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Saturday, 1 December 2012

Building an innovative society

Bad intellectual property image clouds the country’s real progress in encouraging inventors and building an innovation-based society.

CHINA has been an easy prey worldwide as it is labelled as a country with one of the worst environments for intellectual property (IP) development.

But little has been known about the nation’s steady progress in raising a greater awareness of IP rights protection and significance to build a more innovation-based society.

Chinese State Intellectual Property Office commissioner Tian Lipu admitted that China is still full of pirated goods and copycats but he also pointed out that many more individuals and companies are turning innovators instead.

“I think the Western media has painted a wrong picture of China on its efforts to protect IP rights. China’s image has been quite bad in other countries,” he said in a recent interview in Beijing.

He acknowledged that one would be able to find pirated goods in places like Beijing’s Sanlitun and Luohu district in Shenzhen but many had overseen the fact that China had developed a comprehensive system and legal structure to protect local and foreign patents and trademarks.

“Last year, we received 526,000 applications for invention patents, accounting for 25% of the world’s total. About 110,000 local applicants were granted patents. While the number of applications reflects the level of awareness of IP protection among the public, the figures of patents granted indicate how good is the quality of the inventions.

“However, the intellectual property office is more concerned about the valid patents and to see whether these patented creations are well received by the market and how well the patent is maintained by its owner. To date, there are about 350,000 valid patents owned by locals,” he said.

In China, applicants can register patents for invention, patents for utility model and patents for design. The office processed 1.63 million applications for these three types of patents last year.

As for trademarks, China received a total of 9.71 million applications as of the end of last year, with 6.65 million of them successfully registered. Besides, some 110,000 software copyrights were registered last year.

“Not many people know that China is one the countries which pay the most royalties for patents, trademarks, copyrights and franchises and one of the world’s largest genuine software buyers.

“Government departments, banks, insurance firms and many companies are using original softwares. Many firms buy books, music, movies and TV shows through copyright trade,” Tian said.

He said foreign companies had gained huge profits in overseas markets after the production of their original equipment manufacturer (OEM) goods in China.

“I think because of the conducive environment for IP protection in China, foreign investors would have a peace of mind to entrust Chinese manufacturers to produce their OEM goods.”

Last week, the office’s patents administration department announ-ced that as of June, all the departments of the 31 provincial and municipal governments had installed genuine softwares.

By the end of next year, it said, all city and county-level governments would do the same. As of the end of October, all levels of government spent some 1.48 billion yuan (RM725mil) on 2.3 million licences for operating system, office and anti-virus softwares.

It is learnt that most of the state-owned enterprises have been equipped with proper softwares while 50% of smaller companies would be given until next year to follow suit.

Tian said China might not have a society priding itself on IP like in the United States but it would not take too long for the Chinese to catch up with the rest of the world.

“China used to be a country with the highest number of inventions during the Song dynasty – and 50% of the world’s total inventions came from China. China then laid dormant for centuries until we started educating our people on the value of IP 20 years ago. I think it may take one or two more generations for us to build a society that lives by the IP culture,” he said.

He revealed that his office, the Trademark Office under the State Administration of Industry and Commerce and the National Copy-right Administration were amending the Patent Law, Trademark Law and Copyright Law to give more tooth to enforcement and judiciary agencies to carry out their duty.

Under the amended patent law, damages will be calculated based on the illegal gains of the party which infringes the owner’s right rather than the owner’s actual loss. This is because the act of infringing one’s right is relatively easy compared to the act of protecting and maintaining it, he said.

He warned that as Chinese companies reinforce their IP development, they should be on guard to face the so-called “patent trolls” which tend to buy patents at low prices and go around taking action against those infringing their rights.

“These ‘patent trolls’ did not involve in any R&D and innovation. They are a byproduct of IP development sidetracking its real spirit.

“Piracy and IP infringement exist everywhere in the world and cannot be totally wiped out. But investors should be confident about doing business in China as its government is resolute in addressing the problem.”