This article was first published in the Financial Times, 14 June 2006.
The new blueprint aimed at protecting IP rights is a step in the right direction, but it needs to translate into concrete actions.
In March this year, China issued its Action Plan on intellectual property rights protection, designed as a blueprint for its continuing efforts in this field and as a signal to the world that the country is serious about its obligations to protect the IP rights of individuals and organisations.
The plan covers nearly every aspect of IP – trademark, copyright and patent, as well as specific areas such as pharmaceuticals, fairs and exhibitions and customs protection. It is divided into nine sub-plans dealing with legislation; law enforcement; establishment of a system and infrastructure; publicity; training and education; international co-operation; business self-discipline; streamlining and increasing efficiency of government services to IP right holders; and research projects related to IP law and areas of current interest.
In terms of legislation, China will revise its laws dealing with trademarks, copyrights and patents and design new regulations to resolve problems encountered in actual practice. Relevant judicial interpretations – which have the force of law – will be issued with respect to specific IP issues.
The law enforcement plan adopts a two-pronged approach – crackdown operations and day-to-day enforcement. The first would focus primarily on trademark protection, the audiovisual product market and fairs/exhibitions. The second clarifies and consolidates the scope of work of each of the nine government departments involved in IP enforcement.
In order to enhance the transparency of the judicial process, the Higher People’s Courts are urged to publish IPR-related court verdicts on the internet with landmark cases covered in various publications on a regular basis. The China Court website now has a special section on IPR-related court judgments and decisions. The Supreme People’s Court also launched a publication in March named "China Trials" to publish court verdicts and trial information related to IPR cases.
An encouraging trend resulting from the Action Plan is that government authorities are now beginning to assume the role of service provider rather than that of traditional administrator and rule-maker.
However, the plan is deficient in certain aspects. It overlooks the abuse of rights and its unfavourable consequences, especially with respect to foreign trade. In practice, private infringements are so deep-rooted that they are impossible to eradicate with piecemeal crackdown operations.
But the plan is a step in the right direction and there are signs that the situation is improving – a new notice was issued at the end of March 2006 requiring original software to be installed in computers before sale in a.
What remains to be seen is to the extent to which the plan will translate into concrete actions and results.
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