China's top court to strengthen protection of intellectual property this year

Head of the Supreme People's Court and Chief Justice Zhou Qiang speaking during the 3rd plenary meeting of the second session of the 13th National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on March 12, 2019.
Head of the Supreme People's Court and Chief Justice Zhou Qiang speaking during the 3rd plenary meeting of the second session of the 13th National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on March 12, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING - As its country's trade negotiators edge towards a trade deal with the United States, China's top court has said it will strengthen protection of intellectual property (IP) rights this year.

Head of the Supreme People's Court and Chief Justice Zhou Qiang said on Tuesday (Mar 12) that this is one of the ways the courts could "ensure continued economic growth and social stability", a key task for the coming year.

In the past year, the courts have handled more than 288,000 IP cases - an increase of 41.8 per cent from the year before, said Mr Zhou.

"We have built a national level appeal mechanism for intellectual property rights protection, and established an IP court under the Supreme People's Court," said Mr Zhou, who was speaking at a plenary meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's legislature.

Mr Zhou also said the courts would also better protect the legal rights of private businesses in order to allow entrepreneurs to "focus on starting businesses, feel assured about their investments and run their businesses with peace of mind".

China's patchy record in protecting intellectual property has long been an American concern.

Mr Zhou's comments came hours after China's top trade negotiator Vice-Premier Liu He spoke by phone with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

State news agency Xinhua said both sides discussed the text of the trade deal and "made a plan for the next stage of work arrangements", without giving further details.

The two sides are locked in a bitter trade war that has seen billions of dollars of goods from both sides slapped with tariffs. But after several rounds of trade talks, the world's two biggest economies seem to be inching toward an agreement.

Chinese officials have said previously that Beijing was turning its focus on IP protection as a necessary component of its ongoing economic reforms and not because of external pressure. But it has also set in motion measures to better safeguard such rights since the trade war truce was declared last December.

Apart from setting up the IP court that Mr Zhou mentioned, the NPC is also expected to pass a foreign investment law this Friday (Mar 15) that will ban forced technology transfers from foreign companies to their Chinese partners.

On Tuesday (Mar 12), China's National Intellectual Property Administration also told reporters that the country would be beefing up its IP protection regime in several ways.

These including setting up a batch of intellectual property protection centres to handle IP-related matters, and reducing the time taken to review the filing of high-value patents.

The administration's head Shen Changyu also said China's patent law was being revised to put in place stiffer punishments for those who infringe IP rights.