Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Intellectual Rights Alien Experience to Chinese

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Intellectual Rights Alien Experience to Chinese

Article excerpt


By William P. Alford

Stanford University Press

222 pp.,$35

Intellectual property has been the subject of recent sticky negotiations between the United States and the People's Republic of China (mainland China), and to a lesser extent between the US and the Republic of China (Taiwan). Defined principally to encompass copyright, patent, and trademark, intellectual property is an evolving concept in China.

Confucius said, "I transmit rather than create; I believe in and love the Ancients," and in the world's largest socialist state, creativity is considered a group activity that enhances and enriches the state. So one conclusion seems inevitable: Intellectual property is given far less importance and credence in China than it is in Western societies.

But whether dealing with the various dynasties of the Middle Kingdom, with the wrenching disruption of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), or with the current post-Tiananmen Square era of an aging Deng Xiaoping, the state's emphasis appears always to have been more on political order and stability than on issues of ownership and private interests. And although many Western entrepreneurs are justifiably concerned that their intellectual property has been misappropriated throughout China, indigenous Chinese face even greater challenges than do foreigners.

It is within this timely framework that William P. Alford sets his current work, "To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization." The book's title is taken from an old Chinese saying.

Indeed, the book clearly focuses on the issue dealt with in its final chapter, the thorny problem of US policy on intellectual property in China. Alford points out that counterfeiting in China - whether it be of American computer software or compact discs - had been a problem for some time, but that key domestic industries in the US only recently succeeded in fostering a politically potent perception that their losses were somehow linked to the nation's larger trade difficulties.

Politicians, he says, jumped on this bandwagon, shifting attention from America's domestic economic problems onto foreigners who neither purchased our goods in abundance nor showed compunction about misappropriating the fruits of our technology. And politicians of both parties found it all the more appealing that a sizable number of the key industries raising these concerns were located in such electorally important states as California, Texas, and New York. …

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