Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in PRC -Enforcement of a Singapore International Arbitration Centre Award at the Dalian Intermediate Court

Apr 2021

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There has been an increasing number of cases in which PRC courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards in accordance with the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention”). We share our experience and reflections through an actual case where an award rendered by the Singapore International Arbitration Centre was recognized and enforced by the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court (the “Dalian Intermediate Court”).

(I) Case Introduction

In 2002, a Singapore company entered into a Cooperation Agreement with a Dalian company and its legal representative Gao, in which Singapore company granted Dalian company a non-exclusive license to use the trademark in question. It is stipulated that Dalian company could only use the trademark within the scope and period set forth in the Cooperation Agreement. Dalian company had no right to or interest in the trademark other than the rights as licensee.

After the execution of the Cooperation Agreement, Dalian company registered the trademark in its name in 2003 without the consent of Singapore company. Upon discovery, Singapore company commenced arbitration by submitting a Notice of Arbitration to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre in 2015, requesting Dalian company and its legal representative Gao to immediately stop using and to return the trademark in question.

In January 2016, the arbitral tribunal rendered a final award after hearing (the “Award”). In February 2016, Singapore company applied for recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards to the Dalian Intermediate Court, in accordance with the Civil Procedure Law of the PRC (the “Civil Procedure Law”), the New York Convention, the Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Acceding to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “Decision on Acceding to the New York Convention” ), the Notice of the Supreme People’s Court on Implementing the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards Acceded to by PRC (the “Notice on Acceding to the New York Convention”) and other relevant provisions.

(II) Issues

During the hearing of the application for recognition and enforcement of the foreign arbitral award, Dalian company and Gao (the “Respondents”) put forward that whether there are circumstances specified in Paragraph 1 and 2 of Article V of the New York Convention that would allow the court to refuse recognition and enforcement of the Award.

Whether there are circumstances specified in Paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article V of the New York Convention that would allow the court to refuse recognition and enforcement of the Award

Under Article 4 of the Notice on Acceding to the New York Convention, the recognition and enforcement of a foreign arbitral award may be refused only if circumstances specified in Paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article V of the New York Convention[1] arise.

The respondent argues that the case falls into the following circumstances where enforcement shall not be recognized:

The Award is in conflict with the Trademark Law of the PRC (the “Trademark Law”) and the administrative ruling rendered by the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (the “TRAB”) in respect of the trademark in question, and therefore shall not be recognized and enforced.

In this case, the TRAB rendered a ruling in 2015, rejecting the application for declaration of the invalidity of the trademark in question on the ground that the time for Singapore company to file the application for declaration of invalidity had exceeded the statutory five-year time limit as prescribed in the Trademark Law.

As for the Award, Singapore company requests the Respondents to bear the liabilities for breach of contract under the Cooperation Agreement in accordance with the Cooperation Agreement among the parties. In the hearing, the arbitral tribunal also heard the issue and determined that the relief sought by Singapore company was remedy under the Cooperation Agreement, and the ruling made by the TRAB would not affect the relief sought by Singapore company in the arbitration case. Accordingly, the Trademark Law is not applicable to this case and does not conflict with the Award.

At the same time, the Award and the ruling are based on different laws and facts. The arbitration requests raised by Singapore company and the contents of the Award do not require the TRAB to take any action and do not infringe upon the administrative sovereignty of our country.

  • The content of the Award is, or the cancellation of the trademark, or the assignment to the Claimant, which is uncertain, shall not be enforceable.
  • In this respect, we replied to the Dalian Intermediate Court on behalf of the Claimant that: the enforceability issue of the Award shall not be considered by the court because it does not fall under the circumstances provided in Article V of the New York Convention. In addition, all the items of the Award are enforceable.

Under Article V of the New York Convention, a PRC court may refuse to recognize and enforce a foreign arbitral award only when circumstances specified in Article V arise. Enforceability of the Award does not fall within the circumstances listed therein, thus does not fall within the scope of review by a court and shall not be reviewed.

