U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke hosted a roundtable discussion on intellectual property rights yesterday in Beijing. The event, which brought together business and government officials from China and the U.S., highlighted some of the progress that is being made in IP protection in China.
According to this Wall Street Journal story, though, discussions weren’t all that warm and fuzzy. Participantstrotted outshopworn arguments, with the U.S. complaining that China isn’t doing enough to enforce its laws while copycatting and counterfeiting remains rampant—a criticism that Chinese officials routinelyswatted awaywith the chestnut that the mainland is different and ought to be cut some slack. “China and the U.S. have different cultural and historical traditions,” said assistant China Commerce minister Chong Quan, according to the WSJ. “We are in different stages of economic development.”
The roundtablewas yet another reminder that SMEs concerned about protecting their ideas and brand from copycats need to do what they can to protect themselves, instead of hoping they’ll get some cover from the authorities as China develops.Alizila observed a few weeks back that Western companies with patents in their home countries are not automatically protected all over the world. Nor are they helpless against theft—they can register their IP in China as a first line of defense. An April 8 post in the China Law Blog makes this point far better than we did:
“Back in 2006 and 2007, the media was constantly writing about U.S. companies with IP problems in China. The amazing thing about virtually all of those articles, however (especially the ones in the local press) was that they never mentioned one way or the other whether the complaining American company actually had any legal basis for its complaints. In other words, they were completely silent as to whether the American company had actually registered its IP in China. I must have called at least a half a dozen reporters behind stories like those and in every single instance, they admitted it had simply never occurred to them to ask whether the subject of their stories had actually registered its IP in China or not. It had never occurred to them because, without even thinking about it, they had just assumed that what is good in the United States is good for the world; if you have a trade name in Peoria, that alone ought to be enough to prevent anyone in Timbuktu or Tianjin from using it. WRONG.”
Bottom line here seems to be that a good way to avoid becoming a victim is to not act like one. Oh, and if you think U.S.businesses aretoo evolved to appropriate the IP of other countries, check out this Forbes story onthe widespreadfakery surrounding Kobe beef being sold in American restaurants.