Looking forward to More Exchanges on IP Protection— An Interview with Tom Duke, the First UK IP Attaché to China

By Monica Zhang, Snow Li, China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]

On December 8th, 2011, the first UK-China IP Symposium was held in London. At the Symposium, Baroness Wilcox, UK Minister for Intellectual Property, announced the appointment of Tom Duke as the UK’s first overseas IP attaché, who began work in China on December 14th, 2011. The purpose of posting an IP attaché in China, as Baroness Wilcox explained, is to “provide a physical presence for British businesses and help to build relations with intellectual property agencies in China.”
Tom Duke is the former head of the IP Centre at the European Union Chamber of Commerce in South Korea. In China, he will work with the existing UKTI (United Kingdom Trade and Development) and FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) networks to improve the IP protection and enforcement environment for UK stakeholders. Mr. Duke is fluent in Chinese and Korean, and he has a background in economics and Chinese industry analysis.
In order to better understand the working scope and the future plans of the first UK IP attaché in China, the journalists of China IP had an interview with Tom Duke at the British Embassy in Beijing.
China IP: As far as we know, the UK government has never sent an IP attaché abroad, so why was China chosen as the first country to receive an IP attaché?
Mr. Duke: There are two aspects to this question: one is why the UK needs IP attachés overseas, the other is why we chose China as the first country. For the first aspect of the question, sending IP attachés across the whole world is part of the UK’s policy to create a network to implement our international IP strategy.
As to the reason for choosing China as the first country, there are actually many reasons for this decision, including the good relationship between the UK IPO and Chinese government agencies working in the IP field. Our cooperation programs can benefit from having somebody physically here in China in order to bring positive effects for everybody.
China IP: Will the UK government send more IP attachés to other countries? Which country do you think will be the next one?
Mr. Duke: The network will eventually cover pretty much the whole world, and I believe the next country will probably be India.
China IP: Does this mean that the developing countries are more important for the UK’s IP strategy?
Mr. Duke: Not necessarily. We choose places where we could have the most value.
China IP: Have you been to China before? As far as we know, you have a background in China industry analysis. What was your impression of China’s IP industry before you come to China?
Mr. Duke: I had lived in China for nearly four years before I came here again this time. China is such a large country that I find there is not one single IP system that can be applied to all parts of the country. Things are quite varied across China: the local governments, the agency structure, and hence the IP enforcement and protection outcomes. People have very different ways to do things in different parts of the country.
The major problem for China’s IP industry is IP enforcement and application, but this is the same almost everywhere in the world. Of course, progress has been made if you compare the present to ten, twenty or even thirty years ago. And some people in China now are working very hard to move things in the right direction so that we may have better IP outcomes for everybody living and doing business in China. That will be mutually beneficial.
China IP: As the first IP attaché, could you briefly describe your work scope in China? What are the major problems you need to solve in China?
Mr. Duke: Since it’s a new post, the work scope will develop over time. On the one hand, I’ll be working on the policy level, and trying to make the existing bilateral programs even more successful. On the other hand, I’ll be looking at industry experiences: where things are going well; where things are not going so well. The two sides are related and complementary to each other.
I’ll be bringing some expertise and experiences we have in the UK to China so as to share information and working practices. I am keen to push this kind of technical exchange, the global convergence of IP practices, which I believe can be beneficial for everybody.
China IP: Could you further explain what kind of expertise you’d like to bring to China?
Mr. Duke: A full range: specialist IP enforcement expertise, policy discussions, legal experience. In some areas, China may look at how other countries are dealing with particular problems. China might be interested to look at the IP systems in other countries as well. For the existing problems in China, they might not be only happening in China. Other countries probably have developed systems, techniques and policies to solve such problems. You look at other countries and you might find the way to solve your problems. That goes for China and the UK.
China also has some completely new areas of work in the IP industry. Nowadays, new challenges are put forward by new technologies and the internet. People now have a global lifestyle. Therefore, bringing expertise is not always about moving China through the same experience more quickly; it’s about finding ways to tackle new problems. That’s why your magazine exists, and that’s why I am here.
China IP: What about the enterprises? What problems do they expect the Chinese government to solve? What are they suffering from when they are doing business in China?
Mr. Duke: Business people usually want results very quickly. They want to find ways to do business on a fair platform NOW. They are not always interested in the longer-term development described by government authorities. Enterprises are very keen on finding better ways and better mechanisms to enforce the IP they have. They have devoted lots of time and resources to develop innovative products or services. They want to find ways that they can fairly use their IP in China and other parts of the world. So the focus of the IP system for them is often on the enforcement side. For enterprises, they don’t always have the confidence to use their IP all over China since China is a very big country and enforcement is very diversified in different places. My role is to help those who are assisting the companies on the frontline to develop some toolkits that they can use within the Chinese system. That has to be based on a good understanding of where China is and what policies China is using in order to make sure that people have the right information.
China IP: The EU also has an IP office in China. What is the relationship between the IP strategy of the EU and that of the UK IPO?
Mr. Duke: The UK IPO has its own bilateral relationships with its Chinese counterparts, but there are also a lot of very valuable engagements on the EU level as well. I work very closely with my counterparts in the EU delegation as well as other EU member states. The EU has had some very effective programs working in China on IP such as the IPR2 project. When you talk about the European IP system, it has many layers: the EU level layer; and you also go down to the member states, which have different legal environments. So an EU program needs the close involvement of the EU member states. We have bilateral programs with China but we are also within the European context. We are contributing to the EU strategy with our friends to make sure that the strategy is a positive one.
China IP: As you have worked in the UK, South Korea and China, could you summarize the major differences between the IP systems of the three countries?
Mr. Duke: Historically, China and Korea have some interesting comparisons. In the UK system, you have more emphasis on the judicial rulings. Comparatively, China and South Korea have more emphasis on statutory frameworks. In fact, the three countries all have some unique parts of their own; however, they are all systems working towards the same end. I mentioned a toolkit: maybe in different places, your tools might have slightly different shapes or sizes, but they do the same thing in the end. They achieve the same goal.
China IP: Have you achieved any agreements with the Chinese government or do you have any programs at hand now?
Mr. Duke: It’s a little bit early to share with you all details of future individual programs. A recent great event was the UK-China IP Symposium when my appointment was announced. We’re looking to solve problems through a new cross-government IP dialogue, alongside industry. The UK-China bilateral strategy is very much a two-way process, with formal and ad hoc exchanges. I believe the IP dialogue and Symposium in London is a great template and a great model for the future.
China IP: What’s your expectation for the future IP cooperation between China and UK?
Mr. Duke: My expectation is of course for the breadth and depth of our cooperation to increase. As I said, the UK and China already have good cooperation programs in a number of IP policy areas, including enforcement, protection policy and innovation. We also have our high-level IP dialogue around which to structure exchanges.
We will also be working with the Chinese government on their policies to promote the expansion of Chinese companies overseas. This also requires effective IP protection and enforcement strategies, and I expect to hear more successful examples of the international IP system promoting innovation and creativity in the Chinese economy. This is of course in addition to seeing improved outcomes for UK companies as a result of the programs we will expand with our friends here in China. It’s a very exciting time, and I look forward to traveling widely across China to instigate projects and meet as many readers of your magazine as possible!

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