It’s a familiar process; each year the US Trade Representative releases its Section 301 report identifying problematic IP jurisdictions around the world. The named countries, often growing economies, object to their placement on this list, citing progress made and willingness to continue improvement.
Last year for example, Ricardo Blancaflor, the director general of the Philippines IP Office, issued a written response to his country’s placement on the Section 301 Watch List, saying that he was “saddened” by the inclusion, that the country had made enormous progress and it had “religiously implemented” its IPR Action Plan. Ahead of this year’s 301 report, the office released a 50-page comment highlighting the Philippines’ IP credentials.
Many countries respond similarly; Thailand’s IP office website has an entire section about the 301 report; while Malaysia was removed from the 2012 report in part due to its adopting of US-style DMCA safe harbour provisions.
These responses are of course not surprising; the importance of intellectual property to economic growth is well accepted, as is the need to harmonise with international standards, which are of course heavily influenced by countries such as the US and the UK.
The response out of China, however, has been a bit different. Though China openly touts its ambitions to move from a manufacturing-based economy to one focused on intellectual property and emphasises the need to improve IP protection, influential Chinese figures are also telling critics that they need to meet China halfway.
At Managing IP’s China International IP Forum last week, Liu Chuntian (right0, often credited as the country’s first IP law professor, told the audience: “When comparing the UK, US, and Chinese IP systems, we have to be clear minded; China started from scratch about 30 years ago, and therefore it has a different foundation from those systems. They have a mature market, a privatised economy, and their IPR system is in line with their economy. We had three decades of planned economy and we’re trying to move away from that. We need more time to build our system.”
Political commissioner Gao Feng of China’s economic crimes unit in the Ministry of Public Security expressed similar sentiments. At a speech before the Quality Brands Protection Committee last week, while highlighting the progress China has made, he stressed the need for international cooperation in fighting fake goods, and noted that law enforcement agencies from other some countries have not been as willing to work together. Perhaps in response to the continual criticism of Chinese IP protection, he also argued that counterfeiting is not a Chinese phenomenon, but that it is part of an international flow of goods and a common feature in the economic development of many countries.
Neither Liu nor Gao are anti-harmonisation; Liu frequently engages with judges and scholars to study their countries’ IP systems to draw on their best practices, while Gao regularly works with international rights holders and organisations such as the QBPC. Both expressed belief in the need for improvements to the Chinese IP system. But their comments are illustrative and perhaps reflect a new and uniquely Chinese reality; while smaller countries work to comply with international standards, China, while doing that, also has the clout to change the standards themselves.
Speaking to Managing IP later on, Liu summed up this point succinctly: “Other countries may have to accept that China is getting bigger and have to adjust their own ideas, instead of always expecting China to change.”