IP Protection

Despite establish and keep improve a relative complete system of patent laws and regulations that covers a wide range of subjects and is in line with generally accepted international rules, the Chinese government realizes the importance and difficulties for the effective enforcement of patent and IP protections in China.  Major progress has been made on IP protection in China over the past years. 

China has developed a fairly comprehensive system for patent work, and its patent work has been dramatically improved.  The SIPO in Beijing is the China Patent Office that handles domestic and foreign patent applications.  From 1985 to the end of 2004, the SIPO handled over 2 million patent applications with an average annual increase of 18.9%, of these, over 1.5 million (about 82% of the total applications) were domestic applications.  It took China about 15 years for applications to reach one million, but only four years for the number to double.  By the end of 2004, the SIPO had approved about one million patents (about 87% of the total approved patents), of these, about 14.8% approval for invention patents, 51.9% approval for utility model patents, and 33.3% approval for design patents.  China now has more than 5000 people working in patent agencies, and a service system mainly providing patent commissioning, patent information, patent technology transfer and evaluation has taken initial shape.

In order to boost foreign patent and other IP applications in China, the Chinese government has also devoted great efforts to adjusting and improving international rules regarding IP protection.  China  has held talks, set up high-profile visits, and engaged in exchanges and cooperation with U.S. or other European counties, international organizations and foreign-invested enterprises in the field of IP protection.  As suggested by the U.S., China and the U.S. have held a round-table conference on IP rights and protection every year since 2003, and reached agreement on many IP right and protection related issues.  In 2004, China and European Union held their first round of talks on IP protection in Beijing, and an initial agreement was reached on matters of cooperation. 

Foreign applications filed in China, or through PCT to enter into China have dramatically increased.  From 19985 to the end of 2004, the SIPO handled about 410,567 patents from other countries, accounting for 18% of overall 2 million patents that the SIPO handled during that time.  Of these, 74,864 patents were handled in 2004, accounting for 21.2% of the total and an increase of 30.8% over the previous year, i.e., 57,249 patents in 2003.  International patent applications that entered China via PCT totaled 157,770, of these, 32,438 applications were submitted in 2004.  By the end of 2004, the SIPO had approved 162,231 patents from other countries, accounting for 12.9% of the total number of approved patents, of these, 38,910 patents had been approved in 2004, accounting for an increase of 19.2% over the previous year, i.e. 32,638 patents in 2003.

Moreover, administrative and judicial law enforcements have also been strengthened in IP protection through the combination of routine management and supervision with special crackdown campaigns.  Many other alternative dispute resolutions, such as conciliation, mediation, arbitration or settlement through the Administrative Authorities for Patent Affairs have been offered.  A coordinated and effective work system and a law enforcement mechanism have been established and improved.  Several departments with the duty to IP protection have been assigned. 

For instance, besides the SIPO, the Chinese government has created the United IP Protection Center, a “national intellectual property rights watchdog”, to conduct investigation, gather evidence and file lawsuits on national and regional levels for the purpose of monitoring the enforcement of IP rights.  To further strengthen IP right protection, in 2004 China established the State IPR Protection Work Team headed by a vice-premier of the State Council, responsible for planning and coordinating the work regarding IPR protection throughout the country.  A work mechanism involving the coordination of administrative law enforcement and criminal law enforcement has been established, creating a joint power to deal with IP infringements, and ensuring that suspected criminal cases enter the judicial process promptly.  Identical procedures in dealing with IP lawsuits have been established and implemented for all the courts in different provinces, municipalities and economic zones. 

In recent years, a large increased number of IP infringement cases have been adjudicated through judicial processes, and the infringed parties have received timely compensation and relatively large and fair damages for their losses.  Several IP-related crime cases have been effectively combated.  From 1998 to 2004, courts throughout the country concluded 38,228 civil cases and 2057 criminal cases involving IP infringement, handing down sentences to 2,375 criminals.  Of these, 8,332 civil cases and 385  criminal cases were handled in 2004, and 528 criminals were published in 2004.

China has also tried to improve the quality of judges by promulgating a new state test system for all qualified judges, and to create a new contingent of judges, instead of recruiting from the old cadres, especially, in the patent infringement and other IP courts.  China has established a special trial division for IP cases, such division has exclusive jurisdiction over all IP cases in several High People’s Courts and Intermediate People’s courts.  The Chinese Supreme People’s Court has also established an IP Office in dealing with IP related cases.

Furthermore, the Chinese government also realizes that in order to effectively enforce its patent and other IP laws, people must be educated to understand these laws.  Although it will be a long process, a nationwide campaign to publicize the system of patent and other IP protections and to educate and train professions in these fields has been initiated.  For instance, in 2004, the Chinese government launched a special one-year campaign to protect IPR across the country.  Many Chinese Universities have instituted intellectual property courses, and offered a second bachelor degree in IP law.  New schools of IP have also been established.

In addition, the business community in China has increased support for enforcement of patent and other IP laws.  For instance, most medium and large-sized business enterprises in China have full or part-time patent specialists.  Different organizations in dealing with patent and IP protections, such as the Enterprise Patent Specialist Association, the Intellectual Property Protection Services, and the Intellectual Property Rights Exchange Market have also been created in China.  China now also has private law firms and public organizations that specialize in tracking down infringers.  Overall, the central Chinese government has adopted an honest approach to solving the problems and is making great efforts to improve its patent and other IP systems.

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