It's a given that all eyes are on China. The question is no longer whether the world's most populous nation will take its place among the leaders on the world stage, but how its development will influence the global economy.
China's government has made no secret that IP is a central part of its development plans. Its national IP strategy has been in place for several years, with the long-term goal of shifting China from a manufacturing-based economy to an innovation-driven one.
Implementing such an ambitious policy requires development and growth in all aspects of IP, and the six Chinese figures in MIP's list of the 50 most influential people in intellectual property reflect this.
From the macro-policy perspective we have Zhang Qin, who in his previous role as the deputy commissioner of SIPO formulated many of the national strategy's action goals. Similarly, Tian Lipu from SIPO and Xi Xiaoming of the People's Supreme Court oversee the national policies to further advance the plan.
Despite China's reputation as a place of centralised authority, the work of many different players is central to IP's continued development. Lu Guoqiang of the Shanghai IP Association has made strides to make his city a centre of innovation, while Jiang Ying of the IP Tribunal of the Beijing First Immediate Court is handing down influential decisions in what is still a developing area of law. And representing the interests of private rights holders is Jack Chang of the Quality Brands Protection Committee, who is working tirelessly to improve IP enforcement and give foreign companies guidance in navigating China's sometimes confusing administrative agencies.
The sense of constant change and development is familiar to IP practitioners in China, but it is especially strong this year. Revisions of all the major IP laws are expected soon, and the new government leadership is expected to issue policy portfolios concerning many areas of law, including IP.
As always, the Top 50 is meant to encourage discussion as much as highlight the achievements of the individuals on the list, so your comments are much welcomed. Visit the feature online at ManagingIP.com to make your views known.
The rising star
Jiang Ying, IP Tribunal, Beijing
First Intermediate Court
Called a "judicial star" by peers in China, Jiang Ying is as one of the most respected and influential IP judges in the country. A veteran of over 1,400 IP cases, including 400 involving foreign parties, she was recently promoted to the position of deputy chief judge of the IP Tribunal of the Beijing First Intermediate People's Court. "She is extremely professional, and a very impartial judge," said one lawyer who wished to remain anonymous. "Other judges pay attention to her decisions."
Jiang's influence extends beyond those decisions though. She is a frequent lecturer, talking about the importance of IP laws and ways to encourage creation and innovation, ultimately to the benefit of China's development. Attorneys think her influence will continue to grow. Despite her recent elevation to the deputy chief judge role, many believe she will be promoted again in the near future.
Masterminding the innovation burst
Tian Lipu, SIPO
The choice might be predictable, but it would be foolhardy to make a list of the IP world's most influential people and exclude Tian Lipu, commissioner of China's State Intellectual Property Office.
Under Tian's leadership, China's intellectual property has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2011, China overtook the United States and Japan with the most patent filings in the world, with 1.63 million. The increase has been astonishing, given that there were only about 3 million total applications filed in China in the last 20 years.
Some of this is credited to economic incentives for frequent patent filers, but it is also the result of increasing awareness of the importance of intellectual property in China. As a number of IP attorneys have noted, 2010 and 2011 also saw a marked increase of Chinese companies as plaintiffs in IP litigation cases.
The boom in patent applications is just one facet of China's national IP strategy to become "a nation with an internationally top level of creating, using, protecting and managing IP rights by 2020" in Tian's words. From increasing the number of patent examiners to devising creative, if controversial, methods of supporting Chinese IP, such as the so-called indigenous innovation policies, the IP environment in China is rapidly changing, with Tian at the forefront.
This emphasis on IP fits into a larger vision for China to become more than just the world's factory. Intellectual property is seen as a key to this, and as a path to increased international influence.
"Culture is the foundation of soft power and also a fertile ground for creative industry," said Tian in a statement during this year's World IP day events in Beijing. "It is absolutely imperative to accelerate development of an IP culture combined with traditional, profound Chinese wisdom for a burst of innovation."
Jack Chang, GE and Quality
Brands Protection Committee
While the opportunities in China's rapidly growing economy continue to draw the attention of international companies, its reputation for difficult IP enforcement still makes rights holders wary. Jack Chang, senior IP counsel at GE and a self-described "front-line IP soldier", has worked to make China a more IP-friendly place.
To this end, Chang and the Quality Brands Protection Committee (QBPC), an industry group with over 200 multinational members, has not only lobbied for laws and regulations protecting IP rights, he has also worked to maintain lines of communication between foreign companies and the government to build working relationships and clear up misconceptions that might hinder foreign investment.
"The QBPC tries to be a bridge between foreign companies and the Chinese government," says Chang.
He points to one example where the QBPC played an important role in helping foreign companies improve their understanding of China. In 2010, the QBPC engaged the Ministry of Science and Technology concerning the so-called indigenous innovation policies, which would have required government procurement to favour products based on Chinese-developed IP. Chang and the QBPC helped convince the government that such policies could "also negatively impact on China's efforts to become an innovative country, as it discourages foreign companies in investing in R&D".
In January 2011, President Hu Jintao finally announced that the rules would be discarded. Various ministries issued orders in June 2011 to implement Hu's directive and eventually the State Council issued its own order announcing the end of the procurement rules.
Chang said, however, that some foreign trade associations were still reporting in early 2012 that the rules were in effect at a local level, causing concern that foreign companies were operating at a disadvantage. The QBPC quickly moved to address these misperceptions, and also worked with both Chinese and foreign government officials to dispel any misunderstanding.
"One of our most important tasks is to keep foreign companies in the loop," says Chang. He sees the QBPC's continuing role of communicator as its most vital.
As foreign companies increase investment in China, technology transfers issues are increasingly important. "Foreign IP owners often worry whether their technology is protected when they bring it into China, and are sometimes hesitant to license their technology to local companies," says Chang.
