Book Review: Intellectual Property Law in China, 2nd Edition

The first edition of Intellectual Property Law in China (IPLCN) was the first of a bunch of goodies this Kat enthusiastically gathered from the incomparable IP library of the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition (MPI). It was published in 2005 – a bit aged – but it still stands as the visible fruit of the MPI’s Asian Department, which was founded in 1975. From 2000 to 2005, the department published 12 volumes in the Asian studies series, demonstrating the institute’s policy and dedication to Asia. At that time, the Institute’s academic focus was allocated according to geographical expertise, for example, Nordic Department, Asian Department, and had not yet shifted towards the current project-based approach. The editor of the 2005 IPLCN was Dr Christopher Heath, then Head of the Department for Japan and East Asia.

2005  ➤  2021

That book documented the efforts and plodding steps taken by China, a country that used to lacking experience in modern IP laws, during the 25 years since it entered the international community (China joined the WIPO in 1980; see also WIPO article China’s IP journey). It gathered three in-house experts from the Asian Department of the MPI to bring information about China’s IP system to an interested non-Chinese-speaking audience. 

Fifteen years later, to my delight and, a little bit, surprise (in a good way), editor Dr Christopher Heath and publisher Wolters Kluwer continued the narrative: in 2021 came the crisp second edition of the IPLCN. Curious about any new additions, and, being Chinese, this Kat rushed to get her paws on the new version. 

The 2021 IPLCN consists of seven chapters, as shown below: 

Due to the significant changes in China’s IP landscape over the past 15 years, the book has been completely rewritten, with an extended length (from 389 to 547 pages) and more authors on board. This Kat’s observations on the book pivot on the following two points. 

First, ‘infrastructure’: The book presents reasonably comprehensive coverage on the subject matter to which it is dedicated. The authors must have been quite busy, particularly in the past two years, diligently tracking the frequent IP law revisions (Trade Mark Law, Anti-Unfair Competition Law Revisions in 2019; Copyright Law and Patent Law Revisions in 2020) and, of course, the promulgation of the Civil Code (and the IP-related provisions therein) in 2020. 

Apart from the primary IP laws, the authors encapsulate a systematic Chinese IP map by incorporating the ‘thicket of secondary legislation’, namely, the binding judicial interpretations by the Supreme People’s Court of China (SPC) and the administrative provisions. Additional points are made using several informative secondary sources on Chinese IP, including the bilingual Chinese-English journal China Patents & Trade Marks, published by China Patent Agents, many articles authored by prominent judges, examiners and other practitioners, together with several good frequently updated blogosphere sites, for example, IPKat, IPKEYChina IPR, SPC Monitor and IP Dragon

Second, ‘events’: Besides the necessary historical settings, e.g. China’s treaty obligations and related international disputes, the book keenly scans notable new elements intertwined with China’s dynamic adaptations to new social and economic conditions. This includes, but is not limited to, institutional reforms to the judiciary (establishing specialised IP Courts and then an IP Division in the SPC), IP administration and legislative reforms, the shifted focus off international frictions, the newly signed bilateral agreements, and the SPC’s Guiding Cases. All of this adds to the richness of the narrative. A mere plain and ungarnished combing (or, bluntly, repetition) of the legislative framework would have been much easier to provide. However, the authors aimed higher. They allocated events of different importance according to the content, this being an operation which supports readers’ overall understanding. 

The 2021 IPLCN’s coverage of the aforementioned SPC’s Guiding Cases shows that the authors are very familiar with China’s IP landscape. It also discusses several other types of cases within the case guiding system, for example, the annual Top IP cases – impressive! Although, meanwhile, this could explain this Kat’s positioning of this book. In short, it is a good introductory textbook, written in English, about Chinese IP Law. It is not, nor does it have the ambition to be, a detailed, deep dive kommentar

This observation is somewhat confirmed by the official publisher’s introduction to the book, noting it is essential for ‘all companies investing in China or considering such investment, as well as for practitioners counselling their clients on strategies’. For that specific audience, this book, in its overall compact size, presents horizontally comprehensive coverage in affirmative tones and an easy-to-grasp manner, in lieu of offering thorough vertical in-depth discussions for each topic it covers. 

For example, the statement at page 9, ‘In recent years, case law has become another significant source of law’, does indeed clearly convey that ‘China values cases’. However, at most, China has adopted some common law elements, which is far from having case law as a source of law. At best, the SPC’s Guiding Cases merely have a sort of quasi-source effect on law (As a supplementary note, this Kat did some research on the case guidance system in China. Her humble opinion came to a slightly different conclusion: see the JIPLP article here). Those who are innovating and exploring modalities in the justice system do not shake China’s tradition of statutory law. The discourse in this book would have been more rigorous if the additional explanations above had been provided. 

Nevertheless, it would be asking a lot for a 547-page book that already covers a massive topic to be all-inclusive. Also, this Kat believes that attentive readers, no matter what, always maintain a critical view of even straightforward statements. They put extra time into further questioning and researching the multiple layers of a specific issue they are interested in, rather than stopping at subject 101. 

In conclusion, the 2021 IPLCN is a recommended read for those who seek a well-written English textbook which covers the main principles of Chinese IP Law. Clearly outlined, it is probably one of the best of its kind on the market. Its existence is welcome and necessary in the current era, where languages are still obstacles. By this point, this Kat cannot help expecting to see more good work, in English, contributed by established Chinese scholars enriching the forum in the future. 

Practical information: 

Product line: Kluwer Law International 
ISBN: 9789403519524 
SKU: 10059206-0002 
Format: Hardbound 
Price: €160.00

Book Review: Intellectual Property Law in China, 2nd Edition Book Review: Intellectual Property Law in China, 2nd Edition Reviewed by Tian Lu on Thursday, September 16, 2021 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. Tian Lu wrote: "Those who are innovating and exploring modalities in the justice system do not shake China’s tradition of statutory law. The discourse in this book would have been more rigorous if the additional explanations above had been provided." But on the same page 9 the authors write "Chinese law is different from the Common Law tradition in that the decision of a higher court or even of the SPC does not bind the lower court (unlike the above-mentioned Interpretations), so that they may decide differently in a similar case." And then the reference is made to my editorial IP in China: Moving closer to the common law system for the sake of uniformity:


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