Companies that suspect violations of their intellectual property rights at trade shows in China may have stronger recourse to stop abuses under an agreement reached between U.S. and Chinese exhibition planners.
According to U.S. officials, the deal formally commits Chinese trade show authorities to recognizing the importance of intellectual property rights and reporting things such as counterfeiting, trademark violations and piracy.
Officials with the International Association for Exhibition Management, which reached the agreement with Chinese authorities last month, described it not as a detailed enforcement pact but rather as recognition of the importance of the problem.
``What we have crafted is a simple agreement, a one-page agreement, that salutes the need to protect intellectual property rights,'' Steven Hacker, president of Dallas-based IAEM, said in a telephone interview. ``That's a huge step forward; heretofore, the Chinese have kind of winked at intellectual property rights, and there have been enormous abuses.''
IAEM said the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, for example, is drafting regulations that will require substantial new intellectual property protections at trade shows in China. IAEM reached the deal with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, which has jurisdiction over trade fairs.
The Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., which is a member of IAEM, said it welcomed the pact but acknowledged that many details have yet to be worked out.
``It gives [companies] a documented vehicle to use in pursuit of legal action against a known violation of their intellectual property rights,'' said Walt Bishop, SPI's vice president of trade shows. ``It hasn't been tested yet. To what extent it will have any significant weight, I don't know.''
Bishop said intellectual property protection is a major issue for U.S. companies, as significant as getting U.S. visas is to Chinese companies that want to attend American events.
But Bishop also said that when Washington-based SPI asked U.S. plastics machinery and equipment companies for examples of intellectual property theft at Chinese trade fairs, no one reported any examples, which he said suggests they either have not had a problem or do not want to admit they have had a problem.
Hacker, however, said problems have surfaced at Chinese trade shows, and the Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers said last year it has evidence of Chinese companies at trade fairs marketing flame-retardant chemicals that violate a U.S. company's patent.
The U.S. Department of Commerce recently asked for comments from U.S. companies on the extent of intellectual property violations in China.
Hacker said he believes that Chinese authorities want to beef up intellectual property protections because their economy is becoming more sophisticated and they worry about becoming victims of intellectual theft themselves.
``China has now realized that it is on the brink of becoming a victim state, rather than just a spectator,'' he said.
Citing a recent ruling in China in favor of Starbucks in an intellectual property case, Hacker said, ``For the first time, we are seeing some really clear evidence that the courts [in China] are serious about protecting intellectual property rights.''