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A visitor watches a promotion video at the China International Big Data Industry Expo 2021 in Guiyang, Guizhou province, on May 26, 2021. Photo: Xinhua

China wants to be a ‘powerful intellectual property nation’ by 2035 amid tech race with the US

  • Beijing’s top leaders unveiled a blueprint for China to enhance the creation and protection of intellectual property
  • China considers intellectual property a key strategic area as the country strives towards technological self-reliance

China has taken a new step towards its strategic goal of technological self-reliance, unveiling a bold plan to become a global leader in intellectual property (IP) protection by 2035 amid a protracted tech war with the US.

In a blueprint titled Guidelines for Building a Powerful Intellectual Property Nation (2021-2035) published on Wednesday, leaders said that by 2025, they want “patent-intensive industries” and the copyright industry to account for 13 per cent and 7.5 per cent of China’s GDP respectively.

The plan, released by the State Council and Central Committee of the Communist Party, also said that China’s export and import of intellectual property rights should reach 350 billion yuan (US$54 billion) by 2025, with the number of “high-value” patents increasing to 12 for every 10,000 people in the country.

Why IP protection in China is important to both Beijing and Washington

The guidelines said that by 2035, China’s competitiveness in intellectual property should be “among the top in the world”, with the country actively participating in the “global governance of intellectual property rights”.

To achieve its goal, China will speed up legislative efforts to protect intellectual property of new technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and genetic technology, according to the blueprint.

Beijing is determined to promote patent applications and copyright registrations among domestic businesses because the global trade of services will be growing at a much faster rate than the trade of goods, according to Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank (China).

“If [China’s] IP industry is not developing well, the globalisation of the country’s services and digital trade will be hindered and conflicts between China and the US will be more likely,” said Wang.

IP rights have long been a point of contention between Washington and Beijing.

While the US has accused China of failing to protect IP rights – the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property labelled China the “world’s principal IP infringer” in 2017 – China has said it is itself a victim of IP theft. In January 2020, Beijing agreed to crack down on IP violations as part of its phase one trade deal with the US.

US says China has fallen short on ‘phase one’ IP commitments

As the US-China tech race intensifies, leaders in both countries have stressed the importance of protecting intellectual property.

In the first major speech US President Joe Biden delivered to Congress in April, he cast the US-China relationship as a battle in century-defining technologies, with intellectual property being one of the key issues. Meanwhile, China has made IP protection a priority in its five-year plan for 2021 to 2025, as part of its strategy to seek self-reliance in critical technologies.

China does not lag behind western countries when it comes to IP development, according to Li Yahong, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong who specialises in intellectual property law.

“On the contrary, China is probably exceeding western countries in some respects, quantitatively all along and qualitatively now. This guideline will help China focus more on the quality aspect of IP development, particularly on tech transfer and enforcement systems,” she said. ”The Chinese government has a tradition of setting out guidelines or X-year plans to guide the development of the country in various areas, including the IP system. This one is no exception. This practice has been proven very effective to lead the country to achieve higher goals.”

China has made swift progress in innovation capabilities in recent years, having jumped 23 places from 35th in 2013 to 12th this year in the Global Innovation Index published by the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo). The rankings measure the innovation capabilities of 132 economies around the world. The US ranked third this year.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China has plan to lead world in i.p. by 2035