Who Are They?

By Kevin Nie, China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]

People usually have a clear notion of the occupation of a technician, accountant, administrative staff etc., but the profession of IP manager may be beyond the scope of the average person.
A Misunderstood Occupation
There is broad consensus among IP insiders that enterprise IP management is a highly professional career which covers both technical contents and legal issues. The legal issues are more prominent under the new market economy.
For a long time, a majority of people may have misunderstood the role of the IP management, especially the patent-related work, believing that the focus of their work was exclusively in R&D.
When talking about the social recognition on the IP manager, Li Wenqi, Manager of the Intellectual Property Department at China Telecom Guangzhou Research Institute, told China IP about his own experience. “For a very long time, people around me had no idea about what I did. Even my family did not know it at the beginning. At first, when I said I was an IP practitioner, people thought that I was a teacher.
When I told them my work related to law, they thought that I was a lawyer. After all, it is quite difficult to describe this occupation. It has only been in recent years that people have begun to know more about this line of work.” Liu Yonggang, IP Manager of Emerson Electric (China) recalled, “I remembered a survey conducted with my teacher when I was a student in Renmin University of China in 2002. The first question was ‘Do you know the term intellectual property?’ This is no longer the case nowadays and even my mother can discuss hot IP issues with me.” His words reveal progress as the role of IP professionals have become more acknowledged by society.
The recognition of IP can be seen even in the small details. The common abbreviation of intellectual property is “IP” and a company’s intellectual property department is usually referred to as the IP department, which is wildly accepted by industrial insiders. But in an era when internet and mobile communication industry are just beginning to gathering momentum, some may mistakenly believe the “IP department” refers to the “Internet Protocol department.” After all, Internet Protocol is better known by some segments of the public than intellectual property. The term of “IP” took a comparatively long time to become a highly recognized term. The new occupation of IP manager is facing the same social learning curve.
A Variety of Titles
One reason why people may be confused about the occupation of IP manager may lie in the fact that different companies give the position various titles. This occupation cannot be easily understood and distinguished like other occupations with more universal job titles, such as accountant, technician, human resources and etc.
A phenomenon was discovered during the 3rd China IP Annual Forum when some well-known IP managers exchanged their business cards. Though they served in similar types of enterprises and performed similar jobs, their titles were completely different. Examples include, Wang Haibo, IPR Director of ZTE; Yang Xuri, Intellectual Property & Intellectual Capital Director of Peking University Founder Group; Zhang Yan, Senior IP Law Counsel at IBM Asia Pacific Growth Market Units; Zhang Gaoxiang, Principal IP Counsel of Intellectual Property & Standards Department at Philips (China) Investment and other prominent IP managers.
For an occupation with such low social recognition, the variety of different titles can be an obstacle for the popularization of the role of IP practitioners. Simply put, outsiders cannot comprehend the insiders’ work. What’s worse, some of the titles do not fully reflect the characteristics of the IP managers’ work which provides little help in reinforce the identity and role of IP managers. Moreover, these titles do not raise the social status or increase the occupational influence and as a result the position is not always taken seriously. Therefore, in order to form a commonly acceptable title for IP managers, IP insiders have appealed to relevant state departments to provide more uniform titles for IP managers, and in the meantime IP managers themselves should also enhance their self recognition for their value and responsibilities of this increasingly vital position.
As Liu Yonggang stated, “At present, though the newly emerging occupation of IP manager is not prominent and has not attracted the public's eyes yet, its importance will become naturally evident when a growing number of companies attempt to expand business abroad and discover they need skilled IP managers to do so successfully.”
Li Fushan, Patent Operation Manager at Tencent believes that to a certain extent IP managers bear the responsibility of promoting IP. This is because IP practitioners will receive more recognition and rewards when IP needs are more fully identified by society.
Status Needs to Be Improved
At the superficial level, different IP titles are caused by enterprises’ department layout; however from a deeper level it reflects the inferior status of IP managers and IP department in Chinese enterprises.
In response to the above phenomenon, Li Wenqi claimed that, “Contrary to China, foreign enterprises will show their compliments to IP practitioners. The obvious different reactions are inseparable from the different recognition level. In some developed countries like the US, IP practitioners belong to the upper ranks of society; they have good salaries and are highly respected. But the social status of Chinese IP practitioners is in urgent need of improvement.”
The reality in China is indeed like Li Wenqi said. The IP managers of some large corporation in other countries can be promoted up to Vice President (VP), which is rarely seen in China. At present IP managers in China have inferior status in a company. Being promoted to a department manager is an optimal situation, at least they are middle-ranking officials in the secondary sectors of the company; a worse situation is their departments may even be lower than secondary sectors and therefore they lag far behind the title of VP.
This has lead to a huge IP brain drain of enterprises, some of them turned to law firms and agents after accumulating experience while others started their own business when they encountered a “bottleneck” of work.
Therefore, the question now is how to improve the status of IP managers in enterprises. Wang Haibo thought that outstanding IP managers should possess profound IP knowledge, strong legal practice skills, as well as the ability to communicate and express themselves. In addition to possessing broad commercial thinking skills and vision, they also have to be able to connect corporate operations, IP management and competition together. Only then can the value of IP and IP managers be fully appreciated.
“To gain the right of speak and be heard in enterprises, IP managers have to do three things: firstly, they must choose a proper position; every IP manager has to set a proper position for himself which determines the preliminary right of speak out within enterprises. Secondly, they must possess proper authorization, series grantee systems and a secured working scope which can ensure the right to speak out through the complexities of the organization and management system, such as regulations on IP business authorities and management authorization. Thirdly, they must do the proper work, assure the smooth flow of IP business, risk aversion, competitiveness and revenue driving etc All of the above achievements will help reflect the value of IP managers and help them win the right to speak out and be appreciated,” said Wang Haibo.
At that point people will ask question, “where do they come from?”
(Translated by Emily Tan)

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