Confidence around world grows as judges give all sides equal footing
China is building up its international image and the credibility of its judicial system through dealing with high-profile foreign-related intellectual property cases, a senior official from China's top court said.
"Chinese courts have been upholding equal protections while hearing foreign-related IP disputes no matter where litigants are from," Tao Kaiyuan, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, told China Daily in an recent exclusive interview.
Foreign IP cases involving litigants from the United States made up one-third of the total, and they were mainly heard by courts in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangdong and Zhejiang, according to Tao.
Most of the plaintiffs in the disputes are from the US, and the money involved in many of the cases was more than 100 million yuan ($15 million), she added.
IP cases involving foreign individuals and companies represent 20 percent of the total, according to the top court in an April disclosure.
"We fully respect foreign litigants' rights and strictly abide by international IP rules when handling such cases," Tao said.
A high-profile lawsuit involved US basketball legend Michael Jordan.
In December 2016, the top court ended the four-year-long trademark dispute by issuing a verdict, in which it ruled the registered trademark of Chinese company Qiaodan Sports infringed on Jordan's right to his name and violated provisions of the Trademark Law.
"Qiaodan", which is a transliteration of "Jordan" in Chinese characters, has a strong connection to the basketball player, and most Chinese would consider it as Jordan when they see Qiaodan written in Chinese, the ruling said.
Tao, as the case's chief judge, ordered the State Administration for Industry and Commerce at that time to revoke the trademark and to issue a new ruling over the use of Chinese characters in the brand name Qiaodan.
The ruling not only regulated the trademark registration through the case, but also clarified in which condition trademark rights could be protected, Tao said. "Conclusions of such lawsuits have presented and will continue contributing to China's global image of being a responsible country."
After the verdict was announced, the former NBA star responded in a statement that he was happy to see the Chinese top court had recognized the right to protect his name.
Another case involved French fashion house Christian Dior.
On April 26, the top court reheard a lawsuit over the water droplet-shaped bottle of J'adore between Christian Dior and the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.
The top court revoked the previous ruling made by local courts in Beijing, which rejected the company's application to register the bottle design as a trademark, ordering the administration to make another review on the company's IP application.
Li Fengxian, the company's lawyer, said they had not received the new review from the administration when China Daily contacted her on Thursday. But she said she believes the IP protection on her client's bottle design will be upheld in China.
Waiting for the review result costs some time, "but the top court's verdict, in fact, is in favor of my client, showing equal protection of IP rights," she said.
Cui Guobin, an associate professor with Tsinghua University specializing in IP, said many international companies file patent lawsuits in China, and the number of foreign-related IP cases related to telecommunications has increased in recent years.
He said equally protecting IP rights is a key for China to improve its judicial credibility.
"Most important is that we must uphold the rule of law to equally treat all litigants, no matter who they are."
To further improve the quality of foreign-related IP hearings, the top court has communicated with judges and officials from other countries to share and learn about procedures, according to Tao.
The top court also invited foreign IP judges and professionals to share hearing experiences with Chinese judges.
China has more than 300 IP tribunals across the country with about 3,000 judges specializing in hearing IP lawsuits, the top court said.
"We'll keep in touch with the world's IP associations, conduct more research and improve cooperation regarding information sharing, typical case analysis and judicial training," Tao said.