"We had heard concerns that the Chinese government had been pressuring foreign companies to transfer their technologies to local firms in exchange for market access", he said, though after thorough investigation, he found no evidence of this.
Still, Chang sees this belief as an obstacle to investment and is working to address both the perception and the reality. He and the QBPC are working with a number of academics in Beijing, as well as courts in southern China.
"GE and other innovation-driven companies care very much about this issue," he says. "I believe that one way to address the US-China trade imbalance is to promote the technology trade between the two countries, so we need to address these concerns to remove obstacles in technology transfer and to continuously work with the government to foster open innovation and improve IP protection."
Chang's influence on IP in China has grown and evolved, much like the QBPC's role. Though the group was initially named the China Anti-counterfeiting Coalition and started with this narrower purpose, the relationships that Chang has built have allowed the group to represent IP owners in a wide variety of ways.
The future of IP in China
Zhang Qin, China Association for Science and Technology
Zhang Qin is no starry-eyed academic. A nuclear engineer and computer scientist by training, he served as deputy commissioner of China's State Intellectual Property Office from 2003 to 2009. As the second highest official at SIPO, he was the key organiser and drafter of the Outline of National Intellectual Property Strategy of China (ONIPSC) issued by the State Council in 2008, and is credited for formulating the more than 200 action goals it took to implement the Strategy.
Zhang has stayed involved in the development of IP rights in China as the executive secretary of the China Association of Science and Technology and vice president of the China Intellectual Property Society. He is also playing the role of public intellectual. In April 2012, he published his book, The Basic Theory of Intellectual Property Rights, which lays out the philosophical justification for IP and its role in China's national development.
The goal of his book is to outline the purpose of intellectual property and IP rights to a Chinese public is relatively unfamiliar with these concepts. The starting point of this understanding, Zhang says, is that "intellectual property is different from intellectual property rights".
"Property is a concept of economics," Zhang explains. He argues that property has two fundamental qualities; it is useful in some way, and it has scarcity. In this way, intellectual property is different from physical property, because there is no scarcity to a piece of IP once it is created.
Zhang points out that IP rights create a monopoly, and thus address this issue of scarcity. Patents and copyrights, he argues, are a "legislative right to create scarcity". Having scarcity is what allows IP to be traded and controlled like other property rights.
"Intellectual property is not a natural right," he emphasises. Rather it is a human-created right with a very short history in China.
"China has only had IP rights for about 30 years," says Zhang. "For thousands of years, China did not have an IP system, and it was normal. But people eventually began to realise that technology and innovations were useful, just expensive. IP rights were invented to address the risk of bearing this expense and avoiding the tragedy of the commons."
Zhang sees IP rights through the lens of national interest. He believes that an IPR system must be designed to benefit the people of each country and the needs of each nation, and that is why each country has their own intellectual property laws.
He explained that when China's economy was less developed, it was not in its interest to have a strong IP system that many felt just protected foreign companies. At that time, he said, most Chinese companies could not afford to purchase or license the technologies and just wanted them for free.
However, now that China is creating more and more of its own intellectual property, the scope of its IP protection will likely increase to reflect the changing interests of its people, Zhang says. "China will want stronger protections for its intellectual property, and will want to sell our own technologies." Because China is becoming a creator of IP, he says, he believes that it will continue harmonising its IP system with those of countries such as the United States.
Despite the value Zhang places on IP rights and his belief that harmonisation will continue, his vision for China is uniquely his own. In the future when China becomes a supplier of IP to less developed countries, he believes that there are situations where rights owners should share their technologies without receiving the full price in return. He cites medical patents as an example, and situations where a new technology can save many lives in a developing country that cannot otherwise afford to pay for a licence.
Building the IP hub
Lu Guoqiang, Shanghai IP office
As the head of the Shanghai IP Administration (SIPA), Lu Guoqiang has plans to make the growing financial centre an IP powerhouse as well. Known for its efficient court system, Shanghai is already one of the most popular jurisdictions for foreign companies to file IP suits. Lu is building on this advantage, and is devising a 10-year plan to cement the city's role as a regional IP hub. Goals include fostering IP exchanges in the city, as well as giving small and medium-sized businesses ways to use their IP as collateral to gain funding. In addition, Lu has been lobbying for WIPO to open its first China regional office in Shanghai.
Lu's commitment to improving IP protection in Shanghai has been steadfast. A former judge, he helped to set up the IP chamber of the Shanghai Higher People's Court, and has ruled on a number of high-profile cases, including a 2005 decision finding that Xingbake's unauthorised use of Starbucks and the Chinese transliteration Xing Ba Ke amounted to trade mark infringement.
Lu's work to strengthen IP in Shanghai has received positive feedback. Francis Gurry, director-general of WIPO, said that the city's 10-year plan "is a move in the right direction that will open up the Asia-Pacific region to WIPO and the whole world".
The voice of the court
Xi Xiaoming, Supreme People’s Court of China
Xi Xiaoming is vice-president of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) and oversees its IP Tribunal. Though Xi no longer rules on individual cases, he is responsible for shaping the national judicial IP policy.
Xi also speaks and writes frequently on IP issues. Not only does he discuss there the importance of IP protection in China's rapidly growing economy and the importance of the national IP strategy, he has stressed the role of judicial policy in improving the IP environment. He points to the need for uniform standards of justice, as well as efficient and "scientific" allocation of judicial resources.
"Even though Xi is not actively ruling on cases, he has a lot of influence on IP policy," explains one attorney. "His speeches often form the basis of judicial memorandums, which act as guidelines for other judges. Along with the chief judge [Kong Xiangjun of the IP Tribunal], he is one of the most influential in intellectual property."