In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan Central Epidemic Command Center has declared a Level 3 epidemic warning in mid-May of 2021, limiting any family or social gatherings to no more than 5 people when indoors or 10 people when outdoors. As the number of participants in a court hearing, including judges, clerks, parties and attorneys, is often greater than the regulated limit, the Judicial Yuan announced that courts of all levels would suspend hearings in principle, except for the cases that are timely, urgent or necessary. Accordingly, Taiwan IP Court decided to suspend all hearings, while court staffs would work in split operation to receive pleadings and to prepare written judgments.
At present, Taiwan's Level 3 Alert status will remain in effect (until June 28, 2021). In order to preserve the rights of people participating in litigations and trials, as well as the health and safety of participants, IP Court has begun using remote video equipment and online conference software to conduct remote court hearings. On June 3, 2021, IP Court summoned its first remote hearing, which was an oral-argument session of an administrative litigation regarding the invalidation action of the invention patent, and our firm, representing the intervener (namely the invalidation petitioner), attended said hearing. To ensure that the remote hearing would run smoothly, the clerk provided a video link and an ID to the plaintiff (namely patent owner), the defendant (namely the Intellectual Property Office), the intervener and their respective attorneys in advance so that the IP Court and all parties could conduct various tests on their equipments and connection quality. During the formal court hearing, the judges, clerk and technical examination officer conducted the remote hearing in the open courtroom, with the presiding judge acting as the host in the entire video session while the parties and their attorneys attended remotely in their respective premises. All judges and lawyers wore their robes to maintain the basic etiquette of the hearing. Using screen sharing function of the online conference software, the Court kept the parties informed through transcription and allow the parties to make their presentations. As for the court audience, the Judicial Yuan pointed out that the courtroom is still opened to the public, regardless of whether the court session is held by remote video. In order to avoid illegal online recording, which may damage the portrait rights and privacy of the parties involved or interested in the action, the Court did not use online live stream or remote video observation. Before said hearing, IP Court requested all parties and their attorneys to provide affidavits warranting that they would not make audio or video recordings of the court session.
With respect to the legal basis of remote hearing, in addition to Article 211-1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, Article 130-1 of the Administrative Litigation Act, Article 18 of Commercial Case Adjudication Act and Article 12 of Family Act, the Judicial Yuan had enacted the "Regulations on Remote Trial and Transmission of Documents in Civil Matters by Courts at All Levels", "Regulations on Remote Trial and Transmission of Documents in Administrative Matters by Administrative Courts" and "Regulations on Remote Operation in Criminal Proceedings", and other regulations on remote viewing. In response to the ongoing epidemic, the Judicial Yuan passed the draft regulation for "Special Regulations on Judicial Procedures during Serious Epidemics of Infectious Diseases" on June 1, 2021, which was approved by the Executive Yuan and sent to the Legislative Yuan for deliberation, and the Legislative Yuan soon passed said special regulations on June 18, 2021. Said Regulations provided that in times of severe epidemics periods and regions, the court can conduct remote hearings for civil litigation, criminal litigation, and administrative litigation by using video equipment in accordance with the court’s discretion or at the request of the parties and their lawyers, and that legal documents for civil litigation or criminal litigation can be transmitted by facsimile or email. According to the Judicial Yuan, the purpose of said Regulations is to provide an alternative to the traditional physical hearing procedure in times of severe epidemics, to avoid the risk of infection and to allow the litigation to proceed smoothly, but to return to the normal procedures when the epidemic slows down.
In line with this, the Judicial Yuan released the "Remote Video Hearings Operation Manual" and decided to use Taiwan CyberLink's "U Meeting" software to conduct remote court hearings, with Microsoft's "Teams" software as backup. Said Operation Manual reads that the judge should still hold video sessions in the courtroom, and that the court can choose to allow the parties to hold video session at their respective premises, or to allow the parties to go to other courtroom for video session, or to allow different parties to use the above two methods respectively. Said Manual further states that all participants of remote hearing should follow the judge's litigation instructions, and instructs the court and the parties on how to conduct a remote hearing, to log in their real names, to state opinions, and to submit documents or exhibits. The IP Court used “U Meeting” for its above-mentioned first remote hearing.
As for the outcome of the above-mentioned first IP Court case with a remote court hearing, on June 17, the IP Court ruled in favor of the defendant and the intervener. That is, the decision of the defendant on the invalidation action of said patent was upheld. After the successful completion of the first remote hearing, the clerk of the IP Court notified our firm that more civil litigations and administrative litigations will also use remote video sessions. Evidently, the IP Court would summon remote hearing for appropriate cases during the Level 3 Epidemic Alert. The Judicial Yuan is currently accelerating the installation of video equipments in all court levels. According to the news released by the Judicial Yuan, the New Taipei District Court, the Hualien District Court, the Hsinchu District Court and the Ciaotou District Court have already been holding remote hearings. It remains to to be seen whether other courts will follow suit during this special time.