, and Art. 2(1) of the Law for Establishing the IP High Court. The IP High Court is the court of first instance for all appeals against decisions of the JPO.
Korea has had a general patent court since 1998. Article 3(1) of the Court Organization Act. The court has exclusive jurisdiction on limited subject matters of validity, as designated by Art. 186(1) of the Patent Act, Art. 75 of the Design Act, Art. 86(2) of the Trademark Act, and other first-instance proceedings such as under Art. 105 of the Seed Industry Act. The Patent Court has exclusive jurisdiction over all cancellation appeals from diverse decisions rendered by the Intellectual Property Tribunal of KIPO.
Community trademark and design court, Art. 95 Council Regulation (EC) No. 207/2009 of 26 February 2009 on the European Union trade mark (codified version) (Text with EEA relevance) and Art. 80 Council Regulation (EC) No. 6/2002 of 12 December 2001 on Community designs (OJ EC L 3 of 5 January 2002, p. 1).
Germany has had the Federal Patent Court (Bundespatentgericht) since 1961, based on Art. 96(1) of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany. The court has jurisdiction for rulings on appeals against decisions of the German Patent and Trade Mark Office and actions for the declaration of nullity of German patents and of those European patents in Germany.
The UK has a patent court and the IP Enterprise Court for specialist subject matters, but the judges in the patent court are said to be generalist as they would also hear non-IP matters. By combining the specialist courts with judges who are also exposed to general cases, the UK seems to avoid the problems of the bias of specialist courts.
The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is a specialized court as it has exclusive jurisdiction over patent matters on appeal, but it also has jurisdiction over other subject matter.
TRIPs Agreement, Art. 1(1) states: “Members shall give effect to the provisions of this Agreement. Members may, but shall not be obliged to, implement in their law more extensive protection than is required by this Agreement, provided that such protection does not contravene the provisions of this Agreement. Members shall be free to determine the appropriate method of implementing the provisions of this Agreement within their own legal system and practice.”
TRIPs Agreement, Art. 41(5).
See, for example, Pedraza-Farina (2015), p. 89.
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Nari Lee would like to thank Professor Lionel Bently and Dr. Henning Grosse Ruse-Khan of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the faculty of law, Cambridge University, who hosted her during the research visit in 2016.
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Lee, N., Zhang, L. Specialized IP Courts in China – Judicial Governance of Intellectual Property Rights. IIC 48, 900–924 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40319-017-0642-6
- Specialized IP Court
- Institutional comparison
- Rule of law