In a document on intellectual property rights (IPR) cases the Supreme People's Court (SPC) said violators should be more heavily punished.
"The document, the first of its kind issued by the country's highest court, will serve as a guideline for IPR cases," said Chief Justice of SPC's IPR Tribunal Jiang Zhipei. "It reflects the country's determination to crack down on IPR offences and its encouragement to innovation," he said.
Serious IPR violators could be sentenced from three to seven years in prison along with severe financial penalties.
A judicial interpretation issued by the SPC about two years ago detailed how to deal with "serious cases" but failed to say under which circumstances heavy sentences of more than five years should be handed down. Nor did the interpretation clarify how much someone should be fined for particular violations.
This legal hole left room for different verdicts in very similar cases. But with the new document coming into force judges will be in a position to hand down heavier sentences. For instance a violator could be jailed for six or seven years if the law says the nature of the crime demands a three to seven years' sentence.
"We shouldn't only sentence such offenders in a determined manner but also make it economically impossible for them to commit the crime again," SPC Vice-President Cao Jianming said at a news conference.
Foreign officials and businesses have been complaining that it's difficult to prosecute IPR violators in China and cases that have been heard nearly always resulted in modest fines which don't actually act as a deterrent.
A Beijing couple found guilty of selling 210,000 yuan ($27,000) worth of fake ‘branded' clothes were sentenced to four years in jail and fined 70,000 yuan ($9,000) last September. Another couple in Qingdao in east China's Shandong Province were fined 20,000 yuan ($2,600) for selling 2,900 pirated DVDs and possessing 19,000 more.
IPR protection in China is covered by civil, administrative and criminal regulations with civil judicial protection being the basis of the entire system.
SPC figures show in 2005 that People's Courts across the country handled 16,583 civil and 3,567 criminal IPR cases, up 21 percent and 28 percent respectively, over the previous year.
On Monday Beijing also announced its IPR protection plan for the next four years. It says the city will train more managerial-level professionals for the work, inject more funds into IPR protection and strongly encourage innovation.
(China Daily January 17, 2007)