Moreover, the three specific items of the Award are enforceable. Item 1 specifies that the Respondents shall take necessary actions to complete the cancellation or transfer registration of the trademark. As for its enforceability against Gao, in the process of trademark cancellation or transfer, Gao, as the legal representative of Dalian company, shall perform the duties as the legal representative thereof and cooperate with Dalian company for “necessary actions” to complete the trademark cancellation or transfer. If the Respondents fail to cooperate, Singapore company may achieve the effect of trademark cancellation or transfer by applying for enforcement or sending an enforcement assistance notice to the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (currently the National Intellectual Property Administration) in the enforcement proceeding.

(IIII) The Ruling

The Dalian Intermediate Court ruled that none of the reasons raised by the Respondents constituted the circumstances in which recognition and enforcement may be refused as provided in Paragraph 1 of Article V of the New York Convention, and there is no basis for refusal of recognition and enforcement in the Award as specified in Paragraph 2 of Article V of the New York Convention. The court thus recognized the validity of the Award rendered by the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and rendered a ruling for enforcement.

The Dalian Intermediate Court analysed the issues as follows:

  • The Respondents claimed that the recognition and enforcement of the Award would violate the Trademark Law and the administrative ruling that has come into force.

The arbitral tribunal’s decision addresses the Respondents’ liability for breach of contract, and the scope of the Award is limited within the contractual parties. The Award did not hold that the trademark administrative authorities of PRC must do or not do certain acts, nor did the Award decide on the legitimacy and validity of the trademark registered by Dalian company in PRC. Accordingly, the recognition and enforcement of the Award will not conflict with the Trademark Law, or the administrative ruling that has come into force.

  • Issues raised by the Respondents concerning the unenforceability of the Award.

In this case although the trademark in question was registered in the name of Dalian company, Gao, as the legal representative of Dalian company, has the obligation to prepare, submit and sign the relevant documents when cancelling or transferring the trademark as required by Singapore company. Therefore, the subject of enforcement and the content of performance of the Award are specific. The Award is thus enforceable, and the defence by the Respondents does not stand.

Subsequent enforceability of the optional Item 1 of the Award

In this case, Item 1 of the Award is that the Respondents shall take necessary actions to cancel the trademark in question in PRC, or, take necessary actions to transfer the trademark in question to Singapore company at its request. This option was intended to provide more flexibility to Singapore company, but it may also lead to misunderstandings as to whether the content is specific and enforceable. After obtaining the ruling of recognition and enforcement from the Dalian Intermediate Court, we specifically chose to transfer, rather than to cancel, the trademark in question when applying for enforcement of the ruling according to the instructions of Singapore company. The Dalian Intermediate Court made an enforcement ruling that required the Respondents to transfer the trademark in question to Singapore company. Based on this, Singapore company applied to the Trademark Office for the transfer of the trademark and successfully obtained the approval, making it clear that a ruling with such an option is enforceable.

(IV) Other Procedural Issues

In addition to the issues summarized above, we also encountered the following issues worth noting in the course of the case:

  • Whether an objection to jurisdiction may be raised in the course of recognition and enforcement of a foreign arbitral award

The Respondents raised an objection to jurisdiction after Singapore company filed an application for recognition and enforcement of the foreign arbitration award. Although there were no express legal provisions allowing to raise an objection to jurisdiction in application for recognition and enforcement of a foreign arbitral award at that time, the Dalian Intermediate Court accepted the objection and ruled to dismiss it, which was upheld by the Liaoning High People’s Court.

Article 10 of the Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Issues concerning Hearing Cases of Arbitration-Related Judicial Review (No. 22 [2017] of the Supreme people’s court), effective since January 1, 2018, clarifies that where a respondent objects to the jurisdiction of a court which has accepted an arbitration-related judicial review case (including applications for recognizing and enforcing a foreign arbitral award), the respondent shall file the objection within 15 days after receiving the notice from the court. The court shall review the objection filed by the respondent and make a ruling. A party may appeal the ruling if unsatisfied.

  • Whether asset preservation may be conducted in the course of recognition and enforcement of a foreign arbitral award

After filing the application for recognition and enforcement of the foreign arbitral award, we immediately applied to the court for asset preservation on behalf of Singapore company, and liaised with the court multiple times expressing willingness to provide full guarantee. However, the Dalian Intermediate Court did not approve our application for asset preservation due to lack of express legal provisions allowing asset preservation in the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral award. This blank area of law and the cautious attitude of the court also lay a hidden danger for the parties’ later fight for the trademark in question.

