China’s Evolving Case Law On ASI’s

Notwithstanding China’s civil law tradition, China’s use of anti-suit injunctions (ASI’s) in FRAND disputes  has begun to be selected for adoption into the body of “typical cases” 典型案例 that may be referred to by Chinese IP judges when encountering cases with similar fact patterns.  

 Last year, the SPC issued its Guiding Opinions on Strengthening Searches for Similar Cases to Unify the Application of Law (Provisional) (the “Opinion”) to regulate the practice of case adoption that may now apply to an ASI typical case. Susan Finder has aptly summarized the Opinion as “approving the practice of judges using principles derived from prior cases to fill in the gaps in legislation and judicial interpretations. The Opinion codifies many of the practices of the Chinese courts and imposes some new requirements. It does not mean that China has become a common law legal system… [C]omments by an SPC judge suggest that the special status of cases selected by the SPC by its operational divisions remains in place.”  This strategy was also part of the original discussions in China about how to “roll out” ASI’s in China, as is evident from the above photograph that I took of a slide from a conference that focused on ASI’s in IP matters from January 2020 where the role of SPC-designated “guiding cases” was discussed..

The SPC’s recent efforts comes on the heels of leader Xi Jinping’s pathbreaking article in Qiushi on January 31, 2021.  In that speech, Xi Jinping did not call for any significant changes to China’s notable experiments in creating IP courts and a national IP court for technology issues.  Xi also noted that it “was necessary” to “promote the extraterritorial application of China’s laws and regulations” and for China to “build a system for preventing and controlling intellectual property foreign-related risks”  as well as to “improve the adjudication of technical IP rights.”  The speech was first delivered on November 30, 2020, three months after the Conversant decision by the SPC. 

The first effort to identify an ASI case came in a report on the new SPC IP Court’s two-year work, in which the SPC listed 55 typical IP cases of the 2787 cases that it heard in 2020. The first case listed is the Huawei v. Conversant ASI case. According to this report, these cases were pathbreaking in two aspects: (a) their consideration of the factors for issuing an ASI; and (b) calculations of fines for disobeying an ASI. A translation of the ASI decisions in these three cases (2019 最高法知民终732, 733, 734 号) is available here. The factors are similar to those articulated by US courts, such as the US Unterwester or Gallo factors as well as general standards for a preliminary injunction, (In re Unterweser Reederei GMBH, 428 F.2d 888, 896 (5th Cir. 1970), aff’d on reh’g, 446 F.2d 907 (5th Cir. 1971) (en banc) (per curiam), rev’d on other grounds sub nom. M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1 (1972); E. & J. Gallo Winery v. Andina Licores S.A., 446 F.3d 984 (9th Cir. 2006), Here is a rough translation of the summary given of those factors:

“The factors identified are: whether the respondent’s application for the enforcement of the extraterritorial court judgment will materially affect the adjudication and enforcement of the Chinese litigation; whether it is necessary to undertake behavior preservation measures; whether the damages to the applicant of not undertaking behavior preservation measures will outweigh the damages to the respondent of taking such measures; whether taking behavior preservation measures will damage public interests; whether taking behavior preservation measures complies with international comity principles; and other factors that should be given due consideration.

Regarding whether the application for the enforcement of extraterritorial court’s judgment will materially affect the adjudication and enforcement of the Chinese litigation, considerations can be given to: whether the parties to the domestic litigation and the international litigation are fundamentally identical; whether the subject matters overlap; and whether the effects of enforcing the applicant’s extraterritorial court’s judgment will interfere with the Chinese litigation.

Regarding whether it is necessary to undertake behavior preservation measures, emphasis should be put on: investigating whether not taking behavior preservation measures will cause irreparable harm to the applicant’s legal rights and difficulties in enforcement of the case’s adjudication; and whether these harms include material tangible damages including business opportunities and market interests. etc.; damages to economic interests including damages to litigation interests; and damages to Chinese interests including damages to extraterritorial interests.

