Tian Lipu
Former SIPO commissioner

Emily Tan of China IP magazine interviews Tian Lipu, a former commissioner of the State Intellectual Property Office of China and current IP spokesperson for the country

From 1981 to 2013, Tian Lipu spent 32 years working in intellectual property. As the former commissioner of the State Intellectual Property Office of China, he has witnessed the development of the whole industry. He is the exact person who can elaborate China’s IP development over the last 30 years.

How has IP developed in China?

IP has gone through ‘revolutionary change’ in China. Its IP system was first established in the 1980s and developed relatively slowly at the initial stage. China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) can be seen as a turning point. People gradually understood that IP was of great significance for enterprises to compete in the market around the world.

IP had developed for over 20 years before the accession, yet it was not until the real battle began did Chinese enterprises learn the importance of IP. Many were in an inferior position to their competitors because they neglected IP.

Moreover, China’s economy has been gaining momentum since the reform and opening up. The State Council of China is pursuing innovation-driven development and striving to make China an innovative country. The old development patterns such as extensive consumption of resources and energy as well as cheap labour contribution need to be changed.

Therefore, innovation is bound to come. Innovation cannot only create new products but also generate IP. Compared with manufacturing, knowledge has been placed in a very high position. The original equipment manufacturer business model, which was often applied by Chinese enterprises, only provides factories and labour, and produces pollution.

Therefore, the traditional unsustainable economic development model needs to be transformed, and knowledge and innovation should be made as the driving forces.

‘Revolutionary change’ is not only reflected in real life but also embodied in peoples’ minds. The entire Chinese nation has had little awareness of IP for a long time, despite its thousands of years of profound cultural heritage. But the situation is changing. People are gradually realising that we should show respect to others’ IP rights while protecting our own. This is a revolution that is still in progress.

A consciousness of innovation and IP is still being formed. The Chinese nation’s dream will come true once we complete the transformation in 20 or 30 years.

What is the significance of IP law changes in China, such as the new Trademark Law?

The recent amendments have great significance: they provide legal guarantees for innovation and social development, enhance law implementation and protection, offer more convenient services, and bring China’s IP more in line with international practice.

We have made great progress on law amendments to some extent. There is, however, still room for improvement, for example, through the codification of IP laws.

Scholars are now discussing the possibility of compiling a codification of IP laws in China. Since IP around the world has a lot in common, only relying on laws is far from enough.

When discrepancies or conflicts occur, a higher-level of harmonisation is needed to coordinate public opinion and interests.

From a global perspective, IP serves innovation, which changes constantly. Therefore, IP law amendments are the most active reformation and should keep pace with the times.

What did you make of the the Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms, issued in November 2013, which discussed IP courts in China?

The goals set out in the reforms are in line with international trends, but more importantly, conform to China’s national conditions. There are two trends in regard to jurisdiction in the world.

One trend is to use common courts to solve disputes instead of specialised courts. However, IP is an exception. Countries around the world incline to set up specialised IP courts to deal with IP disputes.

The other trend is IP courts need to be centralised, especially for the higher courts. Up until now, China has been catching up with the world in innovation and IP application, but more needs to be done on IP protection.

One of the problems is the highly decentralised IP litigation system. There are dozens of courts at the higher level, hundreds of courts at the intermediate level and plenty of grass root courts that can deal with IP cases, but a centralised court is needed to deliver final judgements.

Since IP jurisdiction requires strong expertise, different decisions on similar cases will compromise judicial impartiality and public confidence. Therefore, establishing specialised IP courts counts can be considered a milestone.

What is your opinion on the west’s view of IP in China?

The west’s mainstream media always hold inveterate prejudice toward China and IP. They think the IP environment of China is inferior, and IP protection and the implementation of law are weak.

However, the fact is that China, as the second largest destination for overseas patent application filings, receives hundreds of thousands of foreign patent and trademark applications.

Because of the sluggish economy of the world, enterprises that would like to have their patents deployed worldwide take China as their second choice just after the US. It shows that these enterprises have faith in China’s IP environment and also reflects the great success of the system.

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