What the great learning teaches is to illustrate illustrious virtue Interview with Professor Li Mingde a famous IP law expert

By Tommy Zhang, China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]

Professor Li Mingde is currently a researcher and chief IP law expert at the Institute of Law of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), a doctoral tutor of CASS Graduate School, Director of IP Research Center in CASS, an expert with the Academic Review Panel of the National Social Science Fund of China, an executive vice-president of China Intellectual Property Law Association, a member of the National Intellectual Property Rights Expert Advisory Committee, an arbitrator with China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, as well as a globally recognized IP law expert.

“My academic focus on American IP law.”

In 1997, Prof. Li joined the CASS IP Research Center led by Professor Zheng Chengsi and afterwards his academic career strode forward smoothly and made fruitful achievements, winning high degree of recognition in the IP field. His academic shift has been hailed by many scholars as a very successful, somewhat incredible, story. “I was faced with the alternatives of specific research areas when I came to the research center. At that time, Li Shunde, Zhou Lin, Zhang Yurui and other teachers all had their own specific research areas. The choice was of great importance as I had just changed my profession and returned home from abroad. After a careful consideration particularly of my learning experience, I chose the American IP law as my research area. Once the dust settled, I soon completed Design Protection in the U.S. and other writings which were shortly published and well recognized in the academic circle. At that time, I just wanted to touch upon one issue at a time, but later on I gradually came up with the idea of completing a book with a comprehensive introduction of American IP law.”

“It took me 12 years to complete drafting and revision of American Intellectual Property Law.”

The two editions of American Intellectual Property Law are an achievement of Prof. Li’s 12-year relentless efforts. The newly revised edition has up to 1.2 million words citing more than 600 cases, furnishing a comprehensive, profound and concise introduction to the American IP legal system, and serving as important references and guidance for China’s legislative and judicial practice and related academic researches. The book hit the market in April 2014, definitely an enormous boon for the field. In a review of the creation of the book, Prof. Li was seen smiling and radiating with satisfaction, but when it came to the painstaking process, Li was also forthright. “In a sense,” said Prof. Li, “the 2003 edition of American Intellectual Property Law is an unfinished work, which only has 14 chapters covering patents, trade secrets, trademarks, copyright and unfair competition. Since then, I went on to explore other issues and completed additional 5 chapters covering idea submission law, semiconductor chips and computer software protection. Starting with the chapter on design and related rights in 1997 till the completion of the chapter on computer software protection, the whole research and drafting process in respect of the American IP law has lasted for 8 years.”

The first edition of American Intellectual Property Law had a tremendous impact on the academic research and judicial practice across China. Some university teachers used cases of the book in their teaching and recommended it to students as a mustread reference book; some researchers at research institutions and staff of the legislative departments also got inspired from the book; some lawyers and judges extracted approaches for use in handling cases. The book was quickly sold out, many people had to read duplicates and many in the field prided themselves on having kept such a book. Prof. Li said, “as time went by, a lot of IP issues in the U.S. have undergone some big changes. Then I was quietly determined to start with the revision as soon as possible.” The revision formally started in 2010 and was originally scheduled to be completed in two years, but it went far beyond the expected time and lasted for 4 years. However, the achievement of the revision has greatly pleased Prof. Li. The revised edition expanded to 20 chapters from the original 14 and the number of Chinese characters jumped from 520,000 to nearly 1.2 million. “The latest edition mainly adds a great number of legislative documents and data of cases, because the U.S. Congress has over the years enhanced IP protection with frequent amendments to patent law, copyright law, trademark law and unfair competition law. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, district courts, and supreme courts and courts of appeals of each state also rendered a series of far-reaching and significant decisions in the IP protection. All of these changes have found their way in the book. On the other hand, the revision has been expanded on the basis of further streamlining and has made adjustments to the corresponding structures in chapters and paragraphs. In the meanwhile, many paragraphs and parts have been revised in their entirety and such revisions, in many cases, have led to a re-creation,” said Prof. Li of the revision of the book.

“I am learning, researching and writing at once if I plan to write a book.”

“There is no doubt that researching and writing are hard work. It took me 8 years to finish American Intellectual Property Law. I understand there would not be another 8 years in my life writing Intellectual Property in European Union. After all, I have to perform many other social functions. In this regard, I asked Associate Professor Yan wenjun, also a student in the center, Huang Hui, a partner with Wan Hui Da Law Firm, and He Zhonglin, Deputy Director of the Policy Research Office of the Supreme People’s Court, to join as co-authors. And it took us two and a half years to finish this book, completing my second writing goal,” said Prof. Li. “My third writing goal is to write Japanese Intellectual Property Law. From October 2006 to March 2007, I stayed as a visiting researcher with the Institute of Intellectual Property of Japan for five months. During that time, I red a lot of literature on Japanese IP and preliminarily sketched an outline for the writing, including names of the team. Now relevant preparations have been completed, and the writing will soon kick off. The book is expected to be completed next year or the year after. After that, as a Chinese IP law researcher, I am determined to write Chinese Intellectual Property Law to provide a comprehensive introduction to China’s IP system. Sure, this book differs greatly in writing methods from existing books on the Chinese legal system, and mainly illustrates and interprets the legal system on the basis of cases.”

