By Dan Harris
Our China lawyers do the legal work on all sorts of transactions with China, ranging from relatively simply manufacturing contracts to purchase widgets to relatively complicated joint venture deals to technology licensing deals to mergers and acquisitions (involving both the purchasing of a Chinese company by a Western company to the purchasing of a Western company by a Chinese company). Nearly all of these deals have one thing in common: intellectual property. And on many (most?) of these deals, our lawyers will be far more skeptical of the intentions of the Chinese side than will our clients. We are perpetually concerned that the overriding goal of the Chinese side is to walk away with our client’s intellectual property without fairly compensating our client for that. That leads us to today’s question, which is one we are constantly asked in some form resembling the following: Do you really think XYZ Chinese company wants to steal our IP? To which the answer is pretty much invariably yes.
You can give all sorts of politically correct or politically incorrect answers as to why this is so, but it generally is. The answer I give is that Western companies want to steal your IP also, but because IP laws in the West are more developed and more likely to be enforced, their cost-benefit analysis is going to be different and so it will far less often make sense for them to try to steal your IP than it will for a Chinese company.
I was reminded of this ultra-common question today upon reading Mark Cohen’s always good China IPR Blog and his most recent post, entitled, Stealing IP from the Steel Sector. Mark’s post is about another article, Make the Foreign Serve China: How Foreign Science and Technology Helped China Dominate Global Metallurgical Industries, by Michael Komesaroff. Komesaroff nicely sums up China’s general thinking on IP with the following:
Chinese companies will infringe the proprietary technology of national champions as readily as they do to foreign competitors and the absence of an enforced intellectual property law accelerates diffusion of any new technology….with an endless supply of smart engineers and scientists, why pay for technology, something that you cannot touch, see, taste, or smell.
A reporter called me yesterday to check in on the “hot topic’ issues my firm’s China attorneys have been seeing lately. I told her of how my firm was getting a ton of matters involving Chinese companies claiming to want to invest in or buy out US technology companies, but in many instances, just using that claim as an excuse to “kick the tires” to see if there might be some way they can walk off our client’s technology for little to nothing. Just a more recent version of what Komesaroff describes in his article. For more on how Chinese companies have updated (but only slightly) their tactics of making off with Western IP and, more importantly, how to prevent that from happening to you, I urge you to check out the following.
- China Technology Transfers: The Relationship and Deal Structure Myths
- Three Myths of China Technology Transfers
- The China Fake Investment Scam: Does that Chinese Company Want to Invest in Your Company or Steal Your Technology?
Oh, and be careful out there.
Dan Harris is founder of the Harris Bricken law firm, a boutique international law firm focusing on small and medium sized businesses that operate internationally. China is the fastest growing area for the firm. Dan writes ChinaLawBlog.com as a source of China legal and business information.