Wed, Oct 08, 2003 - Page 10 News List

More special IPR courts needed to clear backlog

CASE LOAD Both judges and foreign businessmen say there is a need for people with technical backgrounds to help the judiciary with IPR cases

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government needs to create specialized intellectual property rights (IPR) courts with expert judges to clear a backlog of cases, experts said yesterday.

Many IPR cases in this country arise in the computer industry and often hinge on complex technical distinctions, they said.

"We don't have judges with a technical background," said Hsiung Sung-mei (熊誦梅), a judge who works for the Judicial Yuan's Department of Administrative Litigation and Discipline.

"We plan to recruit some from the Intellectual Property Office or from professional bodies," Hsiung said.

Hsiung was addressing an audience of 400 IPR experts at a Taiwan-Europe government-level joint seminar on IPR protection and enforcement that was held in Taipei yesterday.

The average length of time an IPR case takes to move through the courts is between 69 and 90 days, according to statistics from the Taipei High Administrative Court, but "due to the heavy caseload" it can take up to one year before a case is assigned to a judge, Hsiung said.

The situation is becoming more critical as the government cracks down harder on IPR infringers.

The number of civil IPR suits has jumped dramatically from 21 in the whole of last year to 65 in the first nine months of this year.

Meanwhile, in the criminal courts, the number of cases brought against optical disk -- compact disk, DVD and video-compact disk (VCD) -- counterfeiters has shot up from 297 last year to 807 as of the end of last month, according to Chiu Yi-cheh (邱一徹), head of the government's disk anti-piracy task force.

The total number of IPR cases in the 21 district courts so far this year was 2,791, up from 2,011 in the full 12 months of last year.

To address the lack of IPR experts, the Judicial Yuan designated 11 judges to concentrate on IPR cases in January last year.

As early as May 2000, courts were allowed to call on IPR experts in difficult cases.

"There have been 10 to 12 cases within the last year where we have used experts," Intellectual Property Office Deputy Director-General Jack Lu (盧文祥) said.

The Judicial Yuan is drafting a proposal to allow experts who are not judges to join judges on the bench in IPR trials.

Foreign business representatives would like to see more dedicated IPR courts soon.

"There's a bit of contradiction here where there are only 65 [civil] cases in the district courts, but on the other hand there's a six to 12-month backlog," said Guy Wittich, chief executive officer of the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei.

"Obviously that's due to the fact that there's no specialized IPR court, otherwise these cases would be handled one after the other," Wittich said.

"We can only encourage the government to do more, to assign more judges and help them gain more practice," he said.

Under its WTO accession agreements, Taiwan is not obliged to set up specialized IPR courts, but the government is willing to show "best practice" to counter frequent criticism of its IPR enforcement record.

Last year 63 percent of IPR violation sentences were under six months in prison, with the remaining 37 percent of sentences over seven months in length. Over 40 percent of the infringers got probationary sentences, figures from the Judicial Yuan show.

In comparison, the EU already has IPR courts in some countries.

"At a national level in the UK, Germany and Spain, there are specialized patent courts," said Manuel Campolini, a spokesman for the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and

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