Guo Shoukang: A “National Treasure” Master

By Kevin Nie, China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]

Never could I have imagined such “difficulty” in getting an interview with Professor Guo Shoukang! The 85-year-old Guo has a tight and almost a full schedule this month. Earlier, he attended oral examinations on doctoral dissertations for several days and stayed awake nightly to correct doctoral dissertations. Next week, he will fly to South Korea to attend academic seminars and will return to lecture to international exchange scholars from the United States ... Nevertheless, Mr. Guo has managed to find precious time for the interview and share his life experiences and academic insights.
Mr. Guo, born in Tianjin in 1926, graduated from Peking University Law Department and Law Institute, and later studied at Columbia University, Georgetown University, the University Of California Los Angeles School Of Law, and the Max Planck Institute for Industrial Property (IP), Copyright and Competition Law. He is currently a professor at Renmin University of China Law School (IP Institute) and a PhD supervisor.
If we listed all the titles held by Mr. Guo, one sheet of paper would not be enough. In the field of IP, few people are ignorant of Mr. Guo’s name, and nobody can match his seniority, extensiveness and voluminousness in the teaching and research of IP law.
Mr. Guo is one of China’s first experts to touch upon IP. In the early 1970s, he became engaged in IP research. He is also the sole expert having participated in drafting the three important IP laws, Patent Law, Trademark Law and Copyright Law, and is widely acclaimed as one of the founders of IP legal system of new China.
A witness to the whole process of IP legislation
As a participant and witness to China’s IP legislation, Mr. Guo has a profound understanding of the process of China’s IP laws starting from scratch. He said: “according to my personal experience, when I graduated from Peking University Law Department 60 years ago, there were no IP courses at that time. We took dozens of legal courses, but there was no Patent Law, Trademark Law, or Copyright Law, and we even had never heard of the IP term. In terms of Patent Law, though we started to introduce the idea in the late Qing Dynasty and promulgated some regulations, these regulations were not seriously implemented. The Kuomintang government made a draft patent law at the end of the war against the Japanese invasion, but it remained as a draft and not officially approved. The law entered into force later in Taiwan after the Kuomintang government retreated to Taiwan. Therefore, it can be said that the Chinese Mainland did not have a formal and modern patent system before liberation. But we did have some provisions on Trademark Law, which was drafted by Englishman Hart, then general inspector of China's Imperial Maritime Custom Service. The reason for the drafting of the law was concern of protection of foreign trademarks in import and export trade. Therefore, the law was mainly applicable to foreign trade and had little effect on domestic trademarks. As for copyright law, we had several. In 1910, one year before the Xinhai Revolution, Copyright Law of Great Qing was promulgated. The law was a result of careful consideration but failed to be implemented eventually. Later, the warlord Beiyang Government re-promulgated Copyright Law, identical with the Copyright Law of Great Qing. In 1928, the Kuomintang government promulgated again Copyright Law. The law was still effective at the time of my schooling, but it did not have much influence. At that time we did not accede to international conventions and rights in this area were not implemented.”
“After the founding of New China, we had got some new regulations. In 1950 China promulgated Provisional Regulations on Protection of Inventions and Patents (“Regulations”) drafted by the Central Financial and Economic Commission under the Government Administration Council. After passage, the Regulations went slowly and only four patents were approved till the 1960s. ” Mr. Guo added, “There had been some pamphlet regulations at that time. But after the Great Leap Forward, the protection was also played down and there was an absence of protection in author's personal rights and property rights. Later on, due to the widely known reasons, the laws regarding patents were not promulgated. The situation persisted till the reform and opening-up.”
Mr. Guo said, “Looking back 30 years ago, we had encountered an arduous, tortuous and lengthy process as we began to prepare for the drafting of relevant IP laws. Under the guidance of policies in the reform and opening up, we began to consider drafting our own patent law, trademark law and copyright law. In 1979, the drafting groups for the three laws were established in succession.”
