China patents: Will China welcome amicus briefs in patent cases?
The Beijing IP Court published a notice on its website in October 2015 entitled Collection and Publication of Opinions Regarding Law Application on Issues Related to Article 19.4 of the Trademark Law. This notice looks like irrelevant to the patent world, but actually the implication goes well beyond trade marks. Arguably, this court notice started something similar to the amicus brief system for Chinese IP cases. The issue in this case is related to whether or not Chinese trade mark agent firms are entitled to register trade marks under their own names except for their own trade names.
What is significant is that the panel adjudicating this case went out to associations and IP law centres in several law schools for opinions. The notice cited above published five law professors' opinions in full text. We do not know how the Beijing IP Court informed the law professors about the background of the case. But it is very interesting that the Court conducted such an experiment. Imagine what becomes possible if the same court issues a similar request in an injunction case involving standard essential patents?
The notice itself includes several interesting details:
First, it is the court panel that was assigned to this particular case that sought the opinion from the universities, associations and research centers. The court said it sent out "survey forms" to such entities. The notice was signed by the three judges' names. Second, the reason the panel sought the opinion is that the relevant legal provision is new and the very issue is of importance to the trade mark filing practice and growth of the trade mark agency sector. Third, the notice states that the panel published five opinions it received, for the purpose of "impartiality" and "transparency". The panel did not say how many opinions it received in total.
The implications of this notice could be far-reaching in terms of improvement of the judiciary transparency and quality of adjudication. A system similar to amicus briefs will allow the courts to hear from those interested parties on some very complex legal issues that may have significant social impact. The involvement of key stakeholders and thought leaders, including those from the international legal community, will assist the courts to increase the depth of thinking. China now uses "guiding cases" or leading cases to improve the consistency of judgments and to guide local courts to deal with controversial issues. Amicus brief will certainly benefit the courts to decide what should be those "guiding cases".
The court notice issued on October 13 is clearly another sign of commitment to a better IP system in China. The Beijing IP Court is the first IP court to be established in China. The judges appointed to this court have been considered among the best in China. Hopefully, the first experiment in trade mark cases will soon expand over to the patent world.
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