FOREIGN companies investing in China need not wait for high-level United States negotiators to secure better protection of their intellectual property rights, says a Hong Kong-based consultant. Practical steps taken at the local and state levels can substantially reduce copyright violations immediately for individual companies, regardless of whether the US imposes trade sanctions on February 4. Laurence Brahm, director of the Naga Group which advises multinationals, said foreign-invested enterprises should hire local investigators from the start to monitor the regional markets for counterfeits. Once the illegal dealers and producers are identified, local authorities can investigate further and carry out raids to destroy the operation. 'A counterfeit problem doesn't disappear, it moves. If you aren't continually surveying the situation, trying to take action, it will re-surface,' he said. 'A company engaged in manufacturing mass consumption products in China needs to build into its investment strategy a market monitoring process. Without that, signing pieces of paper won't necessarily solve the problem.' Other useful precautions include: Establishing a strong legal foundation for future anti-counterfeit actions by licensing a product's trademark to the Chinese manufacturer. Asking employees to take an oath not to steal corporate secrets or copy technology after they change jobs. Building a good relationship with local and state-level authorities. Training local police and officials to recognise counterfeits. Although Mr Brahm admitted that forcing employees to swear secrecy had little practical value, he said it raised awareness that copying intellectual property was wrong. 'Education is half the problem,' he said. 'While China has national intellectual property rights legislation,' he added, 'it's a big country. People are not trained to think that copying is a violation of the law. They actually think that they are being very clever.' US trade negotiators have consistently demanded that China close down 29 factories in southern China that turn out 70 million compact discs and other illegally copied products every year. But Mr Brahm called this a 'drastic and irrational solution'. If a foreign company discovers that other established enterprises are churning out copies of its products, it can solve the problem easily by having authorities help them to halt the illegal production lines and ensure that the enterprise manufactures something else. A second kind of operation, which is organised by career counterfeiters, is much more difficult to wipe out because it shifts location quickly. It is also understood that these operations are connected to organised crime rings in Hong Kong.