Although the PRC has acceded to the New York Convention for more than 30 years, many details in the procedure for recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in practice remain to be clarified. In this case, on one hand, the Respondents managed to gain themselves more time by raising objections to jurisdiction and appealing to the decision; on the other hand, Singapore company was unable to obtain an asset preservation order in the lawsuit, providing the counterparty with the opportunity to create difficulties and hinder the enforcement. In particular, given that there have been clear stipulations of asset preservation in a series of arrangements regarding the recognition and enforcement of civil and commercial judgments and arbitral awards of Taiwan Region, Macao Special Administrative Region and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, there is still a lack of institutional support for asset preservation in the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards. There are still blank areas in the relevant laws that need to be improved.

[1] Article 5 of the New York Convention: 1. Recognition and enforcement of the award may be refused, at the request of the party against whom it is invoked, only if that party furnishes to the competent authority where the recognition and enforcement is sought, proof that: (a) The parties to the agreement referred to in article II were, under the law applicable to them, under some incapacity, or the said agreement is not valid under the law to which the parties have subjected it or, failing any indication thereon, under the law of the country where the award was made; or (b) The party against whom the award is invoked was not given proper notice of the appointment of the arbitrator or of the arbitration proceedings or was otherwise unable to present his case; or (c) The award deals with a difference not contemplated by or not falling within the terms of the submission to arbitration, or it contains decisions on matters beyond the scope of the submission to arbitration, provided that, if the decisions on matters submitted to arbitration can be separated from those not so submitted, that part of the award which contains decisions on matters submitted to arbitration may be recognized and enforced; or (d) The composition of the arbitral authority or the arbitral procedure was not in accordance with the agreement of the parties, or, failing such agreement, was not in accordance with the law of the country where the arbitration took place; or (e) The award has not yet become binding on the parties, or has been set aside or suspended by a competent authority of the country in which, or under the law of which, that award was made.  2. Recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award may also be refused if the competent authority in the country where recognition and enforcement is sought finds that: (a) The subject matter of the difference is not capable of settlement by arbitration under the law of that country; or (b) The recognition or enforcement of the award would be contrary to the public policy of that country.

 

外国仲裁裁决根据《承认及执行外国仲裁裁决公约》(“《纽约公约》”)在我国承认和执行案例越来越多,以下以在大连市中级人民法院(“大连中院”)成功承认和执行新加坡国际仲裁中心裁决的一则实操案例,分享我们的一些经验和思考。

(一) 案情简介

2002年,新加坡某公司与大连某公司及其法定代表人高某签订《合作协议》,约定新加坡某公司将涉案商标的非独占使用权授权给大连某公司,并且约定大连某公司仅能在《合作协议》规定的范围和期间内使用涉案商标,大连某公司仅享有被许可人的权利,除此以外对涉案商标没有任何权利或权益。

《合作协议》签署后,大连某公司在未经新加坡某公司同意的情况下,于2003年将涉案商标注册到自己名下。新加坡某公司发现后,于2015年向新加坡国际仲裁中心提交《仲裁申请》,提起仲裁,要求大连某公司及其法定代表人高某立即停止使用涉案商标并归还涉案商标。

2016年1月,仲裁庭经审理后作出最终裁决(“《仲裁裁决》”)。2016年2月,新加坡某公司根据《纽约公约》等有关规定[1],依法向大连中院提起承认和执行外国仲裁裁决一案。

(二) 争议焦点

在承认和执行外国仲裁裁决案件的审查中,大连某公司及高某(“两被申请人”)提出本案是否具有《纽约公约》第五条第一款及第二款所规定的人民法院得以拒绝承认与执行的情形。

本案是否具有《纽约公约》第五条第一款及第二款所规定的人民法院得以拒绝承认与执行的情形

根据《最高院关于加入纽约公约的通知》第四条的规定,申请承认与执行外国仲裁裁决时如具有《纽约公约》第五条第一款及第二款[2]所列的情形,才会被拒绝承认及执行。

被申请人提出本案具有不被认可执行的以下情形 :

《仲裁裁决》与《中华人民共和国商标法》(“《商标法》”)、国家工商行政管理总局商标评审委员会(“商评委”)作出的关于案涉商标的行政裁定书是冲突的,因此不应认可执行。