“We need to know whereabouts and heights of the shoulders of giants.”

In Prof. Li’s opinion, the aim of his own learning, research and introduction of so many advanced foreign legal systems is to enable the majority of Chinese IP practitioners to have more opportunities to fully and accurately understand the mature systems in place over years of IP practice in developed areas, then they probably can settle down to find solutions to the current and future IP issues in China. “As far as China’s IP research and systemizing is concerned, it is highly necessary to have an understanding of IP matters of the U.S., EU and Japan. In academic research, we always talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, but how? First of all, we should know where and how high the shoulders of giants are. Only when we get a full understanding can we make academic and institutional innovations on this basis in combination with Chinese practice. For example, when I was writing American Intellectual Property Law, I always felt that the judicial decisions in developed countries are emanating wisdom of generations. Building of each system and rise of each typical case reflect the intellectual wisdom of many people. If I understand this wisdom, it is equivalent to have armed myself with the wisdom. It is certain that not only American IP law and EU IP law, but also Japanese IP law and relevant international conventions are collective wisdom of generations, summed up by many explorers. If we don’t understand the shoulders of giants and act like a frog in a well, complacent and self-righteous, we will go astray or take up hand-medown ideas, and do some repetitive work. Therefore, I wish to manage to introduce IP-related theories, systems and typical cases in the U.S., EU and Japan to lay a certain foundation for future researchers and system planners. In so doing, they may have the chance to stand at a level as high as that of the U.S., EU and Japan to realize the academic and institutional structuring of China’s IP law in the future,” said Prof. Li.

“Law terms appear gray; only cases can give them a life.”

Throughout the interview, Prof. Li repeatedly mentioned and emphasized that “the legal provisions are gray, but cases will bring them to life,” either in his talk about daily teaching and research, or his writings, or his analysis of and seeking for solutions to specific legal problems. “From the perspective of the common law system, the legal provisions, including many terms thereof, only make sense and come to life in a specific verdict. Obviously, the importance of such a verdict is far greater than that of one or several new laws or regulations. In my opinion, the verdict itself is an excellent piece of paper. If you go over the paper, you seem to have a dialogue with the judges. You will be able to feel their understanding of the relevant legal issues, their argumentation and reasoning, and their thoughts and wisdom. A great number of verdicts have clear ideas, rigorous logic and full reasoning, taking the past, present and future into account, and you can’t help but feel they are a perfect combination of law, reality and art,” said Prof. Li.

The two-hour interview soon came to an end and I would like to conclude here by mimicking Prof. Li, “This article is gray and sketchy, and only Prof. Li’s books can fully demonstrate his talent, achievements and academic career.” If you want to get a more comprehensive understanding of Prof. Li, his theories and viewpoints, it is recommended you start with the second edition of his masterpiece American Intellectual Property Law.


Major works of Professor Li Mingde

1. Special Section 301 and Sino-U.S. IP Disputes, Social Sciences Academic Press (China), September 2000, 336,000 words

2. Copyright Law, Law Press China, August 2003, co-author, 400,000 words

3. American Intellectual Property Law, Law Press China, October 2003, 528,000 words

4. Overview of Copyright Law, Liaoshen Publishing House, September 2005, 320,000 words

5. Intellectual Property Law, Social Sciences Academic Press (China), April 2007, 645,000 words

6. Intellectual Property Law (Legal Education for the 21st Century), Law Press China, July 2008, 400,000 words

7. Reform of China’s Intellectual Property Protection System, Intellectual Property Publishing House, August 2008, 300,000 words

8. Copyright Law (2nd Edition), Law Press China, July 2009, co-author, 350,000 words

9. Intellectual Property in European Union, Law Press China, May 2010, coauthor, 700,000 words

10. Proposals for the Amendments of the Copyright Law of China, Law Press China, October 2012, co-author, 500,000 words

11. American Intellectual Property Law (2nd Edition), Law Press China, April 2014, 1,190,000 words

12. Intellectual Property Law (2nd Edition) (Legal Education for the 21st Century), Law Press China, July 2014, 400,000 words

(Translated by Wang Hongjun)

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