UK firm wins damages in Beijing copyright case
One of the world's largest producers of controls for electric kettles has successfully sued two Chinese manufacturers over patent infringements, a landmark case that could have wide-ranging implications for mainland intellectual property rights.
After a year of legal wrangling at the Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court, Zhejiang Jiatai Electrical Appliance Manufacture and Leqing FaDa Electrical Appliance were ordered to pay a total of 9.1 million yuan (HK$10.3 million) in damages. The two were found to have sold electric kettle controls based on the technology of British firm Strix.
Strix chief executive Paul Hussey said the hearing was a landmark case that showed the rule of law was being upheld in China and would encourage investment in new technologies.
The amount of the fines was unprecedented at the court in a case involving this type of intellectual property infringement, he said. 'The case is only one piece of a very large jigsaw. It does good for everyone - our company, Chinese inventors, consumers and even the global community.'
China, the largest exporter of manufactured merchandise, is also one of the world's largest counterfeit and piracy markets. Fake goods are widely available in stores on the mainland, as well as on the internet and in overseas markets, at a fraction of the cost of genuine articles.
'Copies have lower prices, which are achieved by cutting corners on safety,' Hussey said. 'It is unfair to a company like us, which spends millions of pounds a year developing new technologies.'
Founded in 1951 on the Isle of Man and operating a production base in Guangzhou with about 700 workers, Strix had been fighting against intellectual property rights infringement in China for more than 10 years, he said.
Hussey and his sales and marketing teams patrol the country's department stores, trade shows and shops in search of fakes and take legal action against any suspected copycats. Strix had failed in several previous legal suits and regarded the outcome of the latest case as encouraging.
When Strix filed the court case in Beijing in December in 2008, judges froze the liquid assets of the two respondent firms at the plaintiff's request. The judges also froze the bank accounts of the respondents.
Zhejiang Jiatai, based in Yuqing, Zhejiang, was fined 7.1 million yuan, and Leqing FaDa, based in Wenzhou, two million yuan.
Despite an anti-piracy campaign by Beijing, counterfeits of media, audio and visual products and software are rampant, lawyers said.
The central government has defended its record of clamping down on piracy and copyright infringement, saying it has investigated about 500 internet cases, shutting down hundreds of websites and fining those involved in online piracy a total of 1.28 million yuan in the past five months, the China Daily reported last month.
However, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in his annual report to Congress at Christmas that counterfeiting and piracy remained at 'unacceptably high levels' and continued to harm US businesses across many sectors even though there had been a larger number of civil cases heard in Chinese courts.
Caught in the Web
In the past five months, Beijing has fined firms involved in online piracy a total of, in yuan: 1.28m yuan