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China’s Reverse Robin Hood: Stealing Intellectual Property from the Poor

China’s Reverse Robin Hood: Stealing Intellectual Property from the Poor

Several facts related to the global pervasiveness of IP thefts that have occurred over the past decade are strong enough to hold ground. For instance, it’s a proven fact that IP theft has contributed significantly to reducing the market share of American firms and has subsequently destroyed or hindered the creation of several millions of American jobs. Currently, 18 million from the US workforce is employed in IP Intensive firms. The loss to IP theft amounts to around 20 million. In 2007, IP thefts reduced global trade by almost 5% to 7%.

However, once you tread beyond this simplistic factual analysis, the IP theft debate becomes more and more contentious. Major agreements are associated with issues related to policy prescriptions, such as enforcement strategies, rights of stakeholders, societal cost implications of IP theft. Probably, the most contentious issue of all is to learn how to deal with the proceedings carried out in developing countries.

As the spread of technology has succeeded in overtaking the pace at which legal frameworks have managed to percolate the system, IP theft has been on the rise specifically in Asia and Eastern Europe. For instance, although only 20% of the software market is accounted for by emerging markets, they contribute to almost 45% when it comes to software piracy. And China happens to be one of the most noticeable violators. According to facts stated by European Union, China tops the list when it comes to the volume and number of pirated items seized during the course of the year. And, almost over 90% video games that are consumed by the Chinese population are pirated.

However, there is always another side of the coin where IP naysayers would argue that the concept of Intellectual Properties has actually been introduced by the North so that the South can be kept saddled to their “poor” status. Hence, countries, such as China put forth the argument that they are indeed poor and transfer of technology is in fact an inseparable part of their developmental strategy. Therefore, if IP regulations act as hindrances for developing countries for procuring drugs or other vital technologies that are integral to their growth process, it is perhaps time for such legal system to undergo serious transformations.

And quite rightly so. After all, IP laws have been created within the limitations of the legal framework. And the purpose of having them is to emphasize that human society values creation of knowledge and strives to protect it. It is not a divinely manifested order that cannot change! However, the question here is that, can Chinese IP violation be associated with redistribution practices adhered to by OECD nations towards developing countries like China? No, it isn’t. In fact, China, along with other nations accused of IP violations are willing to adopt IPS, wherever they can lay hands on them. They are keen on stealing these from even poorer nations and awarding them to the poor. The point has been elucidated through the following case.

The case is of a company named Step Technologies. It is a small Accra-based start-up organization. It provides for systems that can allow customers use mobile devices for monitoring their home security mechanisms. Step Technologies developed through Ghana Multimedia Incubator Centre (GMIC) which is the only IT incubator program that Ghana has. The company was spearheaded by Emanuel Narh who succeeded in designing his prototype when still in his undergraduate program at the Ghana University. He went on to develop it furthermore during the course of his compulsory national service that is warranted of every student of this country. This was when his concept was noticed by GMIC. And, GMIC has continued to extend help and support in terms of infrastructural development, developing distributors and partners, finding seed funds and filing of patents. Basically, all help was extended to ready Step Technologies for production, which happened around couple of years ago.

What followed was an extensive bidding procedure through which the contract was awarded to a Chinese manufacturer. However, Narh was due for some unpleasant surprises over the months to come. He detected devices that were identical to the ones he was manufacturing, within the supply network of the Chinese manufacturer who had won the bid. When asked the reason for such unlicensed replication, Narh wasn’t very keen to accuse anyone without formidable proofs. He simply chose to switch manufacturers for safeguarding his idea. This, however, isn’t a one-off case. China works on a full blown strategy of hijacking IPs, from all sorts of sources, not only from the rich Northern countries.

A clear proof of this fact lies in China’s GDP figures which are at least 192 times more than that of Ghana and the per capita GDP is around 7 times higher. Therefore, it can be aptly deduced that rampancy in IP theft from countries, such as Russia and China, aren’t a part of a Robin Hood make use of whatever comes their way in whichever way possible.

African leaders are well aware of the fact that for growth, the economies must plan a transition from commodity-based to knowledge-based companies and enterprises. Step Technologies emerges as a stellar experience in this regard. It is an African company that received government aid and eventually succeeded in making a mark at this competitive marketplace. It has gone on to find a new manufacturing partner and is making its presence felt in a big way. These are the types of economic developments that prove beneficial for the African economy. However, the process of creating knowledge intensive companies could indeed be long drawn and difficult and might not be easily achievable. As Africa has several challenges to surpass already, IP theft issues should not create further disruptions in their path to progress.

Note: The preceding is a summary of an article found though our research, and is provided here with editorial comment for members only. Please see the full article at the following link for full original content http://www.innovationpolicy.org

The New Asia Innovation Team

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