Talking about the difficult process at the beginning of legislation, Mr. Guo stated: “At that time splits in understanding were mainly embodied in the drafting process of Patent Law. On the afternoon of March 19, 1979, the China Patent Law Drafting Group, comprised of seven members (later one more was added) was established at the office of Wu Heng, then Vice-President of the State Science and Technology Commission. Although preparations were made and some members went for overseas studies and domestic surveys, the drafting group lacked both references and experience, and utterly started from scratch. It should be said that it was a very difficult process. The first draft of Patent Law met much resistance after being submitted to the Central Government, many leaders had raised strong oppositions, and ideas were greatly split. The opposing views were mainly twofold: firstly, patents were generated in capitalist countries and did not agree with the nature of socialism; secondly, from the technical perspective, a huge discrepancy existed between us and the western countries and patents protected interests of foreigners more. At a meeting, some were disgruntled that it was not the right time to make Patent Law, and that it did not consider any national interests and was a word-for-word copy of foreign countries. Others strongly criticized the meeting and even took its chairman to task, making it difficult for the chairman to make concluding remarks. I was asked to make a systematic remark at the end of the meeting, and I made a relatively systematic and in-depth analysis of the issues discussed. Later, views were gradually uniformed, recognizing that the patent system could serve both capitalism and socialism. Moreover, China's reform and opening-up must go hand in hand with international practices. We have suffered great losses due to the absence of the patent system and disharmony with the international community. Eventually, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee adopted Patent Law on March 12, 1984.”
“Our Trademark Law started a bit late, but it was passed very quickly, because the problems were relatively simple.” Guo Shoukang said, “Two main problems were addressed, the first one was to change from forced registration to voluntary registration, and the second was to grant exclusive rights of use to trademark registrants. In fact, in the 1950s, trademark registration was voluntary, however, in the 1960s, the Regulations came out, denying voluntary trademark registration and demanding comprehensive registration, and all trademarks were required to be registered mandatorily. However, registered trademarks did not have exclusive rights of use which belonged to the country; as a result, many manufacturers were able to use the same trademarks. In fact, the trademarks at that time did not qualify as trademarks in the real sense, but rather as an administration tool, and they could no longer be deemed as IP. The 1982 Trademark Law resolved these problems, providing for voluntary registration and granting exclusive rights to use registered trademarks as well.”
“The legislation process of the Copyright Law was also very tortuous, spanning more than ten years from establishment of a ‘copyright research group’ in 1979 to the final promulgation of the Copyright Law in 1990. The discussions met with troubles from the very beginning, because we had to participate in international conventions and pay use fees upon establishment of the system, thus the country would bear an onerous economic burden. Therefore, some proposed establishment of a copyright system at home without joining in international treaties, which was obviously unrealistic. The Ministry of Finance calculated at that time that once the copyright system was in place, we had to pay USD 900 million a year for use fees, therefore, strong oppositions existed. But later after in-depth investigations, we found that it was not the case in fact. Finally, Copyright Law was approved in the 1990s.”
“It should be said that there would be no IP without the reform and opening-up. On one hand, the establishment of an IP system is the embodiment and deepening of policies of the reform and opening-up; on the other, development of an IP system also deepens the reform and opening-up policies. Over the past 30 years, we have made great achievements in the legislative and judicial systems as a whole. We have over four million patents and over 5.6 million trademark applications, China has become a big IP country. However, we are not a powerful IP country and we still have many problems. For example, we don’t have many inventions and innovations, particularly invention patents, that are of pioneering, pivotal or landmark nature; we don’t have trademarks universally recognized as well-known trademarks and their influence is quite limited; piracy has not been totally eliminated.”
A pioneer of IP education
Guo Shoukang has made important contributions in China’s IP education, and is a trailblazer in IP teaching and research at Renmin University of China. He has always attached great importance to the cultivation of talent, partly because of his deep understanding of the importance of talent during his participation in the legislative process and partly because of his insights accumulated from years of participation in international exchange activities.
