Last week, SIPO announced that Shen Changyu, previously the
president of the Dalian University of Technology, has been
picked to take the helm. There had been much speculation about
who would replace
Tian Lipu, who faced mandatory retirement after turning 60
in October. The fact that the leadership transition happened
smoothly with no real gap (
he continued in the role until December) is likely a relief
to patent filers in China and stands in contrast to the
USPTO, where the director role has been empty for over a
Teresa Stanek Rea was well-regarded in the role of acting
That said, Shen’s appointment came as somewhat
of a surprise to several observers. Tian had spent
much of his career at SIPO, starting in 1981 and having
including deputy director general of electrical invention
examination department and head of the Patent Reexamination
Board. Last year, some expected that deputy commissioner He Hua
would succeed him, in part because He is also an old SIPO
hand dating back to the 1980s. Similarly,
Tian’s predecessor Wang Jingchuan had served as
the deputy commissioner before ascending to the top role.
Shen’s background is much different. He is a
scientist with a specialisation in plastics and has spent
considerable time in academia, serving as a professor and then
in administrative roles including president at both Zhengzhou
University and Dalian University of Technology, and was a
delegate at the 18th National Congress. Interestingly, he is
credited in leading a team that developed plastics technology
in helmets used by Chinese astronauts.
What this difference means is unclear. There is thus far
little indication that he has experience with patent practice
or innovation policy, leading at least one practitioner to ask
if he will be addressing more difficult issues facing SIPO such
as patent quality concerns.
"While Shen appears to be a well-respected scientist and a
seasoned academic, with academic administrative experience, his
background does not hint at extensive dealings with patents,
patent practice or patent policy with respect to development,"
he says. Without this experience, he wonders whether Shen will
be confronting some of the bigger challenges facing SIPO.
However, Shen’s background may also have some
advantages, For example, Haifeng Huang of Jones Day points out
that while Shen may have to get acclimated to this new area,
his experience as a practising scientist may allow him to bring
a user’s perspective to the role.
Indeed, given the complexity of the patent system and its
effect on the marketplace, it is perhaps fair to ask whether
there is any particular background that would
adequately prepare someone for such a demanding role. Some of
the most important contributions to discussions about IP have
come not just from lawyers and government officials, but from
economists, business executives and scientists bringing their
own unique perspectives. As Huang notes, Shen’s
experience as a scientist may provide valuable insights about
how inventors interact with the patent system.
Perhaps more interestingly, does Shen’s
non-SIPO background indicate a change in the
government’s approach to IP? Businesses bringing
in outside leadership often do so as a catalyst for more
drastic change, so Shen’s appointment may be a
sign of bigger shifts to come. Given that the National IP
strategy appears to be moving onto its next phase, the thought
may be that this is an opportune time to bring some new ideas
into the organisation.
What do you think? Does Shen’s status as a SIPO
outsider mean a change of direction for the office?