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Patenting to Protect More New Techniques

China has begun to study and research the possibility of patenting technological innovations on gene sequencing, gene technology and computer development.

The burgeoning growth of bio-technology and Internet know-how has led to a worldwide debate and opinions are mixed on whether such new technology should be patented.

The protection of bio-tech and Internet-related innovations remains a grey area in China.

But Wen Xikai, a senior research fellow with the State Intellectual Property Office, told China Daily yesterday that there is more and more research underway on the issues and challenges relating to the advancement of gene and computer technology.

"We will continue to keep a close eye on the evolvement of these technologies and look at the possibility of bringing them under the protection of the law," said Wen, also vice-director of the Law and Treaty Department of the office.

Wen said she has received patent applications from companies and institutions at home and abroad asking about patenting their discoveries in the fields of DNA sequencing, gene-modified crops and information technology.

"But we still have to examine whether their achievements can be patented. Right now China still has no standards and particular requirements for applying for and certificating such innovations," said Wen, "The issue needs a thorough review and takes time."

Zhang Hanlin, executive director of the World Trade Organization Research Center under the University of International Business and Economics, said China should expand patent protection into these new technologies, which are the backbone of the new economy.

"Bringing DNA and gene modification technologies under the umbrella of intellectual property is of the utmost importance to China as they will become the major force behind China's agricultural modernization," said Zhang.

He was speaking at an international seminar in Beijing yesterday about intellectual property.

China has stepped up its efforts to protect intellectual property rights since it debuted its first patent law in 1985.

It has revised the law twice, the last time last year, to strengthen the protection of not just the innovations but the innovators themselves. The revisions have got China's legal system for intellectual property protection up to international standards.

This legal muscle will be even further strengthened as laws on trademarks and copyrights have just been updated.

And new regulations on protecting intellectual property rights for semiconductor products, integrated circuits and chips will go into effect on October 1.

"Without a sound legal environment and incentives for the protection of intellectual property rights, China's dream of becoming a knowledge-based economy will not be realized," said Wen.

China has witnessed a steady growth in patent applications in the last decade. Wen's office received more than 170,000 applications last year, up 27.2 percent on 1999.

However, Zhang said China's laws about intellectual property rights have been diluted by weak enforcement.

"Although China has established a legal network on a par with developed countries and in line with the requirements of the WTO, reinforcement of the law still lags behind global standards," said Zhang.

China is moving closer to membership of the WTO, anticipated to happen later this year.

Guo Shoukang, an eminent professor on intellectual property rights protection at the Law Institute of the Renmin University of China, said companies and individuals in China still have a lax attitude about the issue.

"Many people do not realize that they have broken the law when infringing on intellectual property rights," said Guo, "and some patent owners have no idea of how to protect their patents."

Of the total patent applications last year, Wen said that about 60 percent were from foreign companies.

"More training and public campaigns should take place in order to spread the concept of intellectual property rights protection so that China will be ready for WTO entry," said Wen.

(China Daily 04/11/2001)

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