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New efforts for IPR protection in Shanghai
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Although the government has strengthened its efforts on intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, experts say innovators need to be further educated before they really take action to protect their own and others' rights.

As a sign of further efforts in IPR protection, the Shanghai government plans to open an assistance center to provide consulting services and legal help for IPR owners to safeguard their interests, according to Gao Xiaomei, deputy director of Shanghai Intellectual Property Administration (SIPA).

Located in Yangpu district, the park is an important technology transfer and invention site in Shanghai, also the first of its kind in China.

The date when it can be officially put into operation has not yet been decided.

The administration started researching the plan and preparing for the assistance center this April under the purview of the State Intellectual Property Bureau.

Statistics show that in 2006 the Shanghai industrial and commercial bureau dealt with 2,217 trademark infringement cases, a record high, which had an aggregate value of 160 million yuan. Over 75 percent of cases involved the interests of foreign enterprises, according to the 2006 IPR Development and Protection White Paper issued by SIPA.

A total of 2,232 copyright infringement cases were heard in 2006, of which three were transferred to courts for further investigation, the White Paper notes.

The number of patent applications reached a record high of 36,042 in 2006, a 10 percent increase on the previous year. Some 747 were submitted by hi-tech enterprises or companies in so-called "pillar industries".

Applications for trademark registration also increased dramatically in 2006, totaling 32,681. By the end of the year, the city had given approval to more than 110,000 trademark applications, according to the White Paper.

"IPR is still a new concept to the majority of Chinese people," says Shan Xiaoguang, head of Intellectual Property Rights School at Tongji University. "It is a welcome sign that more Chinese people and enterprises have started thinking about it."

"The center is going to play a helpful role in educating individuals and enterprises and help them gradually foster awareness on IPR protection," Shan adds.

"But we cannot expect the change to happen overnight. There is still a long way to go before we Chinese catch up with our foreign peers in the field."

According to People's Daily, a top official from the State Intellectual Property Office said at a forum in April last year that about 99 percent of domestic enterprises had never applied for patents and 60 percent did not have their own trademarks. Only three in 10,000 enterprises acquire independent IPRs, the official told the newspaper at the forum.

Lin Hua, a senior lawyer at Co-effort Law Office, which mainly handles IPR lawsuits and has branches in many cities of the country, says the situation in Shanghai is not that bad.

"Many of my clients work in high technology industries. The majority of them have overseas educations and clear vision about protecting their inventions," Lin says.

But he is concerned about some private enterprises. A friend of his, who runs a privately owned company for industrial product design in Shanghai, frequently complains that some of his company's design work and product logos have been illegally copied by rivals.

As a friend, Lin gave him some professional advice about how to legally protect his interests and how to avoid disputes in the future.

However, after several months Lin was disappointed to find that his friend had taken no action at all.

"He didn't stand up to fight for his rights, but just chose to forget about it," Lin says. "That is the solution often taken by private entrepreneurs when they encounter an IPR dispute."

"Maybe one day when they are summoned to court as defendants they will realize the wolf really bites."

(China Daily December 17, 2007)

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