During a speech before a packed audience of over 1,000 business leaders in Dalian Sept. 10 Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao stressed the importance of intellectual property rights as one of four key areas needing concerted efforts, along with bringing the world out of a global recession, climate change and removing trade barriers.
Wen gave the opening speech at the World Economic Forum’s “Summer Davos” in Dalian, which I am attending.”China stands firm on IPR protection,” Wen said. “We will continue to implement our national IPR strategy, take strong measures to foster a legal, market and cultural environment for IPR protection, see to it that all fruits of innovation be respected and rewarded and translate inventions and discoveries of all kinds into real forces of production.”
IPR is an issue of vital importance to the tech sector. Jiabao meet privately with some key business leaders during his trip to Dalian so I am sure there is an interesting back story there. China continues to have a reputation for ruthlessly violating IPR. Just this past week I was told a story about a container full of telecoms networking equipment from a Western supplier that mysteriously went missing after being shipped to China. The box showed up months later and Huawei suddenly was able to catch up in a technology where it had lagged behind. I have no idea if this is true and no real way of verifying the accusation. The fact remains that western tech companies remain wary of doing business in China. Tech companies have explained to me that the laws on the books in China are enforced sporatically and differently, depending on the region. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at Wen’s meeting with Western business leaders. I am sure the government is being pressured. The question is whether Wen is merely paying lip service to those demands or whether he will make good on those promises.
Wen acknowledged during his speech that “to safeguard IPR is to safeguard the source strength of innovation.” He said China should see scientific and technological innovation “as an important pillar and make greater effort to develop new industries of strategic importance.”
Science and technology is a powerful engine of economic growth, said Wen. To overcome the severe international financial crisis, the country must rely more on science and technology in making breakthroughs and boosting development. “We will make China a country of innovation,” he vowed. “We will seek breakthroughs in key technologies that are vital to industrial transformation and upgrading, speed up the development of new industries of strategic importance, and give priority to research, development, and industrial application of technologies in new energy, new materials, bio-medicine, third generation mobile communications, and the integration of telecommunications networks, cable TV networks and the Internet.” If China really does see innovation in technology fields as a key to its future then the country will have to make good on Jiabao’s promises.