Specialized courts improve efficiency amid development
As China undergoes robust development, courts specializing in such areas as intellectual property rights and cyberspace governance have become more common. There are four IP courts at the intermediate-court level and three internet courts at district level.
The courts have not only improved the efficiency and quality of dispute settlement, but also contributed to unifying judicial standards and regulating and promoting the growth of industries, legal experts said.
Peng Xinlin, a law professor at Beijing Normal University, said the establishment of the new courts is in line with the central leadership's requirements on the economy and advancing the rule of law outlined at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012.
"Problem-solving courts are an irresistible trend around the globe," he said, adding that specialized courts to resolve financial, labor and patent disputes are common in Western countries.
Kang Lixia, a lawyer at Beijing Conzen Law Firm, recalled that handling a trademark case in a general court six years ago was too time-consuming, as "some judges weren't familiar with the latest trademark-related regulations".
This lack of knowledge resulted in the slowing down of cases and inefficient handling of the rapidly growing number of intellectual property rights disputes.
In 2014, there were 2.29 million trademark registration applications－more than anywhere else in the world and up 21.47 percent year-on-year, according to the Trademark Office of the China National Intellectual Property Administration.
Courts nationwide heard 9,190 trademark administrative cases that year, the fastest growth area of IPR-related disputes, said a report by the Supreme People's Court, the country's top court.
"At that time I expected our country would set up a court that could concentrate on solving IPR-related disputes," Kang said.
In late 2014, IP courts were opened in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Guangdong province, in a key step toward implementation of the central leadership's requirement to intensify IPR protection and encourage innovation.
"Now, I can receive text messages about what materials I should provide and what stage my case is at from the Beijing IP Court in a very timely and clear manner," Kang said.
"I can even pay the lawsuit fees online instead of going to the court. The highly efficient work flow of the court deserves a thumbs-up," she added.
Liu Bin, an IPR lawyer from Beijing Zhongwen Law Firm, also recalls difficulties in handling patent disputes before the court opened.
He said he was often troubled about discussing technology patents with judges, since some technical aspects were too complicated to explain. Since then, technical investigators have been invited to assist the judges.
"The investigators' job is interpreting scientific knowledge and complicated technologies in simple terms, which makes trials much easier and saves time handling the case," Liu said.
With 59 judges, the Beijing IP Court now has 57 investigators with years of technical studies behind them in such areas as chemicals, electronics and machinery, or with work experience in administrations dealing with patent authorization.
Wang Dong, a judge from the Beijing IP Court, lauded the role technical investigators played in handling patent cases, but said it should not exempt judges from learning about new technologies.
"If I don't care and have no idea about the newest technologies, I won't know what to ask during trials, let alone make a fair ruling," he said, adding that the specialized court has also raised the job requirements for judges.
"Working here pushes me to update my knowledge as quickly as I can because the IPR industry develops so fast," he said.
"I have to improve my professionalism in both the technical and legal sectors, because I have to deliberate on new issues very often."
Chen Lianggang, a judge in the newly established Beijing Financial Court, said that presiding over specialized disputes demands that judges conduct "in-depth research in a field to ensure the quality and professionalism of verdicts".
Before moving to the new court, he heard administrative disputes, especially those related to house demolitions and land expropriation, for over six years. To settle into his new role, he has studied recent rulings of finance-related administrative cases heard by Beijing courts.
District-level internet courts have also been established to deal with the rapidly growing number of such cases. The courts help improve the governance of cyberspace and regulate online behavior, judges said.
Last year, the Beijing Internet Court ruled that a leading Chinese video-service platform had acted unlawfully when it demanded extra money from some of its premium members for advance screening of an on-demand TV drama.
The ruling clarified that online platforms, such as the video service provider, could not harm users' interests when developing a new business, said Jiang Ying, vice-president of the court. "What we want is to reduce unnecessary disputes and keep digital development in order."
In the face of new problems in the digital era, the public should be told "what rights can be protected and what we must say 'no' to in cyberspace", she said.
In one ruling, Jiang clarified that face emojis can be identified as creative works that need to be safeguarded. "I hope the verdict encourages more people to design more internet products or services to enrich our lives and diversify cyberspace," she said.
After witnessing the achievements of the specialist courts, some legislators and political advisers have called for more to be set up to cover areas such as ecological conservation and bankruptcy.