China Courts See Increase in Intellectual Property Cases


Is intellectual property gaining importance in China? Or are the Chinese just more willing to go to court? 

China had a 6 percent increase in new intellectual property case filings in 2015, according to Supreme People’s Court statistics released last week. That translates into 123,493 new IP cases last year, a number that includes civil, criminal and administrative proceedings. But there weren’t across-the-board increases in all categories. 

Criminal IP cases, which can be brought if IP damages reach a certain threshold and carry jail terms, totaled 10,975 – a decrease of 1 percent from 2014. Administrative proceedings dropped by 68 percent, with just 3,132 new cases. But civil proceedings jumped 14.5 percent, with 109,386 new cases filed. 

Taken alone, the increase could signify that IP is becoming more important in China. But it’s important to note that the country’s entire court system saw significant growth in volume. 

Overall, China had nearly 18 million new case filings in 2015, a nearly 23 percent increase over the previous year.  Civil and commercial case filings increased by nearly 22 percent. 

When considered against that backdrop, the IP statistics may simply reflect a growing willingness among Chinese businesses to use courts to resolve their disputes. IP cases make up less than 1 percent of all court filings in China, and the growth rate in those cases is lower than the overall increase. 

Still, even if their volume is comparatively small, Chinese IP cases may have an outsized impact on the overall development of China’s judicial system. 

Mark Cohen, a former IP attache´ to the U.S. embassy in Beijing, has previously said that judicial reform is a high priority for the Chinese government. What’s more, new specialized IP courts appear to be functioning in part as test labs for changes that, if successful, could be implemented more widely later on.