Enforcement is the Absolute Solution of IP Infringement—An Interview with John Alty, CEO and Comptroller General of UKIPO

2011/05/20,By Sarah Luo, China IP,[Patent]

On March 2, 2011, John Alty took his first visit to China as CEO of the UK Intellectual Property Office. This visit was the first milestone in a journey which saw the UK and China working more closely on IP issues. John Alty said in his speech that although long viewed as the world’s major source of illegally copied goods, over the same period China has increasingly become a nation that innovates rather than imitates.
During the interview with China IP, he talked about the IPR collaboration between UK and China, the economic recovery, business stimulus and other IP related topics in an interview with China IP Magazine.
China IP: In 2010, you assumed the CEO post of UKIPO. After one year’s assignment, how do you think of your role in IPO? And how will you strengthen the IP establishment and innovation?
John Alty: Well, I think after one year, first, there is a lot to learn, and I am still learning. But I think what I expected to find and have found is a very important issue for economic development in both the UK and across the world, including China. The economy comes out of recession, (and) we need to have good IP policies to encourage invention. I think it’s a very broad topic with different aspects of IP like copyrights, patents and trademarks. And the related laws have important issues we need to do in some different ways.
China IP: What role does the UKIPO play in supporting business, innovation and skills to promote economic growth and commercial success?
John Alty: Well, I think the first role that is important is to get the right policy and the overall policy framework. So we have a good balance. Intellectual property is giving protection to the owners’ rights. It’s important they have confidence to invest and to innovate. But it must be not too strong because otherwise consumers can lose out and competitors be hounded. So we have to strike that balance. And then we are also responsible for granting rights. For companies, we have to be efficient, quick and customer-friendly in granting these rights.
China IP: Is the IPR strategy bound by the EU Convention? If disputes arise, which side has the priority to solve it?
John Alty: We are a member of the EU. And some parts of intellectual property are decided at the EU level and other parts are decided at the national level. And actually at the moment this is a big initiative to agree on EU patent, so one patent across the EU, and that will be a very important initiative if we can’t agree to it.
China IP: Britain is the first country to establish the patent system and the UKIPO has a history of more than 150 years. Which principles and definitions of UK do you think are applicable in the world?
John Alty: I think it’s important that we give businesses certainty. So they have a good understanding of what they stand, and that we do work of good quality and that there is a transparent system. So that if there is a dispute, everybody understands how it will be solved.
China IP: How do you value the IPR protection in Britain and China? What is the biggest difference in the public’s awareness of IPR protection and the enforcement of IPR?
John Alty: We do collaborate with China in all the major areas of IP. I think that in general the Chinese government has introduced very good frameworks for IP. I think that the areas we are collaborating with them are to improve further the cooperation of the implementation and sometimes of these frameworks. Well, in that area also there are some very good-quality work in China, for instance, the Chinese Intellectual Property Office we are collaborating (with). You can see good-quality work.
China IP: For the cooperation, will you plan to establish a specific program in
John Alty: Do we? We already do have programs. We are exchanging staff with Chinese SIPO (Intellectual Property Office). We have had some joint seminars on trademarks and copyright issues, and in my meetings today, we have been discussing how we will take these further in future.
China IP: In our daily practice, we mention two aspects. One is the awareness of the public and the other one is the enforcement of IP. So, in your opinion, what is the biggest difference concerning these two aspects in Britain and China?
John Alty: The first is about the public’s awareness. Well. I think that there are still some problems of enforcement in China. And that is the issue we discussed with the government ministers. But we also know that China is making some big efforts to improve (the situation). Also I understand from the discussions with Chinese ministers that perhaps it is a cultural issue that we called education. And also I think again they are realizing it is important for them to make some further efforts.
China IP: Upon the IPR infringement, do you think China is the victim or the infringer?
John Alty: Haha…I wouldn’t want to say China is an infringer. I think it is individual, it is individual companies. It’s not (the) country. But I think that some of the reports published by European Union or the US show that there are still quite a lot of infringements going on. So, of course, I am sure some people in China are victims of these too. That’s why it’s important to try the stepping down and cracking down on infringement. A number of people say they are cracking down on infringement.