On the international comity principle, considerations can be given to: the order of acceptance of the cases: the appropriateness of exercising jurisdiction; and the effect to the extraterritorial court’s trial and judgment, etc.”

Here is the Chinese original:

被申请人申请执行域外法院判决对中国诉讼的审理和执行是否会产生实质影响;采取行为保全措施是否确属必要;不采取行为保全措施对申请人造成的损害是否超过采取行为保全措施对被申请人造成的损害;采取行为保全措施是否损害公共利益;采取行为保全措施是否符合国际礼让原则;其他应予考虑的因素。关于被申请人申请执行域外法院判决对中国诉讼的审理和执行是否会产生实质影响,可以考虑中外诉讼的当事人是否基本相同、审理对象是否存在重叠、被申请人的域外诉讼行为效果是否对中国诉讼造成干扰等。关于采取行为保全措施是否确属必要,应着重审查不采取行为保全措施是否会使申请人的合法权益受到难以弥补的损害或者造成案件裁决难以执行等损害;该损害既包括有形的物质损害,又包括商业机会、市场利益等无形损害;既包括经济利益损害,又包括诉讼利益损害;既包括在华利益损害,又包括域外利益损害。关于国际礼让原则,可以考虑案件受理时间先后、案件管辖适当与否、对域外法院审理和裁判的影响适度与否等。

Regarding the separate issue of the calculation of fines, the court approved calculations based on the number of days of violating the ASI, with fines accumulated for each day of the violation. On a separate point, I wonder if the high fines that are threatened will now set a new standard for fining parties in other IP-related proceedings. These fines could be extremely helpful in mandating compliance with the enhanced discovery provisions of recently amended Chinese IP laws and in other areas.

In another release, the SPC issued a list of 10 typical technology IP cases 技术类知识产权典型案例, which may also qualify as “similar cases” as set forth in the Opinion.  The first case listed is also Huawei v. Conversant . The reasons for listing these 10 cases included their effective protection of  national interests, judicial sovereignty, and the legal interests of enterprises. The Conversant decision is praised  not only for its role in setting the factors for issuing an ASI and fine calculations, but also for its role in establishing a complete ASI system using the experience of that case. 

In discussing the Conversant case, the SPC noted that after the initial decision to grant an ASI was made within 48 hours on Huawei’s ex parte request, Conversant’s arguments for reconsideration were rejected and a settlement was reached, with a “very good legal result and multiple wins for society.” To further underscore the point made in the introduction to all of the 10 cases and the consistency with Xi Jinping’s speech, the SPC repeated that the court “effectively protected national interests, judicial sovereignty and enterprises’ legal interests.”  

I suspect that the “very good legal result” of this “typical case” may be in the eyes of the beholder.  All judicial decisions should result in “very good legal results”, regardless of whether a foreigner or domestic party wins.  Judicial commentary on the value of cases like these is potentially concerning and could be seen as encouraging litigation against foreigners.  In another well-known prior incident, a Chinese judge similarly encouraged Chinese enterprises to use the Chinese domestic legal system as a leverage to “break through technical barriers” presented by SEP litigation overseas.  Overall, these efforts are not unlike prior efforts by the IP judiciary  to identify typical cases to demonstrate China’s “judicial sovereignty” in its dealing with US “extra-territorial” Sec. 337 disputes back in 2014.

I believe that these policy changes in ASI’s are not the only outcomes of Xi Jinping’s speech, and others may yet be implemented.  Among the other changes to date, the call for improved quality of IP rights has already had a demonstrable impact on efforts of China’s patent office to improve patent quality.  A recent judicial interpretation on punitive damages similarly has a long policy history, but is likely inspired by the requests of Xi Jinping to improve judicial deterrence.   