During his participation in the drafting of the Patent Law and other laws, Mr. Guo personally felt that talent shortage was a big problem. The urgency to nurture its own IP talent has also been noted by a growing number of high-level management. Wu Heng, who led in the drafting of Patent Law, was very much concerned about this. He discussed with then President of Renmin University of China Guo Yingqiu and proposed to establish a training base in the university, Guo Yingqiu also agreed. However, due to later objections, the proposal was delayed for years.
As a multilingual, Mr. Guo has attended international conferences many times. In 1985, he went to Geneva for a meeting and met with his old friend - World Intellectual Property Organization Director-General Bogsch. Bogsch said China should have its own educational bases for IP talent, and their ideas chimed with each other instantly. In the same year, Bogsch visited China and mentioned the problem to Chinese leaders once again, drawing their attention and support. The two sides decided immediately to send delegations to discuss specific matters. Mr. Guo participated in the half-month negotiations as China’s chief negotiator and finally reached an agreement to establish an IP Teaching and Research Center at the Renmin University of China. The center was formally established in 1987 and Mr. Guo became its first director. This is the earliest institution specialized in IP teaching and research and has been called a “machine tool” in the IP field.
Apart from teaching, Mr. Guo has continued his academic research. He has edited and translated numerous books, in both Chinese and foreign languages, and has made important offerings to the popularity and improvement of China's IP laws. For example, Intellectual Property Law (editor-in-chief), China Intellectual Property Law (English version), International Copyright Law and Practice (co-author with P. Geller and others, English version), International Copyright and Neighboring Rights (English version, P. Stewart as editor-in-chief), Border Control of Intellectual Property Rights (English version, Michael Blakeney as editor-in-chief) and Introduction to Copyright (translation), to name just a few, have all received positive responses from the IP community. Mr. Guo, though over 80, continues to challenge pioneering issues surrounding IP rights. In 2008, the 82-year-old Mr. Guo organized the translation of the WIPO Treaties 1996: the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. in addition, had it published after word-by-word revision in person. In 2009, he completed the translation of the Copyright Law and Internet published by the Encyclopedia of China Publishing House. In March 2009, entrusted by the General Administration of Press and Publication, he undertook research on the Implementation of International Treaties of Copyright. Shortly after, he will pay a visit to South Korea to attend an international seminar on audio and video copyright, and has written academic papers on the subject.
In 2004, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as only Chair appointed Mr. Guo for the Teaching of Copyright and Neighboring Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region. Additionally, he also serves as the UNESCO professor for copyright, Adjunct Professor of Deakin University in Australia, an arbitrator for both China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission and the United Nations WIPO, Executive Director of International Copyright Association, a member of UK Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and an editor advisor for the World Intellectual Property Report (English version).
In introducing Mr. Guo to our Journalist prior to the interview, Professor Liu Chuntian, who helped us arrange for this interview, commented: “in terms of participation in legislation, Guo Shoukang is the oldest teacher among us and has participated in all IP laws. He is a graduate from the old Peking University before liberation with solid foundation and language skills. He is capable of working in six foreign languages. He can be regarded as a national treasure, and we are his students.”
An ordinary and respectable elder
As a knowledgeable and world-renowned scholar, Mr. Guo maintains peace of mind and does not care about fame and fortune. At present, he keeps his simple way of life by taking no cars, riding bicycles, does not use cell phones but computers. In his small study, all types of books are piled tightly on the ground and on tables and chairs.
A kind of irresistible affinity exists in Mr. Guo. When contacting him for the interview, he patiently told us the specific route to his home, and was even careful enough to ask us how far and if we were driving a car or riding a motorcycle?
When he learned that our magazine is composed of a group of young people, Mr. Guo said encouragingly: “It is a good thing for youngsters to devote themselves to the popularity and promotion of IP rights. I am willing to serve you as a volunteer publicist.”

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