EU-China Cooperation on IPR Issues
IP rights (IPR) are one of the priority trade topics between China and the EU and a decisive element for continued EU-China trade and investment growth. They are also an area that has seen tremendous change over the past 30 years, reflecting the massive economic development China has undergone in the same period.
At the start of EU-China cooperation, few if any top level Chinese government officials considered IP protection a priority, particularly outside the substantive agencies. Since then, knowledge of intellectual property protection and related laws, administration and systems has grown hand-in-hand with the country’s ability to design and develop its own indigenous technology. In fact, since its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, China has achieved extremely high levels of economic growth compared to its European trading partners, even despite the challenges caused by the global economic downturn. It has also made much progress in meeting its accession commitments, such as liberalising trade in a range of sectors, adapting laws and lowering tariffs, or improving foreign access to the Chinese market.
MOVING FROM A MANUFACTURING LED ECONOMY TO INNOVATION LED
The Chinese government sees that the value created within an economy by technology, rather than a reliance on low-value manufacturing, is the way of the future. Significant resources have been allocated to the improvement of IP administration and enforcement systems, but also to the development of domestically engineered and commercialized technologies. As China has gained a greater appreciation and understanding of the values contributed to the economy by technology, and the importance of fostering technological growth through intellectual property protection, it has raised IPR issues to the highest levels of government. In June of 2008, the Chinese authorities promulgated a concerted National Intellectual Property Strategy (NIPS). Together with China’s 12th five-year-plan aiming to move from industrial activities to high value-added ones in Strategic Emerging Industries (SEIs), the NIPS constitutes a significant change in attitude and approach by the central government. Thus China today is striving to make advances both in the development of technology, and in the systems that protect and nurture it.
10 YEARS OF EU CHINA IP DIALOGUE
The realm of IPR has witnessed similarly substantial changes. When China first opened its doors to foreign business, the newcomers faced IPR challenges initially revolved around locally-manufactured poor-quality imitations. Over the years, a set of increasingly more sophisticated challenges has arisen, from organized-crime networks active in counterfeiting, to the phenomenon commonly referred to as trademark squatting, to completely new scenarios caused by technologies unimaginable just a few years ago. These affect both European companies operating in China as well as Chinese companies operating in Europe, and their resolution is costly.
This makes IP cooperation all the more important to improve business opportunities for all. The EU and China have reacted accordingly. To reflect the increased importance of IPR in the political arena, the EU-China IP Dialogue was set up in 2004; it is a powerful tool whose annual meetings allow for the direct exchange and action planning between the partners on a high level. The IP Dialogue is supported by the EU-China IP Working Group, which meets twice annually. In July 2013, the EU and China signed an Administrative Agreement detailing their New Intellectual Property Cooperation. IP Key is the EU’s financial vehicle for this cooperation. Additionally, the EU-China Dialogue on Innovation was established at the EU-China Summit in September 2012, with the purpose of exchanging inputs and cross-fertilization of activities foreseen under these two frameworks.
EU CHINA PROJECTS
Through its bilateral cooperation, the EU seeks to implement a working environment with the government of China that is founded on the values of transparency, predictability and equality. To this end, the two partners have successfully cooperated on the previous EU-China Projects on the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights: IPR1 (1999-2004) focused on legislation, IPR2 (2007-2011) on enforcement. IPR2, on whose legacy IP Key builds, was considered very successful by Chinese and EU stakeholders alike. It contributed to China gaining a greater appreciation and understanding of the values contributed to the economy by technology, and the importance of fostering technological growth through IP protection, and therefore helped raise IPR issues within the country’s domestic political agenda. Other EU-funded cooperation projects in China with wider scopes have also covered IP issues, such as the EU-China Trade Project, the EU SME Centre, or the IPR SME Helpdesk.