本案中,2015年商评委曾作出《裁定书》,以新加坡某公司提起无效宣告的时间已经超过《商标法》规定的五年法定时限为由,驳回宣告涉案商标无效的申请。

就《仲裁裁决》而言,新加坡某公司是基于本案当事人间的《合作协议》要求两被申请人承担《合作协议》项下的违约责任。在本案仲裁审理过程中,仲裁庭也就此问题进行审理,并认定新加坡某公司在仲裁案件中寻求的是《合作协议》项下的救济,商评委作出的《裁定书》并不会影响新加坡某公司在仲裁案件中所寻求的救济,《商标法》并不适用于本案,与《仲裁裁决》并不存在冲突。

同时,《仲裁裁决》与《裁定书》所依据的法律和事实均不同,新加坡某公司所提出的仲裁请求及《仲裁裁决》的内容,并未要求商评委采取任何行动,并不存在侵犯我国行政主权的情形。

  • 《仲裁裁决》裁决的内容是或者注销商标,或者转让给申请人,此等不确定的裁项,不具有可执行性。
  • 就此,我们代表申请人向大连中院回复,可执行性问题不属于《纽约公约》第五条所规定的情形,法院不应予以考虑,且《仲裁裁决》各裁项皆具有可执行性。

根据《纽约公约》第五条的规定,只有存在第五条列明的情形时,中国法院方可拒绝承认与执行外国仲裁裁决。《仲裁裁决》可执行性问题不属于其中列明的情形,不属于法院应审查的范围,应当不予考虑。

而且,本案《仲裁裁决》三个具体裁项均具有可执行性。裁项一明确要求两被申请人均应当采取必要行动实现商标注销或者过户登记,就其对于高某的可执行性来说,高某作为大连某公司的法定代表人,在商标注销或过户的过程中,应当履行其身为法定代表人的职责,配合大连某公司完成商标的注销或过户的“必要行动”。如果两被申请人对此不予配合,新加坡某公司可以通过申请强制执行,在执行程序中通过向国家工商行政管理总局商标局(现更名为国家知识产权局商标局)发送协助执行通知书的方式达到商标注销或商标过户的效果。

(三) 裁定结果

大连中院裁定,两被申请人提出的理由均不构成《纽约公约》第五条第一款所规定的拒绝承认及执行的情形,且涉案《仲裁裁决》也不存在《纽约公约》第五条第二款所规定的拒绝承认及执行的情形,故法院对新加坡国际仲裁中心作出的《仲裁裁决》承认其效力,并予以执行。

大连中院就以下争议焦点进行了逐一分析:

  • 两被申请人称《仲裁裁决》的承认和执行将与我国《商标法》相悖、与已经生效的行政裁决书相悖

仲裁庭的裁决结果是基于仲裁庭对两被申请人违约责任所做出的判断,裁决的对象限于合同主体之间。《仲裁裁决》没有裁定我国商标行政管理机关必须为或不为一定的行为,也没有就大连某公司在我国注册的商标的合法性、有效性作出裁判。故承认和执行《仲裁裁决》,并不会与我国《商标法》相悖,亦不会与已经生效的行政裁决书相悖。

  • 关于两被申请人提出的《仲裁裁决》不可执行性的问题

本案中,涉案商标虽然登记在大连某公司名下,但高某作为该公司的法定代表人,在注销或按照新加坡某公司的要求办理商标过户时,有准备、提交、签署相关文件的配合义务。故《仲裁裁决》被执行主体、给付内容明确,具有可执行性,两被申请人的辩解不能成立。

《仲裁裁决》第一项裁项选择性内容的后续执行

本案中,《仲裁裁决》第一项裁项为:两被申请人应采取必要行动,在中国注销涉案商标,或者按照新加坡某公司的要求,采取必要行动将涉案商标过户给新加坡某公司。这一选择性内容的设置本是为了给新加坡某公司提供更多灵活性,但也可能造成对执行内容是否明确、可执行的误解。在获得大连中院承认和执行裁定书后,我们根据新加坡某公司的指示,在向大连中院申请强制执行该裁定时,明确选择要求将涉案商标过户而非注销,最终大连中院作出执行裁定书要求两被申请人将涉案商标过户至新加坡某公司名下,新加坡某公司基于此向商标局提出涉案商标移转申请并最终成功获得核准,明确了此等选择性内容的裁项具有可执行性。

