China's supreme court Open Day begins trademark hearing

Updated: 2010-12-04 15:05
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BEIJING -- China's highest court, the Supreme People's Court (SPC), Friday held an Open Day event with a hearing on a trademark dispute involving Sony Ericsson China. It also unveiled two animated spokespersons to promote the judiciary's openness.

Over 30 reporters and public representatives were invited by the SPC to visit its guarded compound near Tiananmen Square. The half-day event, the second of its kind since 2009, was held on the eve of a national day to promote legal knowledge.

At the hearing in the SPC's best-equipped courtroom, which is also a "protective room" for witnesses to testify anonymously, Sony Ericsson China asked for a retrial of a case involving the trademark "Suo Ai", the acronym for "Sony Ericsson" in Chinese characters.

Yu Xiaobai, the hearing's presiding judge, said at a news conference at the end of Friday's event that the trademark hearing was "meticulously selected" for the Open Day event because it's an intellectual property rights (IPR) case.

"IPR cases are now under the public spotlight," she said, adding that the fact the Sony Ericsson case is not too complicated was another reason for its selection.

Sony Ericsson China was established in 2002, but it did not register the "Suo Ai" trademark at that time. The trademark dispute started in 2003, when a Chinese individual, Liu Jianjia, applied to register Suo Ai Trademark as a trademark to put on consumer electronics. Liu's application was approved in 2004.

In 2005, Sony Ericsson China filed a cancellation action with the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board of China (TRAB) to terminate the Suo Ai Trademark registration on the grounds that Chinese consumers exclusively associate "Sony Ericsson" with the Suo Ai Trademark.

After the TRAB rejected Sony Ericsson China's request, the company filed an appeal with the Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court in 2007, and it won the case. But that ruling was overturned by the Beijing High Court in 2009 after Liu filed an appeal.

Yu said the number of IPR cases filed with the SPC in recent years has increased at a rate of 40 to 50 percent annually. In 2009, Chinese courts handled 36,140 IPR cases, up 30 percent from that in 2008, according to the SPC.

To cope with the increasing number of cases, there are many SPC judges like Yu who have been transferred to IPR tribunals from other ones. Yu said she started her career in the SPR 31 years ago but was only transferred to handle IPR cases a few years ago.

Indeed, the Chinese government has been taking a tough line against IPR infringement.

In 2008, it issued an IPR blueprint lasting until 2020 that aims to raise China's ability to create, use, manage and protect IPR.

Earlier this month at a cabinet meeting, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for a stepped-up fight against IPR infringement.

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Besides watching the initial part of the trademark hearing, the visitors also viewed displays at a museum that showcases the milestones and firsts of China's judicial history. They also attended the unveiling ceremony of animated figures at the press conference.

There are two animated figures, one man and one woman. They both have smiles on their faces and wear black judge uniforms.

Liu Yuanyuan, the hostess at Beijing Television who proposed the creation of the animated figures, said she wanted the public to know the soft side of the "over-worked" judges.

"In the public mind, judges are look grave and even aloof. But they are actually people of flesh and blood just like you and me," said Liu, who is one of the part-time public supervisors the SPR has hired to oversee the handling of cases.

Zhi Fen, Party secretary of Gaobeidian Village in east Beijing, is also one of the supervisors. She said, including the Open Day event, she has been to the SPR three times: the first time for a training course on her supervisory duties and the second time to oversee a trial.

"It feels great to be here. Interacting with China's highest court has inspired me a lot in my job at the grassroots level. I've learned that if something wrong happens, the court is the place to make a case," she said.

In the press conference, SPC spokesman Song Jungong said, "The Open Day event aims to promote the openness of judical work and open a window for the public to see the rule of law at work."

According to Song, the open day event has been widely adopted at courts at all levels of the country.