This is not the first effort by the courts to create consistency in judicial decision making in SEP disputes. The Guangdong Trial Adjudication Guidance for Standard Essential Patent Dispute Cases (Experimental Implementation) was one such notable provincial-level effort, which were discussed here (the “Guangdong Guidance”).   It appears that at a national level, there may remain other uncertainties in how to best adjudicate SEP disputes in a range of substantive and procedural areas. According to the database of the Stanford Guiding Cases Project, there is still no Guiding Case on FRAND-related issues. Only Guiding Cases that are formally designated should be cited by the courts. Even then, Guiding Cases are still inferior to the Law, Regulations and Judicial Interpretations, where guidance is even more limited. The Guangdong Guidance also remains both local and “experimental”.  Considering the rapidly evolving political and legal  dynamics in this area, it is not surprising that the courts remain cautious.  They may be waiting until they obtain more experience in various aspects of these disputes.

Essentially Derived Varieties and The Role of Leading Cases in Chinese Plant Variety Protection

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Editor’s Note: Plant Variety Protection (PVP) is a little-discussed topic in China’s IP regime. Indeed, this blog has only reported on PVP-specific issues
once before, and once in the context of the China-Swiss Free Trade Agreement (FTA). This guest blog post explores the relationship among plant variety protection, China’s treaty obligations, and determination of the scope of infringement based on essentially derived varieties (EDVs).   The author, Liz Freeman Rosenzweig, is a J.D. candidate at Berkeley Law. She obtained her Ph.D. in plant biology from Stanford University.

As with other intellectual property (IP) rights, China receives more applications for intellectual property protection of new plant varieties (PVP) than any other country. China grants these rights pursuant to its “Regulations on the Protection of New Varieties of Plants” (“Regulations”) (2014) (中华人民共和国植物新品种保护条例). However, China’s PVP legislative regime lags behind many other countries, largely because of China’s failure to date to accede to the most recent international treaty for protection of plant varieties, the 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV ’91). Conversely, Chinese jurisprudence on the topic is significantly more developed than that in, for example, the United States. 

China is now considering amending its Regulations to include the concept of essentially derived varieties (EDVs) (实质性派生品种) and molecular markers (分子检测). Broadly speaking, these proposed amendments are also examples of two broader aspects of Chinese IP legal development: (1) China enacting legislation in anticipation or in excess of current international demands, and (2) Chinese legislation riding momentum generated in advance by judicial decision making. If China adopts the proposed amendments to its Regulations, the level of plant IP protection available in China could become among the strongest in the world. Moreover, the legislative changes would be based on the concrete experience and guidance afforded by previous guiding cases from the Chinese Supreme People’s Court (SPC), which suggest how the new provisions might concretely be applied.

 Plant Variety Protection and UPOV

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires WTO member economies, such as China, to provide IP protection for new plant varieties. Members may do so through a patent system, a sui generis system, or both. The United States takes the combined approach, offering plant IP via utility patents and plant patents under U.S. Code Title 35, and also via Plant Variety Protection (PVP) certificates under the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA). China does not provide patents for plants. Instead, plant protection in China is under an entirely sui generis approach.

Internationally, the most commonly adopted sui generis mechanism is the system of plant breeders’ rights (PBRs) promulgated by the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). The UPOV Convention was first finalized in 1961 and was revised in 1972, 1978, and 1991. As of February, 2020, 76 countries are UPOV members, 59 of which are members of the ’91 Act.

One key change between the ’78 and ’91 Acts is the extension of the scope of the breeder’s right to include EDVs. Per UPOV ’91, a new variety is considered “essentially derived” from an initial variety when it is both “clearly distinguishable from” and “predominantly derived from the initial variety, . . . while retaining the expression of the essential characteristics . . . of the initial variety.” A breeder may obtain a PBR for an EDV “in the same way as for any variety,” but if they wish to commercialize the EDV, they must obtain authorization from the initial variety’s titleholder. This is similar to the manner in which practicing a patent that improves upon a previously valid patent may require permission from the dominant patent’s owner. In contrast, under the ’78 scheme, rights to the initial variety are more limited, and no authorization from the initial variety’s titleholder is required to commercialize a variety that the ’91 Act would consider an EDV.

