Many companies see losing their IP as a price of entry into China and calculate that it’s worthwhile. In many cases, “companies aren’t forced to give [IP] up, they were willing to take the risk either because they’re naïve or feel like it’s financially worth it to get into China’s mammoth marketplace,” wrote Seattle-based lawyer Dan Harris on China Law Blog. Harris specializes in helping U.S. companies working in China.
In his experience, foreign companies are so eager to tap into the China market they are willing to sign almost any agreement and are often tricked. He spells out the typical strategy a Chinese partner uses: negotiate a weak license, withhold payments until it gets the technology, then when it gets enough tech, stop the payments. In some cases, the U.S. company will sign an agreement with the Chinese partner in both English and Chinese, yet the Chinese portion includes a line that the IP belongs to the Chinese company—a line that is missing in English. The Chinese wording is what stands in a Chinese court.
When Harris brings up these potential problems with the companies, they claim they are certain they won’t be tricked because they have a close relationship with the Chinese company. Yet in China, relationships are just part of business.
Recently there have been some positive changes in China’s approach to IP, perhaps as a result of domestic companies maturing and demanding greater IP protection for themselves. In one case, China is getting a taste of its own medicine: As China stole IP from Japanese and German high-speed rail makers, now other countries are reportedly stealing China’s IP as Chinese companies export their rails to less-developed countries.
In September, a month after the U.S. investigation began, China launched a four-month campaign to protect the IP rights of foreign businesses, with 13 government ministries working to crack down on the theft of trade secrets, trademark infringement, patent violation, and online property rights. In November, the General Administration of Customs said it found more than 1,560 cases of intellectual property infringement on goods exported to the United States during two joint U.S.-China crackdowns in 2017.
Furthermore, in the past two years, Chinese civil courts have increasingly sided with U.S. companies charging Chinese companies for copying their trademark. In 2016 a Chinese court sided with Michael Jordan’s Nike-produced brand, after a four-year legal battle with the Chinese company Qiaodan, which used the Chinese transliteration of his name and a similar logo.
Three days after the Trump administration announced its investigation, athletic shoe company New Balance won $1.5 million in damages from Xin Bai Lun, New Boom, and New Bunren, three companies that had used the company’s iconic slanted “N” symbol.
It was the largest amount awarded to a U.S. company, and China observers will watch for whether it marks the beginning of a trend toward greater IP protection.
Copying the church
One area where the Chinese ability to copy and emulate the West could be beneficial is in the church. Christianity took hold in China under Mao’s reign, with persecution fueling the spread of the church. Yet in this large group of new believers, few had ever attended a proper church service, understood church leadership, or had accountability structures in place.
As China’s doors opened to the rest of the world, pastors traveled to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the West to learn how to run churches, conduct services, and even print bulletins. They brought back what they saw and replicated it in their own settings, which allowed churches to mature as they learned from the practices and experience of the overseas church.
They’re also able to copy conferences, mission agencies, and denominations, often with the help of foreign missionaries. One Taiwanese missionary said he first spoke with churches in Wenzhou about cross-cultural missions in 2014. At a missions conference this year, church leaders were able to present the purpose of missions, how to engage in missions, and where to get resources, all based on information he and other international groups had provided earlier.
Chinese websites, video platforms, and social media are full of translated sermons—both transcripts and videos—of leading pastors from all over the world, usually without the knowledge of the speaker. This means false teachings are spreading further and faster—but so is the gospel message and solid Bible exposition.
In 2016, Desiring God CEO Scott Anderson asked for advice on how to disseminate John Piper’s online resources in China. I did a quick search on the Chinese search engine Baidu and found more than 76,000 hits under Piper’s Chinese name, including more than 200 video clips of his sermons on topics like God’s sovereignty, the dangers of the prosperity gospel, and not wasting one’s life. The ministry didn’t need to worry about dissemination and translation—the Chinese people had already done it. —J.C.