Intellectual property still a major concern for Canadian companies in China

Li Heng | BCBusiness
Mayor Gregor Robertson listens to Beijing intellectual property security broker Li Heng Tuesday.

Canadian businesses are turning to private means to protect their innovations abroad

Bring your tech firm to China and private intellectual property firms can keep you safe, signaled the Chinese delegation at Tuesday’s Canada China Business Forum. The delegation, from Beijing’s business district Chaoyang, brought the head of a Chinese intellectual property security company to allay the fears of Canadian companies interested in doing business in China.
“In the past, Western countries have had misperceptions about China,” said Li Heng, president of the Beijing International Intellectual Property Centre, to BCBusiness. “Even now there is still the perception that, in the course of China’s rapid development, Chinese people have stolen a lot of intellectual property. But this is not the case. We take intellectual property protection very seriously.”
The forum, organized by the Vancouver Economic Commission, was the second step in an economic mission to China launched last November, when Mayor Gregor Robertson led a Vancouver delegation to Chaoyang. A poll of Canadian firms released Tuesday by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada found that intellectual property safety was one of the most significant barriers to doing business in China. More than one in ten of respondents said they had suffered an intellectual property violation in the last five years.
But Li, whose company sells intellectual property protection services for foreign firms operating in China, says business people just need the right local know-how to keep their technology safe. She tracks her clients’ patents and products in China, she says, and helps them enforce intellectual property rights and navigate local laws. With the help of companies like hers, she says, China is as safe as anywhere else.
“Of course there is still pirating,” Li adds. “All countries have pirating, even the U.S. But I think this is our opportunity to dispel misconceptions about China.”
Ethan Sun, CEO of cloud computing research company Istuary, says that while China has come a long way, it is still a dangerous place for intellectual property. After joining the trade mission to Chaoyang last November, Istuary has added half a dozen new offices and 100 new employees in China. Like Li, he says that private dealing is the most effective way to stay safe.
“Here in Canada, if someone infringes your intellectual property, you can easily pass it off to a third party to make the judgment. In China, that’s almost impossible,” he says.
Instead, Istuary protects itself with strong non-disclosure agreements and incentive programs to keep employees on board. Sun says the company tries to keep up a rapid fire R&D schedule, so that copycats will always be a step behind.  
“We’re being very careful,” he says. “But once you establish a careful managed procedure, you can mitigate the risk. The market is very tempting, so it’s very hard to just walk away.”
Biofuel company BioCube is also eyeing the Chinese market. Director Peter Wilken, who lived in Hong Kong for years, says that intellectual property is a concern, but no worse than other rapidly growing countries, such as India.
“It’s a concern for everyone,” he says. “The way of protecting it, we think, is to find the right Chinese partner, and give them enough interest in protecting their own lunch, and therefore protecting our interest as well.”
Li agrees that getting to know Chinese business partners carefully is still key. “It’s like dating,” she says. “It’s better to go find a number of boyfriends or girlfriends and compare, right?”