Providing better protection for intellectual property rights in the hi-tech field is a central part of China’s development strategy, a senior official said on Sunday, as Beijing seeks to drive the next stage of its economic evolution and end its reliance on American technologies. “It is a must for the sake of our future development and competitiveness,” Shen Changyu, head of the China National Intellectual Property Administration, told a press briefing in Beijing. Blueprints for the improved protections – to be included in China’s five-year plan for 2021-25 and longer strategy through 2035 – had already been drafted and were pending review, he said. Now the world’s second-largest economy, China for many years relied on copying foreign innovations as it played economic and technological catch-up. But in 2008 it made IPR protection a national strategy and has since made rapid progress. In 2020, it made 69,000 applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty – more than any other country in the world – and ranked 14th of 131 economies featured in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s global innovation index, two places above Japan. Citing data as a new and key factor of production and the burgeoning data economy in China, Shen said the reasonable flow, effective protection and use of data required a sound mechanism, and that regulators were seeking the opinions of the market. Beijing is well aware of the challenges it faces from the US, with President Joe Biden calling for “long-term strategic competition with China”. Dozens of Chinese tech companies – including 5G equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co. , drone producer DJI and artificial intelligence specialist Sensetime – have been included on the US commerce department’s entity list, which bars them from accessing American technologies, parts or markets. US leads world on artificial intelligence but China is catching up: study The huge expansion of China digital economy – last year it accounted for 36 per cent of gross domestic product and contributed more than two-thirds of growth – has seen the debut of several tech leaders on the world stage, including Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post , and Tencent. Data is now seen as a key production ingredient and its flow and protection has made it to the government’s agenda. The leadership has also started providing more incentives for state-owned research institutions. In its 2021-25 plan, Beijing raised the R&D intensity target and “high-value patent” ownership in a bid to increase innovation-driven growth. It also pledged to scrutinise outbound transfers of Chinese intellectual property rights, and last year successfully blocked ByteDance’s sale of video sharing platform TikTok to US companies. “Next we’ll step up response mechanisms for overseas IPR disputes, opening up more overseas branches and providing better counsel for their going global,” Shen said.