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Davis ThinkingDavis Thinking } analysis and interpretation

Translating China's Struggle with IP

Senior Editor
Friday, August 15, 2008

With all eyes focused on China for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, many of the country’s struggles – human rights, pollution, censorship – have taken center stage. Another issue the country has dealt with – respect for intellectual property – remains a problem for a nation that is trying to play catch-up with the rest of the modern world. Recently, China revised its laws to address this issue, and even implemented educational programs to raise awareness of intellectual property rights. A U.S. intellectual property attorney, however, says that's not enough.

It is no accident that the opening ceremonies of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing began at 8 p.m. on August 8, 2008. “8-8-8-8,” which is pronounced “ba-ba-ba-ba” in Chinese, phonetically resembles the pronunciation of “fa-fa-fa-fa,” meaning “prosperity, prosperity, prosperity, prosperity” in English. Indeed, China presented an impressive and spectacular opening ceremony, showing off its rich and awe-inspiring cultural heritage and its emergence as a prosperous new establishment on the world stage.

The opening ceremonies displayed multiple facets of Chinese culture and art. Yet, while ancient Chinese culture was highlighted, another fundamental aspect of Chinese culture deserves similar recognition as the world gathers to celebrate the 2008 Summer Olympic Games: respect for others and nature, and the appreciation of harmony and moderation. This respect and appreciation should apply to both tangibles and intangibles, including intellectual property rights.

As the host of the Olympics, the Chinese government has worked to re-brand its image when it comes to intellectual property. From the design and sale of the official mascot, “ Fuwa ,” to official Olympic logos and trademarks, to distribution and broadcasting rights, the Chinese government appears to be adhering to multiple areas of intellectual property rights associated with the Games.

However, China’s history of failure to respect and appreciate intellectual property rights in regards to piracy and counterfeit goods is magnified as the country puts its nation and people in the spotlight of the Games. Of course, the problem of piracy and counterfeit goods is not an isolated phenomenon in China. Yet, the lack of full appreciation of this issue makes the country a victim of its own long-neglected problem: Counterfeit “Fuwa” and knock-off Olympic merchandise was spotted at well-known tourist destinations, and raids were conducted to seize counterfeit Olympic accessories and apparel from street vendors.

Combating counterfeit goods and pirated works is difficult, and China has revised its laws and regulations to address this issue. Educational programs organized by the State Intellectual Property Office also are helping to raise awareness of intellectual property laws with the Chinese people.

However, as a Taiwanese-born intellectual property lawyer that has family in China, I wish to approach the issue from a different angle. Regardless of the laws, there is a fundamental good in respecting works from others’ intellectual endeavors, and such works are worth protecting. To some extent, the concept of intellectual property as an individual right is foreign to the Chinese culture. I hope to change that through my website, www.dranli .com (the phonetic translation of the term “patent” in Chinese). The site is my attempt to explain the need for respect of intellectual property by translating important U.S. court decisions into Chinese.

At a time when trademark applications in China have increased 60 percent and the number of patents has doubled since 2003, I believe that, if the Chinese truly want to make progress in the area of IP law, they must first understand why Westerners respect intellectual property as well as the U.S. laws that protect it.

By translating the opinions of the federal courts from English to Chinese, I hope to instill the concept of respect and appreciation of intellectual property rights in the minds of the Chinese and Taiwanese alike. Intellectual properties such as copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets are the fruits of inventive and creative works. Just as the Chinese culture respects and appreciates others, intellectual property rights should be valued as well – and not just because it is a foreign concept to which China needs to conform.

Confucius said, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” This principle should also apply to intellectual property rights because they are fruits of ingenious endeavors by those who labor to produce innovative advances. I hope, through my translation, that I serve as a resource for this ongoing effort.

Arthur Yuan is a native speaker of Chinese and a registered patent attorney at Senniger Powers, LLP , a national intellectual property law firm based in St. Louis, Mo. Mr. Yuan’s practice is concentrated in all aspects of domestic and international patent and trademark law, including patent prosecution in the computer technologies, patent licensing and patent analysis.

*Full disclosure: Senniger Powers is a client of Patrick Davis Partners , publisher of Unbound Edition.

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