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Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The 1st specialized IP Tribunal of Northwest China unveiled in Xi'an

Since 24 February 2018, the Xi’an Intellectual Property (IP) Tribunal has officially come into operation. Located in Xi’an International Trade & Logistics Park, it is the first specialized IP tribunal in Northwest China, and is considered to be a major development in the National IP Strategy, in terms of promoting the judicial system reform, and fully implementing the ongoing  Belt and Road Initiative

1. Empowered by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), Xi’an IP Tribunal will have jurisdiction over: 
  • IP-related civil or administrative cases at first instance occurring within the jurisdiction of Shaanxi Province which involve patent, know-how, computer software, plant varieties, layout designs of integrated circuit, recognition of well-known trade marks, and competition disputes; 
  • IP-related civil, administrative or criminal cases of first instance occurring in the jurisdiction of Xi’an district, except those that are under the jurisdiction of the grass-roots courts; 
  • Appeals from the first instance IPR adjudications of civil, administrative or criminal cases occurring within the jurisdiction of Xi’an district. 
2. IP judicial resources integration in Northwest China

It is expected that the number of IP disputes in China will grow. For instance, the report titled Intellectual Property Protection by Chinese Courts (2016) issued by the SPC shows that in 2016, 152,072 IP-related first instance cases were admitted by local courts (a 16.80% increase compared with 2015). 

The establishment of specialized IP courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in 2014 is considered a milestone in China’s efforts in improving the level of IP protection. By June 2017, the three IP courts had accepted in total 46,071 cases, 33,135 of which have been concluded. 

In 2013, the SPC noticed that a rapid increase in the number of IP cases was happening in the Mid-Western regions of China; then in 2014, the SPC pointed out that the distribution of the new IP cases had been showing a shifting trend from the Eastern coastal developed regions of China to the less-developed Mid-Western areas. In response, the setting-up of the IP Tribunals in Suzhou, Nanjing, Wuhan and Chengdu in late 2017 managed to cover through the Yangtze River economic zone from East to West, and has further consolidated the regional specialization of the IP-related adjudications. 

The Kat from Xi'an Beilin Museum
 is playing with glowworms.
Finally, the missing piece of puzzle, i.e. the Northwest China, is now covered by the Xi’an IP Tribunal.

Xi’an is the capital city of Shaanxi Province, and has been long known as a world-famous tourist destination with an inexhaustible treasure of cultural relics. Historically, from the Western Zhou Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty, Xi’an served as the ancient imperial capitals for up to 1,129 years. 

Geographically situated in the middle of China, Xi’an is a hub city with integrated road, railway and air transportation networks extending to all directions. This eastern departure point of the ancient Silk Road today is a very important node of the ongoing Belt and Road Initiative of China. Empowered by the cross-regional jurisdiction over the entire province, Xi’an IP Tribunal can be expected to integrate the local IP judicial resources, and to address the perennial problems including, but not limited to, the interventions of local protectionism in trials, the uncertain (too many) jurisdictions, and the discordance of judgement benchmarks. 

3. Concluding thoughts

The establishment of the Xi’an IP Tribunal, to some extent, is merely another reinforcement of the “local troops” within the vast IP protection landscape of China. This Kat agrees very much with what Professor Chuntian Liu once addressed in an IPKey conference in London, saying that the many “local teams” may indeed contribute to the quantitative change in the progress of improving the judicial expertise of people's tribunals, yet the critical qualitative evolution can only be completed if the national team, i.e. the unified appeals court is eventually built up. Certainly alternatives, like the idea of "setting up several regional IP appellant courts instead of only having the centralized one in Beijing" from Professor Mingde Li and Shunde Li, may also have merits -- all in all, given the combination of all the special national conditions, e.g. the vast territory, the regional economic imbalances, the rapid development and the very large and ever-growing caseload, to affirm any specific changes in the future of the complicated Chinese IP judicial system might be difficult, yet probably interesting -- stay tuned. 

Photo courtesy: Xi'an Beilin Museum.

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