There have also been notable improvements in the arena of commercial law. Last year Chinese courts began hearings in 152,000 intellectual-property disputes, up nearly tenfold over the past decade. The explosive growth in IP cases has been fuelled by the growing litigiousness of domestic companies, which have more to protect as they become more innovative. But foreign companies are also benefiting. In August a court ordered three Chinese firms to pay 10m yuan ($1.5m) in damages to New Balance, an American footwear company. It was one of the largest trademark-related awards ever made by a Chinese court.
Luke Minford, chief executive of Rouse, a consultancy, has calculated that foreign companies win 74% of their IP cases against Chinese firms, well above the 55% success rate for plaintiffs in cases that only involve Chinese entities. There are, to be sure, still unwritten limits. Dan Harris of Harris Sliwoski, a law firm, says it is a “very different calculation” if the company being sued is a big state-owned enterprise.