But defining precisely what constitutes an EDV is notoriously difficult. The ’91 Act provides examples of how an EDV may be created, such as by finding or creating a mutation in an initial variety. However, the list is not exhaustive. Furthermore, the text of the Act seems to contradict itself, leaving significant ambiguity as to the required level of physical resemblance between an EDV and its initial variety. That is, Art. 14(5)(b)(i) of the ’91 Act states that EDVs must “retain[] the expression of the essential characteristics that result from the genotype or combination of genotypes of the initial variety.” But then subsection (b)(iii) excepts “differences which result from the act of derivation” from the required level of conformity. It is not clear precisely how those two instructions are meant to be integrated. For example, a slide deck from UPOV itself presents a hypothetical derived variety that is closely genetically related to its initial variety, but in which “more than one or a few characteristics were affected,” and labels it, ambiguously, “EDV yes/no??” Thus, the ’91 Act does not provide a clear boundary line for when a variety is or is not essentially derived.

Many UPOV member countries prefer the definition of EDV to be broad in order to leave the determination of whether a variety is an EDV up to the rights holders. Conversely, UPOV’s guidance, though nonbinding, is narrower. UPOV is, however, currently revising its guidance on the topic to address these current ambiguities.

One method for defining an EDV is through genetic and biochemical techniques such as molecular markers (“markers”). UPOV does not require the use of markers, but it does provide guidance on their use. That guidance cautions against overreliance on molecular techniques, noting that their usefulness is subject to significant variability, and expressing concern that markers could be abused to make closely-related varieties seem more different than they actually are.

The US ratified UPOV ’91 in 1999. But China has only acceded to ’78. According to Dan Prud’homme and Taolue Zhang, one reason that China has not acceded to the ’91 Act is UPOV’s “lack of clarity in the definition of [EDVs] . . . , which makes it difficult to institutionalize in China.” However, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MoARA) and State Administration of Forestry and Grasslands (SAFG), which govern the granting of plant variety rights in China, recently “expressed an intention to formulate a long-term plan to gradually satisfy key requirements of UPOV ’91,” including “adopting UPOV ’78 plus-style provisions/piloting important aspects of UPOV ’91 (e.g., instituting EDV for certain types of plant varieties) in order to see how the system works in practice.” China’s recently-released draft amendments to its Regulations do just that. Moreover, China’s Supreme People’s Court has also announced on March 19, 2020, its own plans to draft a new Judicial Interpretation regarding plant variety infringement determinations which will likely implement China’s emerging practices in this area.

Comparing Plant Variety Protection Definitions in China and the U.S.

China’s Regulations were promulgated and implemented by the State Council in 1997, two years before China acceded to UPOV ’78. China then revised its Regulations in 2013 and 2014. PBRs under the Regulations are issued in parallel by SAFG (for vines, forest trees, fruit trees, and ornamentals, with rights lasting 20 years) and MoARA (for all other plants, with rights lasting 15 years). China has faced both internal and external pressure to update the Regulations: National entities have pushed for a clearer and more streamlined application process, and many countries—members of the European Union in particular—have been pressuring China to adopt UPOV ’91-style provisions such as by providing for EDVs.

To that end, China began the process of revising its Regulations in 2016—a year before ChemChina, a state-owned entity, purchased Syngenta, a major beneficiary and user of the UPOV system, with hundreds of plant registrations internationally. The proposed draft amendments to the Regulations were released for comment in February 2019. These proposed amendments would essentially move China towards UPOV ’91. This is not an unusual move for China; the country has often enacted legislation in anticipation of meeting—or even in excess of—international requirements. For example, China provided copyright protection for the “right of making available” (right of communication to the public) in the 2002 amendments to China’s Copyright Law, well in advance of China acceding to the WIPO Internet Treaties in 2007. As another example, China also recently amended its Anti-Unfair Competition Law to be the most progressive trade secret law (at least on paper) by reversing the burden of proof, which is in excess of international requirements.

These draft amendments to the plant IP Regulations make several important changes. Crucially among those, the proposed amendments introduce the concepts of EDVs and molecular markers into the Regulations for the first time.

