SLACK enforcement means the intellectual property of foreign investors or joint ventures is still not well protected in China, according to a Beijing-based lawyer. This is despite steps taken in recent years to bring China's protection up to international standards. Mr David Kay, of Deacons and Graham and James International Consultants, said judges had wide discretion in cases of intellectual property rights infringement as the written law was incomplete and open to different interpretations. ''The parties in a trial can invite judges to dinner . . . and judgements are not entirely based on law,'' he said. Judges' rulings could be affected by politics and personal relationships. Another problem was that to take court action the plaintiff must go to the city where the alleged violation was taking place. ''Sometimes there is a reluctance on the part of lowly and mid-level Chinese officials and local courts to take the side of a joint-venture company - which may be perceived as a big, rich foreign company - against a struggling, smaller domestic Chinese company which is producing counterfeit products,'' said Mr Kay. Even once a ruling had been made, said Mr Kay, it was not always enforced automatically. ''We have found it most effective to work together with . . . local counsel to approach the local enforcement agencies or possibly the offender itself to collect the damages,'' he said. He suggested that joint-venture companies should designate individuals to build relationships with courts and enforcement agencies. ''Sometimes it is useful to call on friends in high places. One's joint-venture partner might have high-level contacts which could be useful,'' he said. ''Naturally, this type of string-pulling and use of back doors must be used judiciously.'' Trade secrets were the most difficult intellectual property assets to protect because the law remained undeveloped, he said.