China IP: Many people say that piracy in China is very serious. The government also realized this phenomenon. Can you share with us the ways to combat the problem? America listed China on its watch list (of piracy).
John Alty: It is not easy. There are different types of piracy. There is piracy of physical goods and counterfeiting. And it’s a question of being vigilant and quick to solve the problems. I think companies understand that there will always be some problems of infringement. There is infringement in the UK and in every country. So the question is how the authorities reacted, or it is very expensive on certain companies. Then there are digital business, digital types of piracy. All countries are trying to find ways to combat that. I think we need to share that practice and help China again to bring to an end of this sort of piracy.
China IP: Many enterprises in China, including European enterprises, find IP protection a troublesome problem. What’s your plan to create a green IP?
John Alty: I think we can provide encouragement, and we can draw the attention of the Chinese authorities to problems, oversee the Chinese authorities to act and to organize themselves. It is not correct to tell them how to do it. But as I said just now that the key things are to react quickly, try to be of certainty and to avoid cost for companies. That is, when they become damaged, they feel it is too dangerous to operate in China for them. And that is not helpful for China as well as for the UK. So I don’t think we can prescribe how it should be done in detail. We can set up out some of good principles to judge success.
China IP: This problem should be seen from different perspectives. But for some Chinese entrepreneurs, they think that the Chinese government pay more attention to the IPR protection of foreign enterprises, and they think it’s unfair because the foreign companies receive more attention from the government. Do you think so?
John Alty: It is difficult for me to comment, because I don’t speak to Chinese enterprises. Maybe it’s spoken to British enterprises. But what I would say that we don’t ask for special treatment for British companies. We are simply asking for equal treatment for everybody. We are creators of intellectual property as much as foreign companies. So I think I should be responsible.
China IP: During your visit, what topics did you talk about with the Chinese representatives?
John Alty: We spoke the whole about all the topics. As I mentioned that we have three cooperation agreements on patents, trademark and copyright. And we discuss with responsible authorities how we can take it forward. And I was very pleased that in each case the Chinese side seems very easy to continue with this cooperation. And equally we discussed the enforcement issues. And I want to hear what is the result of the special action the government has been taking over those months. So it’s very helpful information for me.
China IP: As a common citizen, we often hear terms like education and enforcement upon the IP problems, so do you think what other key words should be noticed?
John Alty: I think in China perhaps the concepts of intellectual property are relatively new. So it’s understandable that they are not yet very widely understood. I heard from the Chinese government that activities are held to educate them and make them aware of IP. We do this sort of thing in UK. I think it’s a long term, and it is a medium-long term challenge. It is not something you change overnight. So I think the main message is to keep going, to keep these efforts in place. There will be understanding. I think Chinese business compare these too because the Chinese companies are integrated into the global economy. So they have their own interests in IPR.
China IP: Could you briefly describe what direction you are attempting to steer the organization, as you are the CEO of IPO.
John Alty: We belong to a government department. So I am reporting to a minister, who is the minister of intellectual property. It is a woman, Lady Wilcox. She is responsible for the policy for IP. And then we are agencies of the government (and) we have some independent directors. They are the steering board. They are helping to make sure that mainly we operate in an efficient and effective way. So they come from the variety of backgrounds. And they have good experience from the practice sector. And we are in the public sector. So it’s good to share our experiences.
China IP: Last, could you please share with us your life and your belief ?
John Alty: Very colorful! My experience in my work has been in the government. So most I am dealing are business and markets, and how to help economy grow. And I think the UK has a very open system. We believe in open markets and competition. This is a good way to create prosperity. So most of my career I think involve activities to help to support this open market, competition and dynamic business. And now we see in China also over the last few years how the market has helped to create dynamic business environment. (So what’s your belief in your life?) My belief in my life is mostly about my family and part of my football team. I am a very strong supporter of the Liverpool football club. That is a strong belief in my life.

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