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Guest post: UK and China join forces to strengthen IP protection

Neville Rolfe small

UK IP Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe discusses UK-China cooperation in IP, including an agreement with Alibaba and a new business toolkit

Neville Rolfe BIS
Baroness Neville-Rolfe

This week’s state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the UK marks a Golden Era of UK-China relations. During his visit to China last month, the Chancellor George Osborne said that the UK is "China's best partner in the West". This is certainly true of our IP cooperation. UK-China IP cooperation covers the full spectrum of IP rights and enforcement and I was pleased to see this in action during my visit to China last year. I led the largest ever UK IP delegation to China including representatives from British companies, industry associations, the judiciary and senior government officials.  

This year, UK businesses are reaping the benefits of this trip and the Intellectual Property Office has created additional tools to enable UK businesses and institutions to effectively navigate the Chinese IP system, which I launched at the UK-China IP Symposium in London yesterday.

During my visit in 2014 I facilitated an agreement between Alibaba and the China Britain Business Council to support British businesses. Alibaba accounts for over 80% of the booming Chinese e-commerce market. Sales on Alibaba platforms exceed the global sales of Amazon and eBay combined. 

The agreement has ensured British companies achieve the best possible outcomes from the current Alibaba IP protection systems and is seen as a significant success by British stakeholders.

A criminal enforcement campaign covering six Chinese provinces dismantled a network producing counterfeit engine lubricants

The agreement has gone from strength to strength. It has led to a number of benefits for British companies. For example a criminal enforcement campaign covering six Chinese provinces dismantled a network producing counterfeit engine lubricants. The network recorded sales of £1.5 million ($2.3 million) in the past year alone and was uncovered by a joint operation between Alibaba, British businesses and Chinese law enforcement.

Alibaba has also upgraded its search filters to preemptively block copycat and infringing products from reaching consumers. It is estimated that these measures, implemented under the agreement, have helped to remove approximately £8 million worth of counterfeit goods from Alibaba. However, there is still much work to be done. We must ensure that the lessons learnt from these successes are incorporated into "business-as-usual" on Alibaba websites.

Overall, working with Alibaba helps the UK to meet its ambitious trade targets. China is a key priority of the UK’s trade and investment strategy and we aim to make it the UK’s second largest trading partner by 2025. The UK is already the most popular destination in Europe for Chinese investment. But our relationship goes far beyond trade.

China is a leading global source of funding for scientific research, with R&D spending reaching 2.9% of GDP in 2014. Many of us in the IP sector have been amazed at the output of this research in China, with over 900,000 invention patent applications to the State Intellectual Property Office last year alone.

The UK is also a world leader in innovation, with 4 of the world’s top 10 universities and a very strong technology commercialisation sector. We have strong university-industry links, and a track record of creating successful spin out companies. Our companies and universities have experience taking innovation to markets across the world.

In this dynamic context, the UK and China are jointly investing £200 million in science and innovation projects over five years. There are many advantages to joint research, projects involving international collaboration consistently produce better outcomes than when a single nationality works alone.

Unfortunately, unfamiliar academic cultures, business environments and IP systems can create barriers to joint research. As a result the UK Intellectual Property Office is set to launch a collaborative research IP toolkit which will safeguard £65m per year in joint UK-China research and innovation. It provides a clear framework for negotiating how IP will be managed in joint research projects.

Both the Alibaba agreement and the collaborative research IP toolkit are indicative of the UK’s willingness to hear directly from businesses about where they face IP issues and to create an effective solution. Throughout the UK-China IP Symposium I will be listening to UK businesses and will ensure that their needs are reflected throughout our cooperation with China.

Overall, the UK recognises the progress China has made in developing its IP system, with the first modern IP law passed just over 30 years ago. As China continues to reform and strengthen its IP system the UK will maintain our constructive and cooperative relationship. I hope that the UK-China IP Symposium will contribute to this process and to increased trade, investment and innovation collaboration in the future.

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