Patent expert gives up 'iron rice bowl' for website

Beijinger saw only monotony in his future as a government patent examiner, so he went off on his own with a now-thriving website

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 5:42am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 5:42am

Zhu Jiaqun spent 10 years working as a patent examiner for the government, but eventually realised his future looked dull. He was passionate about his work, and as a hobby he ran a website about intellectual property. Last year he decided to throw away his "iron rice bowl'' job and set up a commercial website specialising in patents.

Why did you start this website? was launched in January 2009. I was an examiner at the State Intellectual Property Office and the team was capable, young and passionate. I thought I could transfer that talent to a website. Initially, my colleagues just answered questions sent to the site and helped people taking the exams to become patent agents. These two areas shaped the website at first. I did it in my spare time, without a thought to making money.

How does the website make money now?

Mainly from three areas. The first is translation of patent documents. Because we use industry professionals, we easily find translators for these kinds of documents. What we do is ensure the translation's quality. The second part is patent searches and analysis. We organise these projects, pick the best people to search and then control the quality of their work. The other area is listing jobs and providing headhunting services.

When and why did you quit your job as a public servant?

I quit in August last year. One reason was that under the state's civil service system, I could see what I would be like 10 years from now, even 10 years after that. I thought such a life lacked passion and challenge. It's meaningless to live in a way where you already know everything about tomorrow. Also, it had been almost five years since I launched this website and it would have been hard to develop it further if it continued to be loosely administered. And the site meant a lot to the patent industry. Once the internet enters an industry, it brings change - it changes the relationship among people, it builds trust and an industry's business model. The patent industry in China has seen little change in the past three decades. The only mature businesses are patent agencies, which earn money by helping individuals or companies apply for patents. There are few mature businesses besides that, and none combining the business with the internet.

What do users care most about regarding patents?

I would say the quality and the value of a patent. In order to improve the protection of intellectual property rights, the central government used to make the number of patent applications one indicator of a local government's performance. As a result, local governments provided money to encourage applications. In some cases, people made up fake patents to get the money. Today they realise the problem and are changing the focus from quantity to quality. The way the government offers funding has also changed. For example, in more affluent areas you get some of the funding when applying and the rest after approval. In some places, all the money is given after approval, or only those applying for a patent in a foreign country are provided with funds. By the value of patent, I mean how useful it is and if it brings the holder a profit. In China today, if my patent is infringed and I take it to court, optimistically I might get 300,000 yuan (HK$382,000) in compensation. But the loss caused by the infringement could far exceed this, and it might not cover my costs to hire a lawyer. In other words, patents are not well protected. In the United States, if your company infringes another's intellectual property rights, the losses you face could kill your company. That's why a patent package in the US can sell for billions of dollars, while this is impossible in China.

Do you think these issues will be solved in the future?

Absolutely. In 2002, the intellectual property office recruited 200 staff and in 2003 about 300 more because of a rapid increase in the number of patent applications. Not only professionals are seeing the benefits; as an ordinary internet user I have seen the improvement online. In the past, there was hardly any protection of copyright online, but now we see some major video websites are doing a lot better in protecting copyrights. The same is true with patents and trademarks. Since China entered the World Trade Organisation, it has faced great pressure to protect property rights. I believe the industry will get better, as leaders are determined to improve.

Are there many websites like yours? How active are they?

The earliest of its kind was Beiyang, which was set up around 2005, followed by and Now we have become the leader, with 600 to 700 posts, 100,000 clicks a day and 3,000 to 5,000 people online simultaneously. The others have fewer posts.

What do you think makes your website different?

We are diligent and work from the heart. Another reason is the activities we run offline, away from the website, such as seminars and forums where people can meet each other.