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China's IP boss says West distorts piracy problem

"We're really trying, and you're not helping"

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China’s IP boss has hit out at ‘unfair’ Western media reports criticising the country’s record on intellectual property rights and piracy, claiming that foreign tech companies wouldn’t build their kit in the PRC if the problem was as bad as it is portrayed to be.

State Intellectual Property Office chief, Tian Lipu, admitted to reporters on the sidelines of the once-every-five-years Communist Party Congress on Sunday that piracy is a problem in China, according to Reuters.

However, he added that the impression given of the country’s approach to IP protection had, to a large extent, “been distorted by Western media”.

"China's image overseas is very poor. As soon as people hear China they think of piracy and counterfeiting,” he said.

"We don't deny [this problem], and we are continuing to battle against it.”

Tian tried to position China as an upholder of IP rights, claiming that “the software is all real” in its banks, government offices and insurance companies.

“China is the world's largest payer for patent rights, for trademark rights, for royalties, and one of the largest for buying real software," he added.

The government has certainly been going through an extensive anti-piracy drive to ensure all software in its central and regional offices is legal and licensed.

It emerged recently that over a billion yuan (£102m) was spent on 158,823 operating system licenses, 506,693 copies of office software plus anti-virus and other software as part of the reforms.

However, Tian’s claims don’t quite tally with other reports.

The Business Software Alliance, for example, said in its most recent report that 77 per cent of installed software in China is pirated – the highest of any country worldwide and costing the software industry an estimated £5.7bn.

"Of the goods made for Apple, most are made in China. Once Apple's brand is added to it and it is exported to the United States its value doubles," Tian said by way of counter argument.

"This could only happen because China's intellectual property rights environment sets foreign investors at ease allowing them to come to China to manufacture."

However, analyst firm Gartner is not in full agreement. Its official Data and Intellectual Property Security and Privacy rating for the country is ‘poor’ and claims there is still “a long way to go” to improve matters.

In this context, it could be argued that being put "at ease" about the local intellectual property rights environment is much further down the list of priorities for foreign tech firms than labour costs, infrastructure and so on.

Nevertheless there are signs of a less tolerant attitude to piracy emerging in the People's Republic.

China’s largest e-commerce marketplace, Taobao has been on the US government’s blacklist of “Notorious Markets” for piracy for some time now, but that may change after it received backing from former critic the Motion Picture Association (MPA).

The Recording Industry Association of America and the International Intellectual Property Alliance have also been pleased by measures Taobao is introducing to cut the number of copyright infringing goods sold on the site. ®

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