The proposed amendments define EDV as “a variety that is distinct from the original variety, but retains the basic characteristics or characteristics of the original variety, except for the differences caused by the derivation.” This proposed definition of EDV appears to be broader than the UPOV definition. Significantly, it also lacks contradictory language, discussed above, embedded in the UPOV definition and copied nearly verbatim into the U.S. definition.

The US recently also overhauled its PVP system, extending PVP eligibility to asexually propagated plants for the first time. The PVPA has included EDVs since 1994, the definition of which was taken almost verbatim from UPOV ’91—meaning it includes the apparently contradictory language that China’s draft avoids. Also unlike China’s draft amendments, the PVPA makes no mention of molecular markers or other genetic techniques. But the Plant Variety Protection Office, which oversees the PVPA, is moving towards incorporating such methods in the future.

China Leads the World in PBRs by Volume

One reason that China may wish to have an advanced PBR regime could be the growth of its own domestic research capacity in this important area. In 2018, China was “the top destination for plant variety applications,” receiving over a quarter of filings worldwide. Not only did China receive the most applications, but Chinese nationals also filed the most applications worldwide. A record high of >20,000 plant variety applications were filed worldwide that year, driven primarily by China. Applications in China grew by an astounding 29% in 2018, driven almost exclusively by domestic filings (this mirrors the Chinese patent system, which is also primarily used by domestic applicants). In contrast, applications in the US and EU grew by only ~3-4% in 2018, and the worldwide growth rate was ~9%. That being said, this surge is fairly recent, and the US and EU still outrank China in terms of number of active titles. But note that this source includes both PVPs and plant patents in the U.S. tallies. It is unclear why the US numbers do not include utility patents on plants (though it may be due to difficulty in data collection; unlike PVPs and plant patents, not all utility patents are directed to plants), but the US total would be even higher if it did. Considering just PVP rights, in 2018 there were 7,521 active titles in the US.

If China adopts its proposed amendments, then filings in China may also increase due to increased foreign applications, as well as stimulating foreign investment in China in this sector. Thus, activity in the Chinese plant variety protection offices will likely continue to dwarf that in the US. 

More Thorough Plant Variety Protection Guidance from Chinese Litigation than U.S. Litigation

There is significantly more PBR litigation in China than in the US. As of November, 2019, there have been at least 338 Chinese cases referencing the Regulations (华人民共和国植物新品种保护条例). At least 18 of these cases discuss molecular markers (分子检测). Although China is a civil law system where cases do not create binding precedent, for the past decade the Chinese Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has issued “guiding cases” that are “intended to be de facto binding decisions” to guide lower courts’ decisions in similar cases. The SPC has issued several guiding cases on PBRs. Stanford University Law School has also initiated a “China Guiding Cases Project” which provides a platform for research on these judicial developments.

Two guiding cases have discussed molecular markers specifically. These cases, discussed below, reveal that the SPC embraces the use of molecular markers—but is wary of overreliance thereon, and is careful to balance genetic results with observations from field trials.

In Guiding Case No. 2633, the SPC denied retrial after a lower court found non-infringement when there were no genetic differences between the varieties at issue, but there were phenotypic differences during field trials. In reaching this decision, the SPC noted that the genetic testing only assessed 40 locations in the genome, which does “not necessarily correspond to the traits” observed in phenotypic field tests.

Guiding Case No. 92 was essentially the reverse situation: the SPC found infringement when markers revealed a single genetic difference but field tests showed no phenotypic differences. In doing so, the SPC formulated a technical balancing test for reconciling field and genetic tests that tempers over-reliance on molecular markers.

By late 2019 there were no reported Chinese cases that specifically referenced EDVs. But the molecular marker cases likely hint at how courts will address them. Intriguingly, the facts of Guiding Case No. 92 seem remarkably similar to an EDV situation, in that the accused variety retained the characteristics of the first variety while displaying minor genetic differences. If Chinese PBR agencies or the Courts formally adopt EDVs, they may determine essential derivation with a test much like the one set out in Guiding Case No. 92, as the Chinese concept of EDV would likely cover most types of genetic changes.

