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The China syndrome: protecting ideas

Communist economies don’t have much use for IP laws, so it’s not surprising that Chinese companies have earned a reputation for ripping off the ideas of others. Although China now has its own laws protecting copyrights and patents, some Chinese companies are as interested in your ideas as your business. So how does the Kiwi punter protect a good idea?
The China syndrome feature

Idealog July/August 2006, page 60. Picture by Tony Brownjohn

Communist economies don’t have much use for IP laws, so it’s not surprising that Chinese companies have earned a reputation for ripping off the ideas of others. Although China now has its own laws protecting copyrights and patents, some Chinese companies are as interested in your ideas as your business. So how does the Kiwi punter protect a good idea?

“You’ve got to be wary, but that’s just prudent business in any market … [companies] that have some particular IP or innovation or brand that they want to retain, need to keep that innovation and development going on back here in New Zealand, and manage the market. But China can be that piece in the middle, the lowcost manufacturing, to assist in the commodity parts of particular products. And maybe there are some innovation pieces that never get manufactured out there.”

“No matter who’s going to copy you, if you patent throughout the markets that you’re in, especially the western markets, it means they can make all the stuff they want in some place in China. The minute they try to hit the US or UK or Australia and New Zealand, that’s when you hit them. We don’t care whether they make the bloody thing in China and try to sell it off. But when they try and export it, then it’s the agent who imports it that we hit up.”

“Make sure you’ve protected your trade secrets before you go there, meet somebody and throw your brochures around saying ‘Boy do we have a deal for you’. If you are going over to meet with somebody who would be a potential business partner, do some background checks. NZTE can help with that.

“Even a small company in New Zealand should make sure they’ve got their home market protected at least. If someone sees a product that you’ve put on the market in New Zealand and thinks that would be great for the Australian or US market, you can’t stop them doing that if you haven’t got the funds. But just be aware that it’s possible those products could find their way back into New Zealand.”

“Effectively your quality becomes your intellectual property protection, because the higher quality goods you have, the more expensive it is to copy and the faster that consumers will be able to spot the fake as well. That effectively provides some natural protection.”

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