Hong Kong is to hire intellectual property judges as it seeks to manage a growing caseload of IP disputes, taking the lead from jurisdictions that already have specialist courts – including mainland China and the UK.

The special administrative region's judiciary is in the process of taking steps to appoint specialist judges. Cases involving IP disputes would then be listed and directed to those judges.

Charmaine Koo, partner at Deacons in Hong Kong and co-head of the firm’s IP department, said a specialist court was ’very much needed’ to cope with an increasing amount of IP litigation in Hong Kong. Having specialist judges will help ’streamline cases and minimize time and costs for both the parties and the courts’, she said. 

It is not known yet if the recruitment exercise will be open to foreign judges. The proportion of foreign judges in Hong Kong’s courts has declined since China took back sovereignty in 1997. However its highest court – the Court of Final Appeal - has 12 non-permanent justices from common law jurisdictions  including the UK and Australia. Former Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger is among those to have sat in the court. 

The Gazette understands that practitioners are being consulted about the plans with a further announcement expected early next year.

The move comes as China’s government seeks to champion its ‘Greater Bay Area’ project, an ambitious ‘technology hub’ linking the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao with cities on the Chinese mainland.

Earlier this year, Hong Kong’s justice secretary Teresa Cheng visited London where she said the development of the area - will ‘naturally result in a lot of IP rights that will be generated and disputed.’ She added that despite China’s history of ‘not dealing with IP in the most mature way’, protection is becoming essential.

A similar system has also been implemented in China. In 2014, IP courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou were opened and this month, the National People’s Congress was reported to be considering legislation that would create an IP tribunal within the Supreme People’s Court that would act as a national IP appeal court.

Xun Yang, partner at LlinksLaw in Shanghai, said: ‘IP laws continue to be an emerging legal regime given the fast-developing technologies. The establishment of the specialised IP courts facilitate the gathering of IP experts, jointly improving IP judicial practice.’

In the England and Wales, what was the Patents County Court was reformulated as a specialist list of the High Court as the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court in 2013.

Earlier this month it was also revealed that UK judges are being recruited to help establish an IP court in Ukraine.

At a launch event in London Lord Neuberger – one of the judges who will be advising on the implementation of the Ukraine  court - said he hoped to help establish an ‘independent and reliable’ justice system in the country. The pilot scheme for the new IP court – which is being funded with £850,000 of UK overseas aid - will discuss the legislative framework, advice on best practice and help launch a training programme for newly appointed judges.