China's Patent Strategy Isn't About Innovation; It's An Economic Weapon Against Foreign Companies
from the waking-the-wrong-giant dept
John Bennett points us to an article in the NY Times that claims to be about how China is gearing up to be an innovation powerhouse rather than just known for “copying.” Of course, the actual focus of the article is about how China is trying to get a lot more patents. In fact, we covered this very issue back in October, highlighting how China has set an “innovation policy” that appears much more focused on getting more patents, rather than increasing innovation. There are, of course, some people who still think that the number of patents is a proxy for innovation, but this claim has been debunked so many times, it’s just kind of cute when people still bring it up.
So, could it be that thanks to sustained US pressure on China to “crack down” on infringement, that China has suddenly come to believe that patents equal innovation? Last month, just before some diplomatic meetings between the US and China over trade issues, US officials did their usual misleading grandstanding about how China doesn’t do enough to “protect” US intellectual property. And, in response, Chinese officials did their usual song-and-dance about how they’re really serious about intellectual property now, and we should stop worrying.
Of course, as we’ve pointed out, China seems to be much more aggressive with intellectual property lately, but not in the way the US wants. That is, it’s been using patent and copyright laws to make life more difficult for foreign companies, specifically US companies. And, in reading through the details of that NY Times article above, it looks like they’re planning to do more of the same.
The strategy that’s being described (get a TON more patents in China and all around the rest of the world) is not a strategy for innovation. It’s a strategy to stop others from innovating. It seems that China may understand patents a hell of a lot better than even officials in the US. And, incredibly, US officials seem to be falling for it. The Chinese must be laughing with glee to hear USPTO director David Kappos naively declare that:
“The leadership in China knows that innovation is its future, the key to higher living standards and long-term growth,” Mr. Kappos says. “They are doing everything they can to drive innovation, and China’s patent strategy is part of that broader plan.”
No, they’re not driving innovation. They’re seeking out weapons to use against foreign companies, as they’ve been doing for the past few years. That such an obvious move is totally missed by someone like Kappos suggests the level of ignorance of our own patent officials.
The US has taught China well how patents can be used as a weapon to hinder innovation, and it seems clear that China’s latest strategy is to use patents as an economic weapon. It’s not about improving innovation at home. The Chinese will continue to copy and ignore patents whenever it wants and whenever it believes it will be helpful to the local economy. But it will seek to stymie innovation around the globe by using patents as monopolies that can set up both tollbooths and huge hurdles for innovation from foreign competitors. And the US is playing right into this strategy by believing that patents, by themselves, are some sort of indicator of innovation and pushing China to “respect” patents even more. It’s not hard to see how this is going to backfire badly on the US, including the companies who have urged on this strategy.