(四) 其他程序问题

除了以上审理过程中总结的争议焦点,我们在处理本案的过程中还遇到了以下几个值得关注的问题:

  • 承认和执行外国仲裁裁决程序中,能否提起管辖权异议

两被申请人在新加坡某公司提起承认和执行外国仲裁裁决后提出管辖权异议,在当时尚没有法律明文规定申请承认和执行外国仲裁裁决可以提起管辖权异议的情况下,大连中院受理了管辖权异议并作出裁定驳回管辖权异议,该裁定由辽宁省高级人民法院予以维持。

2018年1月1日起施行的《最高人民法院关于审理仲裁司法审查案件若干问题的规定》(法释〔2017〕22号)第十条对此问题予以了明确:人民法院受理仲裁司法审查案件(包括申请承认和执行外国仲裁裁决案件)后,被申请人对管辖权有异议的,应当自收到人民法院通知之日起十五日内提出。人民法院对被申请人提出的异议,应当审查并作出裁定。当事人对裁定不服的,可以提起上诉。

  • 承认和执行外国仲裁裁决程序中,能否进行财产保全

在提起承认和执行外国仲裁裁决后,我们立即代表新加坡某公司向法院申请财产保全,多次与法院进行沟通并愿意提供足额担保,然而大连中院因现行法律无明确规定承认和执行外国仲裁裁决程序可进行财产保全,最终并未同意我方的保全申请。这一法律漏洞和法院的谨慎态度也为日后双方就案涉商标的争夺埋下了隐患。

我国加入《纽约公约》虽已有三十余年,实践中承认和执行外国仲裁裁决程序的诸多细节却仍待明确。在本案中,一方面两被申请人通过提起管辖权异议及上诉拖延时间,另一方面,申请人新加坡某公司却无法申请诉中财产保全,给对方制造困难、阻碍执行提供了可乘之机。尤其是在内地认可与执行台湾地区、澳门特别行政区、香港特别行政区民商事判决、仲裁裁决的一系列安排基本均对财产保全作出了明确规定的情况下,承认和执行外国仲裁裁决中的财产保全至今依然没有明确的制度依托。相关法律的不完善之处亟待补足。

 

[1] 除了《纽约公约》以外的具体规定为:《中华人民共和国民事诉讼法》(“《民事诉讼法》”)、《全国人民代表大会常务委员会关于我国加入〈承认及执行外国仲裁裁决公约〉的决定》(“《全国人大关于加入纽约公约的决定》”)及《最高人民法院关于执行我国加入的〈承认及执行外国仲裁裁决公约〉的通知》(“《最高院关于加入纽约公约的通知》”)。

[2] 《纽约公约》)第五条:“一、裁决唯有于受裁决援用之一造向声请承认及执行地之主管机关提具证据证明有下列情形之一时,始得依该造之请求,除予承认及执行:(甲)第二条所称协定之当事人依对其适用之法律有某种无行为能力情形者,或该项协定依当事人作为协定准据之法律系属无效,或未指明以何法律为准时,依裁决地所在国法律系属无效者;(乙)受裁决援用之一造未接获关于指派仲裁员或仲裁程序之适当通知,或因他故,致未能申辩者;(丙)裁决所处理之争议非为交付仲裁之标的或不在其条款之列,或裁决载有关于交付仲裁范围以外事项之决定者,但交付仲裁事项之决定可与未交付仲裁之事项划分时,裁决中关于交付仲裁事项之决定部分得予承认及执行;(丁)仲裁机关之组成或仲裁程序与各造间之协议不符,或无协议而与仲裁地所在国法律不符者;(戊)裁决对各造尚无拘束力,或业经裁决地所在国或裁决所依据法律之国家之主管机关撤销或停止执行者。二、倘声请承认及执行地所在国之主管机关认定有下列情形之一,亦得拒不承认及执行仲裁裁决:(甲)依该国法律,争议事项系不能以仲裁解决者;(乙)承认或执行裁决有违该国公共政策者。”

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