New authority will hear local, int'l complaints.

The Chinese government is to establish a new special court which will deal with the country's piracy crimes.

The Judicial Court of Intellectual Property, set up under China's supreme court, will be dedicated to hearing complaints by both local and foreign firms.

At a press conference today (March 10) in Beijing, court officials said they will aim to reform the judicial process and train more local judges in an effort to improve handling of piracy issues.

Officials acknowledged that more than 16,000 civil cases and 3,500 criminal cases of intellectual property rights violations were handled by Chinese courts last year, a rise of more than 20% from the year before.

More than 2,900 people were jailed for IPR infringements last year, an increase of 24% from the year before, officials said.

Last year only 5% of cases were brought by foreign companies. Supreme Court judge Jiang Zhipei commented, "China is also anxious about this situation and we hope that foreign companies and personnel can send IPR violators to the courts in good time."

A physical piracy rate that is estimated at about 50% has long obstructed the development of the recording industry in China. In 1996, the United States was on the brink of imposing trade sanctions against China because of the rampant piracy. Subsequently, Beijing agreed to tougher enforcement, and the country was admitted to the World Trade Organization in December 2001.

As part of that commitment, China pledged to crack down on intellectual-property infringement and to open its market to foreign products.