Shenzhen to launch I.P. index

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 November, 2011, 12:00am


Shenzhen is set to launch Asia's first equity index on technology patents next year - a step ahead of Hong Kong, which has been fighting to become the region's trading hub on intellectual property assets.

Ocean Tomo, a Chicago-based merchant bank that is helping the Shenzhen government to set up the index, said two cities - one from Europe and another from Asia - would emerge in the next two years as the region's trading centres of copyrights, patents, trademarks, and franchises.

Chicago is the centre for North America. In Asia, Hong Kong is competing with Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, and Middle East cities to become the region's centre.

But while Hong Kong says it has an advantage because of its rule of law and existing role as a financial hub, the city lags Singapore and Beijing in its ability to grant patents.

For instance, patent applicants in Hong Kong will have their application examined by patent offices in Britain, Beijing, or Europe, as the city lacks an assessment system.

'By this time next year, there will be a much clearer indication of the anchor points of the triangle,' said James Malackowski, chief executive of Ocean Tomo.

'The next 12 to 24 months is a tipping point and we will start to see relationships formalise and a consolidation of platforms around the world.

'Hong Kong, if not the leader, certainly will be one of the front runners.'

Ocean Tomo 300 Patent Index, or OTPAT, is the world's sole patent equity index provider, offering investors the opportunity to trade technology patents held by conglomerates such as Boeing, Microsoft and Adobe.

However, Shenzhen will soon become the world's second city to have such a system.

'The US Patent Office has been around for 200 years, and it files three-quarters of a million patents a year. China's patent office was founded in 1985, but this year it has already filed more patents than the United States,' Malackowski said.

'In five years, certainly no less than 10 years, the biggest component of our business will no longer be in the US but in Asia, with a special focus on China.'

The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC), along with other stakeholders, is in talks with Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing and venture capital funds over the possibility of setting up such an equity index in the city.

Little progress has been made, however.

'We are trying to set up a platform on which patent trading can be conducted not just on a one-on-one basis, but on a many-to-many basis,' said Raymond Yip, TDC's international promotions director.

'After we set up the right environment, the market players will act.'

Although Hong Kong had more than 11,702 patent filings last year - nearly 20 per cent more than Singapore's - the city does not yet have a common platform where patents and trademarks can be traded on an open market.

The Trade Development Council will organise the city's first 'IP Expo' on December 2.

On the mainland, there are already 43 exchange centres that provide such services, including business-matching and valuation of patents.

'Even if we could set up a patent equity exchange in Hong Kong, I wonder how many investors would be interested in buying,' said Lewis Luk, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Patent Attorneys.

'Unlike stocks, a patent's value depends largely on its terms, which are very technical.

'Do we have a credible valuation system that could help investors determine the patents' value?'

Hong Kong does not have its own patent examiner, and patent agents are not required to obtain licences, which means that they can escape punishment in cases of misconduct, according to Luk.

'In fact, our legal system, financial strength, and the presence of many multinational companies did give us good grounds for becoming a patent trading hub, but without experts and monitoring you cannot grow fast.

'Even a small city like Macau has its own patent examiners - how [is it that] we don't?'

Last month the government launched a public consultation to run until the end of the year to review Hong Kong's patent regulations and seek suggestions on ways to groom talent for the industry.