As of April 2017, the Beijing Intellectual Property Court has dismissed the ban on Apple iPhone 6’s after a Chinese company accused Apple of infringing upon its design. This latest move by Chinese courts speaks to a positive evolution in recognizing international IP law in China after a long history of “copycat” theft by Chinese businesses.
One of the largest deterrences of foreign firms investing in China is the fear that they will not be able to protect their intellectual property. There have been multiple high-profile cases where massive international corporations like Apple and Disney have had to fight tooth and nail to protect their trademarks in China.
For Apple, the issue began in May 2016 after the international tech giant was ordered to stop selling iPhones in China after Shenzhen Baili Marketing Services lodged a complaint, stating that its patent on its mobile phone design was being infringed upon by iPhone sales.
More recently, Disney, the iconic and multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate best known for its movies and theme parks, has run into issues with its establishment of its Shanghai park. Before it could even open its gates Chinese corporation Dalian Wanda Group opened up a theme park of its own using classic Disney characters such as Snow White and the iconic stormtroopers of the Star Wars franchise to greet its guests.
Copyright infringement exists at all levels and has remained a thorn in the sides of foreign businesses, with many technological firms choosing to keep China at arm’s length for fear that their blueprints may be stolen and copyrighted by Chinese partners.
Unfortunately, even while companies are increasingly pressured by the Chinese government to lower their prices and turn over proprietary technology, the laws involving intellectual property and copyrights still varies from province to province, making this an issue that remains difficult to untangle.
However, there has been change in a positive direction. China has begun making changes to its IP laws and has begun the process of creating a new national court system to handle IP cases, in a step that will help the country transition away from “local provincialism”.
The United States, which has expressed a strong interest in ensuring goods are “protected, respected, and if infringed on or stolen, there are consequences to disincentivize it”, has provided experts on the topic who are currently reviewing the new laws, training Chinese judges, and raising any IP issues they learn of in bilateral discussions with China.
These steps, while still not enough to stymie the theft of intellectual property nor give firms full confidence that they protect their ideas and trademarks, is still a clear indicator China desires to honor international IP protocol, with this win by Apple a sign of progress.