Neither of those two guiding cases have been cited by name, however, in published subsequent cases according to a March 23, 2020 search on Caipanwenshu 裁判文书 (the official SPC database). This is not unusual, as most guiding cases are not widely cited by lower courts, who, along with practicing lawyers, still remain unfamiliar with citing and distinguishing cases in rendering decisions. Rather than being “precedential,” guiding cases such as these may also be issued primarily to illustrate examples of good reasoning for judges, or to provide political coverage for consistent decision making.

Ironically, although China is a civil law country, its case law fills the statutory gaps for plant variety protection far more comprehensively that in the U.S. In contrast to the robust Chinese case law, there have been only 19 reported (and 28 unreported) U.S. cases referencing 7 USCS § 2541 (PVP infringement) as of March, 2020. These include 4 Supreme Court cases and 5 at the Federal Circuit. The Supreme Court cases either reference the PVPA only in passing or are outdated.

A handful of U.S. cases reference genetic testing, but do not address the concept in much detail (See Ark. Seed Co., Inc. v. Williams, No. 10-1231, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100224, at *3 (C.D. Ill. Sep. 6, 2011)). Despite the presence of EDVs in the PVPA, there has not been reported EDV litigation in the U.S. as of March, 2020. The closest case was the denial of a motion to stay litigation pending the PVPO’s assessment of an application for an allegedly infringing variety of lettuce, but the court did not decide whether the variety was an EDV, and the case has no subsequent appellate history. (See Genecorp, Inc. v. Progeny Advanced Genetics, Inc., No. C 97-20706 RMW, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21910, at *7 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 9, 1998)).

Conclusion

If China adopts its current proposed amendments, it would offer protection to plant breeders in line with “or even above” UPOV ’91. Given that Chinese PBRs represent the lion’s share of all such rights worldwide, this would be a significant change. It seems likely that legislators will approve a version of these Regulations in the next few years, though it is unclear when. Notably, the “Opinions on Strengthening the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights” recently released by the Chinese Communist Party and State Council (November 27, 2019), also explicitly calls for encouraging Chinese innovation by improving the protection, examination, and international sharing of examination results for new plant varieties. If China does adopt the proposed amendments, China would likely become a de facto member of at least part of UPOV ’91, as Chinese officials reportedly “want legislation in line with the 1991 UPOV convention but do not want to actually accede to the 1991 UPOV convention.” This pattern of gradual and partial adherence to international treaties has also manifested itself elsewhere in China’s legal regime, including in the gradual piloting of civil or economic legal reforms before wider introduction into the Chinese legal system or economy.

The nuanced treatment of molecular markers in the proposed amendments and in Chinese guiding cases is ahead of that in the US, and the US may very well follow China’s lead in adopting a more systematic use of molecular markers in the application process. The proposed amendments’ concept of EDV strengthens the incentive for innovation by expanding the scope of the breeder’s right.

Moreover, the definition of EDV put forth in the proposed amendments is arguably broader and clearer than that under UPOV ‘91 and in the US, which may give holders of Chinese rights a competitive advantage and increase the incentive to protect new plant varieties in China. But the extent of foreign investment these amendments would engender is unclear, given that China requires that Chinese parties be controlling shareholders for “selection and cultivation of new varieties of crops.” 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Many thanks to Mark Cohen, Elaine Wu, David Kappos, Edgar Krieger, Cynthia Mathiesen, Alanna Rennie, Xiaofan Xu, and Alexandra Draggeim for valuable discussion, comments, feedback, editorial help, and research and translation assistance.  Photos (c) by Mark Cohen of Huntington Gardens and US Plant Patent.

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Spring Time for IPR Case Law in China?

