By Helen Sloan
April 27 2012
The Chinese government’s efforts to improve the protection of intellectual property have been further strengthened with the announcement earlier this month of a new IP strategy. Its 90 detailed measures across eight task areas include the expected commitments to continue to increase standards of examiners and strengthen action against infringers. However, one of the measures goes into some more detail about improvements to trademarks enforcement across the country, specifically referring “to large department stores in the 31 provincial capitals (including municipalities directly under the Central Government and prefectures where the provincial capital is located)”.
In a broad-brush view of China, IP awareness is considerably higher in the east coast and ‘tier one’ cities than the more far-flung provinces, where counterfeiting remains a problem: this new strategy therefore looks like the government seeking to improve the situation in the regions.
However, George Chan from Rouse explains how country-wide IP enforcement had its beginnings in an earlier campaign. “I think the intent to provide greater IP protection had taken root last year in the Special Campaign by the State Council,” he says. This nine-month programme – fully entitled the Special Campaign against IP Infringement and the Production and Sale of Fake and Shoddy Products - concluded in March 2011 and resulted in thousands of infringement cases and millions of dollars worth of counterfeit goods seized across the whole country. It has been widely seen as a success, with the one quibble being that it was only a temporary measure. But as Chan sees it, the planned improvements set out by the latest strategy actually follow on from the results of last year’s campaign. “Why this is important - why it will affect enforcement in outlying regions - is that following the Special Campaign the evaluation of governors’ performance is now tied to IP enforcement. In other words, an official’s annual performance will take into account their record for IP enforcement.” Uncompromising measures like this show that China-wide consistency in trademark and IP matters is high on the government’s agenda.
Chan acknowledges that there is still a difference in standards across different regions across the country. “The truth is that there is more experience and greater sophistication in the tier one cities. Historically, and due to perhaps for commercial reasons, a lot more cases are run in tier one cities and therefore the expertise is further developed. This also applies to the cities around the Pearl River delta and the east coast. Having said that, outside the tier one cities is not the ‘wild west’ anymore. They are developing their IP expertise in the courts and the local agencies.”
The Chinese government’s commitment to cracking down on counterfeiting and other IP infringement is not in doubt; what has been open to question is whether it has the ability to ensure that its plans are carried out far from the eastern centres of power. However, the success of the Special Campaign in regional areas shows that enforcement of IP law is perfectly achievable, and the government’s latest strategy demonstrates that it plans to continue its programme of IP improvement across the whole country.
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