Introducing the West to Chinese IP Law - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Introducing the West to Chinese IP Law

Introducing the West to Chinese IP Law

Mark Cohen, a Visiting Professor at Fordham University School of Law, publishes, a highly informative blog that, in Cohen’s words, “aims to provide access to information, news and events related to IP development in China.”  As his blog readily displays, Cohen is one of the West’s leading experts on all things China IP-related.  He has amassed an impressive set of experiences over the past quarter century, including stints as an Attorney-Advisor at the Office of International Relations at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Senior Intellectual Property Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Of Counsel to Jones Day’s Beijing Office, and, most recently, Director of International Intellectual Property Policy at Microsoft.  He also speaks and reads Mandarin Chinese fluently.

While most Westerners are aware of the significant role that China now plays in the global economy, fewer are aware of the implications that China’s economic rise has for the holders of intellectual property rights.  Cohen’s blog narrows that knowledge gap.  With frequent updates, features posts on a wide range of matters, including, among other things, legislative trends, rates of enforcement, application rates for IP rights, and analysis of long-term trends.  Many of these issues are often covered primarily by Chinese sources, so Cohen’s blog serves as an invaluable steppingstone for non-Chinese-speaking audiences who are curious about IP developments in China.

Cohen has a fondness for empirical data at the expense of anecdotal evidence.  In that vein, one of Cohen’s recent posts explores data on how foreigners seek information about Chinese IP.  According to Cohen’s analysis, Chinese government sources, while a major source of IP-related information, are nevertheless infrequently consulted by Americans, regardless of whether the sources are in Chinese or English.  Focusing on the website of China’s State Intellectual Property Office, Cohen related that nearly 72% of that site’s total visits in 2012 were from China, while a relatively paltry 11.2% of visitors were from Europe.  Visitors from the United States, however, comprised a scant .95% of SIPO’s hits last year.

Delving further, Cohen found that most of SIPO’s website’s hits in 2012 from Europe and the United States were, surprisingly, for Chinese-language pages.  In fact, roughly 80% of visitors to SIPO’s English language pages were China-based, while only 8.87% of such visitors were in the United States.

Which topics were visitors to SIPO’s English-language pages perusing?  According to Cohen, the overwhelming majority of such visitors – roughly 90% – sought information about how to file a patent application in China, a process that Cohen described as an information-intensive effort.  The next largest proportion of visitors – nearly 6% – sought information about law and policy, while smaller proportions of visitors landed on SIPO’s FAQ, News, Patent Examination, and “About SIPO” pages.

With characteristic rigor, Cohen also compared the above data to data on visitors to the EU China IPR Help Desk, a leading Western online source of information about China’s IP system.  While far fewer people in total visited the IPR Help Desk’s website than visited SIPO’s website, Cohen noted that the number of page views on SIPO’s English-language law and policy page was comparable to the number of overall visitors to the IPR Help Desk’s website, which provides similar law and policy-related information.  From this finding, Cohen concluded that “the IPR Help Desk is performing an important function in providing Western language information on China’s IP system to Europeans,” and that “English language websites serve an important function in disseminating information on developments in China.”

Aside from the type of analytical, data-centered posts such as the one described above, also features commentary about such broader trends as technological innovation.  A short post from December 2012 relates that a Wall Street Journal blog post had reported on a study of the 50 most valuable Chinese brands, and ponders whether those brands fared well in the government’s campaign to enhance innovation.  According to Cohen, “[a] major factor in brand value comes from consumer perception of the brand’s progress in the area of innovation.”  Accordingly, the study that was the focus of the WSJ blog post analyzed consumer survey data, which revealed that consumers in China value innovation as do their counterparts elsewhere in the world.  Cohen listed Tencent, Baidu, Hainan Airlines, and Septwolves as examples of Chinese brands that have made notable progress in the realm of innovation, and he linked to an article on Chinese innovation by Jae Zhou and Benjamin Bai.

Finally, a recent post by Cohen tests readers’ knowledge of China-related IP matters with a pop quiz.  For those of you who wish to take the quiz without seeing the answers in advance, click on the link at the end of the previous sentence.  The answers reveal some interesting bits of trivia, and display, perhaps to the surprise of many readers, that Chinese IP has been an area of interest for the United States for centuries.

For instance, readers might be surprised to learn that the first patent filed in the United States by someone from China was filed in 1908 by Dr. Jin Fuey Moy, “subject of the Emperor of China,” for an enhanced nutcracker for chestnuts.  In addition, the first bilateral agreement between China and the United States on IP-related matters was brokered in 1903, long before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.  Readers also might not be aware that China’s trademark office has been the largest office in the world in terms of applications for over 10 years, and that China has more per capita civil copyright, patent, and trademark litigation than the United States.  Finally, while China is today known for being a nation of exports, such was not always the case.  Ironically, American exports of what most would consider a distinctively Chinese product flooded the Chinese market in the 18th century: medicinal ginseng.  North American ginseng, as Cohen relates, had been employed by Native Americans for healing purposes, and one of the first exports of the newly-independent United States consisted of 30 tons of wild ginseng, which found its way eastward on board the Empress of China.

Matthew Marcucci