Nov 27, 2011

Intellectual property can be a liability in China

There are a lot of things wrong with intellectual property law in the U.S., Canada, Europe and elsewhere that similar systems are used. Patents take a long time, litigation is common, and lawyers prosper as much as innovators. In a country like China, however, the political and legal system can be rigged against people with critical knowledge in ways we can hardly imagine. In "Engineer's return to China leads to jail and limbo," today's New York Times reminds us of things we take for granted.

Hu Zhicheng is a naturalized American citizen, an engineer educated at MIT, with 48 patents and deep experience designing catalytic converter systems. Mr. Hu saw an opportunity to help China with its pollution problems if he returned and applied his knowledge there. He went to China in 2004, bringing his family there in 2006 as he went from success to success in manufacturing, eventually becoming president of the company that supplies catalytic converters to half of China's cars.

Then he declined to accept a company as a supplier, Hysci Specialized Materials. Retaliation was not long in coming, according to Mr. Hu. Tianjin public security officers arrived in response to an accusation that Hu had stolen trade secrets, though the technology was public information in the U.S. The shady part was that buying from Hysci would make the charges go away. Mr. Hu was jailed for 17 months, at times being made to sleep on the floor of his cell. He was released after prosecutors withdrew the case.

The Hu family was able to leave China when the situation became dire. Now that Mr. Hu is at liberty, whenever he tries to board a plane for the U.S., he is stopped by immigration officials who have unsubstantiated claims that he is wanted for crimes in Tianjin.

Although Thanksgiving in the U.S. is past, perhaps we should be grateful for a business and legal system that is imperfect, but not a threat to life and liberty.


John Hunter said...

Sadly while China's system is a worse threat to liberty ours is increasingly so. I don't think you can see the actions in the last 10 years against liberty in the USA and say it is not a threat to liberty. Fine we can say it isn't as bad as some other places. That is hardly a wonderful state to be in.

It is not one or two actions in the USA it is the increasingly anti-liberty actions carried out every day. I think what we are taking for granted is the liberty we used to have more than the liberty we have today (which I'll admit is greater than some countries but nowhere near what it should be).

Unknown said...

John, if you broaden the issue beyond intellectual property, I have to agree with you. We've constructed an irrational behemoth in the name of "security" that we pay for, while other services are cut. I'm not a "no government" person, but am against a government not accountable for its actions.

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