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IPR Strategy to Define Government's Role

The State Intellectual Property Office is brewing a national intellectual property rights (IPRs) strategy, aiming to further upgrade China's knowledge creation and utilization.


A group of established IPR researchers and specialists, as well as industry representatives, were invited to a brainstorming session in Beijing last week to give their opinions and suggestions on how the strategy should take shape.


Hu Angang, director of the Research Center for National Situations, said the national IPR strategy must be tailored in line with the national middle and long-term economic growth targets.


Hu said over the past 20 years, capital had contributed 50 per cent to China's rapid economic development, but knowledge resources had contributed less than 20 per cent.


In the next five years or even longer, the country's economic growth cannot rely on the injection of capital alone. It should also be based on knowledge and technology, he said.


Hu attributed the relatively faster growth in better-developed coastal regions to the utilization of the rich knowledge resources there.


"The national IPR strategy should be focused on the principle of boosting the economy through technology, creating wealth and increasing people's welfare such as improving health and sanitation facilities," Hu said. "It should also reflect the concept of building a knowledge-based nation."


Under the strategy, government departments should, instead of intervening too much, encourage fair competition between domestic and foreign companies, and private and government-funded firms, he added.


Yang Lincun, an official at the Ministry of Science and Technology's Intellectual Property Affairs Centre, confirmed that domestic companies' IPR awareness has increased in recent years - but there is still much room to improve.


The center’s latest survey showed that nearly 70 per cent of the domestic companies interviewed had participated in IPR training courses, 50 per cent had set up their own IPR systems and 40 per cent had registered patents for new technologies over the past two years.


"Companies, colleges and research institutes are the mainstays of technology innovation. Therefore, the national IPR strategy should stipulate that government departments are not allowed to meddle too much in technology development and the IPR affairs of companies," Yang said.


Too much intervention may yield a relatively lower efficiency. The country's Committee of Arbitration for Technological Contracts, for example, has too many officials while it lacks enough specialists.


The IPR strategy should concentrate more on creating a favorable environment for enterprises in view of different phases of social and economic development, Yang said.


On the other hand, the State should encourage research institutes to design their research plans in accordance with the needs of enterprises and communicate with the enterprises at an early stage, according to Zheng Chengsi, director of the Intellectual Property Centre of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


Communication beforehand between the two sides is key to the successful application of IPRs.


Zheng said some domestic companies have failed in cases involving patent infringements, yet they hesitate to appeal to the courts.


Thus, the government should provide more legal access to help domestic enterprises safeguard their legitimate rights.


Though IPR enforcement has been implemented in China, it is still very urgent, said Zheng, "to popularize the basic knowledge of IPRs as well as the international rules among the public so that they can recognize and identify intellectual property assets."


Zheng also called for fair rewards for inventors, saying the country should encourage innovation.


Xue Lan, vice-dean of the Public Administration School at Tsinghua University, urged the government to take more active steps in negotiating with other countries to draft international intellectual property treaties.


"Those international rules should be more beneficial for developing countries," he said.


Since the protection of intellectual property requires an investment of time, money and knowledge, Xue suggested that the State Intellectual Property Office should offer favorable policies and legal assistance to small and medium-sized companies.


For big enterprises, Xue said, the office should enhance the establishment of its patent and information database to help them analyze their IPR strategies, which would reduce intellectual property risks.


The sooner the IPR strategy is worked out, the better it will be for domestic companies, said Jiang Zhipei, chief justice of the China Supreme People's Court's Intellectual Property Rights Tribunal.


"The national IPR strategy must be substantial so as to help nurture a group of famous trademarks and companies with self-developed IPR technologies," said Jiang.


The strategy should also guarantee an effective combination of administrative, civil and criminal enforcement, he said.


Niu Wenyuan, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said intellectual property should be listed as the top strategy for China in the new century.


He said IPRs are the engine that propels a knowledge-based society and they reflect the most advanced productivity.


He suggested that the country encourage patented inventions and hold nationwide intellectual property trade fairs regularly.


The national strategy should not overly emphasize independent development, said Hu Angang.


It should effectively combine efficient technology imports, technology popularization and technology innovation among enterprises.


Yang Ruilong, dean of the Renmin University of China's Economics School, says the IPR strategy will benefit the country's long-term economic and social development.


He said the national strategy could not rely on the innovation of domestic enterprises alone. It will be necessary to import advanced technology as well.


"The optimal results are achieved by using a combination of these two means," he said.


Meanwhile, Yang said enterprises should be the main innovators. Now, as never before, every company needs an intellectual property strategy for self-innovation and to build its own intellectual property assets.


North China Pharmaceutical Group Corp, with a history of 53 years, is in urgent need of restructuring. But it lacks funds for research and development (R&D), said Duan Baoling, deputy-director of the corporation's technology center.


In many foreign pharmaceutical companies, R&D funds can reach upward of US$1 billion - but the largest amount spent on R&D domestically is only 100 million yuan (US$12 million).


The strategy should better serve local companies, help safeguard their interests and mobilize industrial associations to speak on behalf of companies, said Duan.


"How to direct companies to respond to actions, how to help companies search for new and timely patent information... should all be considered when stipulating the IPR strategy," said Duan.


Ma Yan, a representative from China Petroleum and Chemistry Co Ltd, said government departments should undertake a survey among enterprises before the strategy is fully worked out.


The strategy must clearly define the ownership of property rights to stimulate staff innovation enthusiasm through rewards.


Fang Xin, a researcher with the Education, Science, Culture and Health Committee of the National People's Congress, said the strategy has to define what should be done by government departments and enterprises, so as to clarify the administrative responsibility and property rights of companies.


The strategy should sort out significant regions and industries instead of giving equal status to all regions or industries, said Fang.


Moreover, it should also teach domestic companies how to bring themselves closer to international IPR standards, because the local companies will push into the outside world sooner or later, she said.


Lu Wei, an official with the Development Research Centre of the State Council's technical economics department, said the drafting of the strategy should be in accordance with the country's current development situation.


It should not aim too high, but set the standards required by the World Trade Organization, and enhance anti-monopoly legislation.


In addition, the protection of business secrets is very weak in China and the strategy should help guide domestic companies to improve the situation, Lu said.


Although it is always a good idea to seek legal or professional help on IPR issues, some enterprises cannot afford the costs associated with legal procedures.


Thus, the strategy should be flexible for those enterprises to enhance IPR protection and make sure they themselves do not infringe upon the rights of others.


(China Daily June 14, 2004)


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