China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has lately approved the establishment of China’s 27th intellectual court (IP) tribunal in the Quanzhou Intermediate People’s Court of Fujian province, the country’s eighth richest province by gross domestic product (GDP) of 2021. With the approval, there will be three IP tribunals located in this developed southern province. The most immediate two specialized IP tribunals, the 25th and 26th ones, were approved to be established in Wuxi city and Xuzhou city of Jiangsu province back in February.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites-listed port city Quanzhou was once the starting point of the trading route known as the Maritime Silk Road, which flourished until the 15th century, and is today known as China’s “shoe city,” where domestic brands of sneakers originated. According to the statistics, in 2020, 59,043 patent applications were filed in Quanzhou, 55,951 of which were granted, and 2,229 of the granted patents were invention patents. In addition, 110,000 registration applications of trademarks were granted in Quanzhou, which brought the city’s total volume of registered trademarks to 515,000, toppling all other Chinese cities. Of all the registered trademarks, 159 were certified to be China’s Well-Known Trademarks and 1,048 were registered under the Madrid Protocol.
Between 2017 and 2021, the Quanzhou Intermediate People’s Court and all district-level people’s courts of the city issued rulings in 16,000 intellectual property disputes, accounting for 27% of the intellectual property disputes in which rulings were issued in the whole of the local judiciary of Fujian province. In 2017, in a patent infringement lawsuit receiving domestic and international media coverage, the Quanzhou Intermediate People’s Court ruled in favor of Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. against South Korean manufacturing conglomerate Samsung Group and awarded Huawei 80 million yuan ($12 million) in damages.
The Quanzhou IP tribunal to be newly created will as a trial court hear civil and administrative claims of invention patents, new plant varieties, layout designs of integrated circuits, trade secrets, computer software copyrights, trademarks, anti-monopoly filed in Quanzhou city, and all criminal, civil, and administrative IP cases district-level people’s courts don’t maintain jurisdiction over.
China began to introduce specialized IP courts as standalone venues for legal actions involving IP matters in 2014, with the first one set in Beijing municipality in November and the second one and third one in Shanghai municipality and Guangzhou city in December that year. A fourth IP court was launched in Hainan in 2020, known as Hainan Free Trade Port Intellectual Property Court.
The intellectual property tribunal was formed as a specialized division in China’s Supreme People’s Court in 2019. The tribunal has ultimate and largely discretionary appellate jurisdiction over all national-level, provincial-level, and district-level court IP court cases.
As the judiciary’s further reformative move, the third-tier components of specialized IP tribunals affiliated with intermediate courts began to find their way into the system in 2017. That year witnessed 11 IP tribunals formulated in Chengdu city of Sichuan province, Nanjing city and Suzhou city of Jiangsu province, Wuhan city of Hebei province, Hefei city of Anhui province, Hangzhou city and Ningbo city of Zhejiang province, Fuzhou city of Fujian province, Jinan city and Qingdao city of Shangdong province, and Shenzhen. In the following four years, 13 IP tribunals were put into service in Xian city of Shaanxi province, Tianjin municipality, Changsha city of Hunan province, Zhengzhou city of Henan province, Nanchang city and Jingdezhen city of Jiangxi province, Changchun city of Jilin province, Lanzhou city of Gansu province, Xiamen city, Urumqi city of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Chongqing municipality, Shenyang city of Liaoning province, and Wenzhou city of Zhejiang province.
There is a marked global trend toward specialization. Specialized IP courts are generally believed to improve the quality of justice available to IP right holders. The court’s expertise means that disputes can be handled coherently on the basis of past experience. This is particularly important for IP disputes because courts are often requested to render decisions very quickly on applications for provisional measures in order to prevent or stop an infringement of IP rights. Additionally, specialized IP courts are better equipped to keep pace with and adapt to dynamic developments in IP law.