China and Hong Kong are international trading and manufacturing centers. Everything from new potential markets to more competitive manufacturing, printing, and assembly continues to lure business into China and Hong Kong.
Washington State alone exports roughly one billion dollars' worth of goods and services to China each year. Even a relatively small market share in China amounts to huge potential sales. A five percent market share of China's 1.3 billion people is approximately 65 million people - equivalent to about one fifth of the population of the United States (roughly). China is also on the leading edge of international and domestic legal developments, offering tremendous potential protection for those doing or planning to do business in China. China's membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is one exciting recent development.
The Pacific Northwest is culturally and geographically situated to create a natural launching point into China
Your First Step into China
Although China is open for new business, caution is advised. The most effective first step into China is the formal legal protection of one's products and technology. An overlapping portfolio of copyright protection, product design protection, trademark protection, and patent protection helps assure one's competitive advantage in China, Hong Kong and, indeed, the world.
Copyright Protection in China
Copyright protects creativity. The efforts of writers, artists, designers, software programmers, and other talents need to be protected so that hard work can be rewarded. Copyrights, like patents and trademarks, are an effective tool against unauthorized manufacture, use, sales, or imports of one's creative expression, including package design and in some cases product configuration.
China and Hong Kong are creative places. Chinese film production, television production, sound recording production, publications, fashion, jewelry, and graphic design are known world-wide and enjoy a ready market overseas. China and Hong Kong are also international trading centers. Securing the necessary intellectual property rights protection, including copyright, helps assure one's competitive advantage in China, Hong Kong, and the world.
Registered Product Designs in China
Product designs can be registered in China and Hong Kong to stop unauthorized manufacture, import, use, sale or hiring of one's product design in China and Hong Kong. Licensing product designs is another possibility once designs have been registered.
Designs not registered in China and Hong Kong may still be protected under copyright law for articles produced from one's original design drawings. Protection under copyright law is for 15 years from first marketing of the article. But protection under copyright law has limitations. One cannot take legal action for copyright infringement where another person independently produces a similar design. If a design is registered, a similar design will infringe, even if it was independently created! It is also easier to defend against pirates when a design is registered.
Trademark Protection in China
A trademark is used to promote and identify one's goods and services. Trademarks also enable the purchasing public to distinguish goods and services sold by different manufacturers. A trademark may be any sign that is visually perceptible and capable of being represented graphically and may, in particular, consists of words, personal names, letters, numerals, figurative elements or combination of colors, and includes any combination of such signs. Chinese character trademarks are available to foreign companies in China too!
Patent Protection in China
Patent protection is helpful in stopping unauthorized manufacturing, use, sales, or imports of one's invention in the countries where the patent has issued. Patent protection is required in China and Hong Kong, for example, to stop unauthorized manufacture, use or sales of one's invention in China and Hong Kong. Likewise patents in China and Hong Kong are important if one intends to license someone else to manufacture, use, sell, or import an invention in Hong Kong. Applying for a patent elsewhere in the world does not automatically give one patent protection in China and Hong Kong.
Considerations for Technology Protection in China
Things to consider while handling technology protection and commercialization issues in China and other jurisdictions:
Structuring secrecy, option, first-refusal, license, research collaboration, and joint venture agreements.
Manage all types of intellectual property evaluation and protection, including trademark, copyright, trade secret, product design, and patent rights, both in the United States and throughout the world, including China and Hong Kong. Also develop internal policies, agreements, and forms to assure a company's rights in intellectual property developed by its employees, contractors, or partners.
Licensing In or Out
Technology is frequently commercialized by an entity other than its creator. Licensing in a technology can give a company quick access to new market niches, and this has been the basis for many successful technology start-ups. Licensing out provides revenue to the technology's creator, which can be a research lab or a company with technology outside its own focused niche.
Research and Collaboration
Pacific Northwest Law Group has a wide referral network to help companies collaborate with Chinese businesses to develop or improve technologies or products through joint research effort. The respective rights of the collaborators vis-à-vis new developments are protected through well-crafted research and/or collaboration agreements.