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Nation Strives to Safeguard the World’s Ideas

Chinese authorities are on a mission to drastically clamp down on counterfeit goods and reduce intellectual property rights infringement.


To do so, the country has restructured the State Intellectual Property Office to strengthen law enforcement, and IPR cases will now be heard by the Supreme People's Court. "Setting up a Supreme Court intellectual property rights court is an important decision by the Communist Party of China," Deputy Chief Justice Luo Dongchuan said at a news conference. "It is a major step to strengthen the legal protection of intellectual property rights, and will have a major impact at home and abroad."


Jamie Rowlands, partner at the China office of international law firm Gowling WLG, said, "The Chinese government seems genuinely committed to improving IP protection, both for domestic and foreign parties."


Since Jan 1, IPR cases have been heard in the nation's first IP courts, which were established by the Supreme People's Court. They handle appeals in civil and administrative cases, such as those involving patents, copyright, design of integrated circuit layouts, and monopolies.


Litigants who disagree with rulings made in intermediate people's courts at city-prefecture-level, or those made by specialized IPR courts, can now appeal to the top court directly by going to the new ones, instead of first appealing to provincial high people's courts.


Although progress has been made, countries such as the US and some European nations urged China to improve the efficiency of its law enforcement efforts in relation to IPR protection.


Luke Hughes, a furniture designer in London, has produced pieces including dining chairs crafted in solid European oak for Churchill College, Cambridge, oak tables and chairs for The Berrow Foundation Building at Lincoln College, Oxford, as well as furniture for the Keystone Academy library in Beijing.


He said he has concerns over IP protection in China, but believes solutions lie in fostering relationships with companies.


Foreign companies, though, have had many recent successes in litigating against those from China that have infringed upon patents or trademarks, a sign of the increased clampdown by judicial authorities on IP violations.


Rowlands added that enforcing successful judgments in China remains challenging. "China is a first-to-file country," he said, which means whoever registers first for a trademark owns it. "So, third parties often register IP, especially trademarks, in bad faith. Damages are generally low — although improving — recovery of legal costs is rare, as are preliminary injunctions."


He advises foreign businesses to register their IP claims early and to do robust due diligence work on Chinese entities.


According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, a specialized agency of the UN, China received 1.38 million patent applications in 2017, the largest number globally. Trademark applications in the country the same year numbered 5.7 million.


Francis Gurry, WIPO director-general, said, "In just a few decades, China has constructed an IP system, encouraged homegrown innovation, joined the ranks of the world's IP leaders, and is now driving worldwide growth in IP filings."

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