Guidingcase.jpgRecently, there have been two important developments involving IP-related guiding cases and precedent that shed light on these different approaches of the Supreme People’s Court, which is in charge of guiding cases, and the Beijing IP Court, which is looking at the role of precedent in China’s court system.  But first some background:

One of the most important continuing efforts on guiding cases is the Stanford Guiding Cases Project (SGCP), which is under the able, enthusiastic and collaborative leadership of Dr. Mei Gechlik.  The SGCP recently hosted a lively seminar at American University to discuss the latest developments, with a keynote by Judge Sidney Stein of the Southern District of New York (picture above).  In addition to the Stanford project, Susan Finder has written about guiding cases in her excellent blog and other postings, Jeremy Daum wrote an excellent recent article on the actual use of guiding cases, and of course there is this blog and others, in addition to  academic articles and recent  SGCP research.

Another significant development in exploring a system of case precedent is the research base established with the approval of the Supreme People’s Court at the Beijing IP Court.  The ecosystem evolving around that research base appears to me to be more practice oriented than theoretical.  As an example of this practice-oriented approach, the IP court is looking at the role of amicus briefs to ensure the interests of non-parties are heard, or en banc rehearings to reverse prior precedent.  A small, but important step in soliciting third party opinions has already been undertaken by the Beijing IP Court in a case involving trademark agents.

Among the two contrasting recent developments  Regarding the guiding cases project, on March 9, the Supreme People’s Court released 10 IP-specific guiding cases; nine of these are civil and one is criminal. The cases span all relevant IP laws, including copyright, trademarks,patents, plant varieties and antitrust.  Here is a link to a Chinese summary of the cases, and a  machine translation of these summaries (source: IPRdaily.cn, google translate).  I assume that the SGCP will do a professional translation of these in due course.  According to the SPC press conference, IPR-related guiding cases now constitute 23% of the total number of guiding cases.

Nonetheless, recent citation data  suggest that there has been little uptake of guiding cases in actual case decisions, as Jeremy Daum’s article points out in his posting:

“Guiding Cases are almost never referenced: Over a five-year period, Stanford found a total of 181 subsequent cases, and PKU found 241. To provide a frame of reference, Chinese courts complete trial of well upwards of 10,000,000 cases per year…

50% of the guiding cases were never referred to at all

Almost half of the references found were to a single case; GC #24. …That case concerns traffic  accidents,…”

If one compared the nationwide references to guiding cases using, as an example, the 561 opinions referencing a guiding case out of 8,723,182 cases on the China Judgments Online website for 2016 (using a simple keyword search to “guiding case”), the citation rate would be about  0.0006%.

These developments on IP related case law at the SPC might be compared to the data in the January 10, 2017 report of Beijing IP Court.  The Beijing IP court cited 279 case precedents in 168 cases since the time the precedent base was established in 2016 until October 2016.  Cases were cited 121 times by parties, and judges undertook their own effort to cite cases in 47 instances.  In total, 117 cases relied on precedent in their decisions.  Of the 168 cases, there were 51 instances where cases were not relied upon due to a difference in facts.  There was no instance where a reversal was obtained of an earlier precedent.  Of the cases cited, 31 were from the SPC, 132 from High Courts (including 117 from Beijing), and others were from local courts.  If this data was further compared to the 8,111 cases concluded by the Beijing IP Court in calendar year 2016, the citation rate was a minimum of 2.1% based on the data provided through October, which is considerably higher than the guiding cases effort.

My impressions: the data from the Beijing IP Court suggests that the bar is using cases in its briefs, and the court is looking at these cases and exploring how to handle them as part of an overall system including amicus briefs, en banc review and other mechanisms.  The SPC’s guiding cases project is a more intensely curated project that also addresses a much larger national challenge in introducing a new way of developing law to civil law educated judges and the bar.  The comparisons between the two experiments are inexact as the Beijing IP court sits in one of China’s wealthiest cities, with a well-educated bench and bar, a sophisticated IP environment and considerable foreign (including American) interaction.  It is not surprising that nationwide uptake of a precedent system using a limited number of  guiding cases for a vast judicial system is more theoretical and slower than the one taking place at the Beijing IP Court using the 100,000 plus IPR cases that are adjudicated nationwide each year.

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