Many western business leaders have long regarded China with trepidation when it comes to intellectual property rights. Rumours abounded of western companies outsourcing their manufacturing to Chinese factories, only to see the goods go out the back door to be sold as counterfeits. Quick-off-the-mark Chinese opportunists have been known to hijack well-known brands—including those belonging to Apple, Inc.—by registering them as trademarks. The situation is rapidly changing, however.
“The idea of any form of private property ownership was not part of the original philosophy for communist China,” says Catherine Wolfe, President of the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys. “So to introduce an intellectual property registration system to over a billion people has been a monumental challenge. But attitudes and understanding are changing at an astonishing rate.”
“A few decades ago, if someone wanted to set up a business in China, a government official would offer him a list of approved names to choose from, often containing ‘fortune’ or ‘country’ or ‘success’ … If a business was seen to be successful, its name would become popular, and others might also choose that same name or a similar name because it still remained on the list as an approved name. When foreign businesses started opening up in China, under their own successful brand names, some entrepreneurs regarded these new names as fair game. The idea that this could be intellectual property theft never crossed their minds.”