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back to index backCHINAtalk November,  2016


Does China deserve a reputation as the land of copycats?

The case of the Scottish wave energy firm Pelamis is the latest to raise questions about China and intellectual property.

It was once renowned as the home of the four great inventions: paper, gunpowder, printing and the compass. These days, China is more often portrayed as a land of copycats, where you can buy a pirated Superdry T-shirt or a HiPhone and where smaller cities boast 7-12 convenience stores, Teabucks outlets and KFG fried chicken shops.

Behind the startling brand infringement on display in markets and shopping streets lies a deeper intellectual property issue. Chinese entities have consistently sought to play catch-up by piggy-backing on other people’s technological advances. They have pursued software, industrial formulas and processes both through legitimate means – hiring in expertise, buying up startups, tracking publicly available information – and questionable or downright illegal ones: digging genetically modified seeds out of the fields of Iowa so they can be smuggled on a Beijing-bound flight, or paying for details of a specialised process for making a whitening pigment used in Oreos, cosmetics and paper – which sounds like a niche concern until you learn that the titanium dioxide market is worth $12bn a year.

The British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover is suing a Chinese firm for allegedly copying its Range Rover Evoque, in the latest of several motor industry cases. In the best known, China’s Chery reached an undisclosed settlement with General Motors over cars so similar that the doors were interchangeable. That case had one really striking feature: when GM approached Chinese manufacturers detailing the components they would need for the Matiz, they were told that Chery had already ordered identical parts.

This week came the curious case of Pelamis Wave Power, an innovative Scottish company which lost several laptops in a burglary after being visited by a 60-strong Chinese delegation – and then noticed the launch of a strikingly similar project in China a few years later. Chinese experts had certainly demonstrated a close interest in the work of Pelamis.

Whether engineers had been working along similar lines, were paying close attention to what Pelamis had made public, or somehow obtained information by other means is impossible to say.

What is certain – say western governments, business experts, analysts and security experts – is that Chinese businesses are routinely benefiting from the theft of intellectual property. Companies doing business in China are routinely advised to take clean laptops rather than their usual work devices on trips; to ensure that their work is protected with patents and trademarks internationally; and to be careful about the information they hand over to partners or potential manufacturers.

To read entire article, please click here.

Source: The Guardian - GAI






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