Monday, January 09, 2012

"Rethinking IP" Round Table HKU - Drake University

Knowles Building, at HKU
Photo: Danny Friedmann
Last Saturday morning, lawyers, academics and students from Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Australia, Japan and the U.S., all passionate about intellectual property rights, gathered at the University of Hong Kong for a round table discussion on intellectual property and policy. It was organised by the Law & Technology Centre of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the Intellectual Property Law Center at Drake University Law School located in Des Moines, Iowa. The 10th floor of the Knowles building with its great wooden concentric structure accommodated the participants for this purpose.

The programme consisted of four panel presentations (will be separate blog postings) that urge us to rethink:
Panel I: IP Protection in Hong kong;
Panel II: IP Protection in the Digital Age;
Panel III: IP Protection in Mainland China;
Panel IV: IP Protection globally.

After the opening remarks by professor Douglas Arner, head of the Department of Law of HKU, who welcomed everybody and told that Law & Technology Centre of HKU has already existed for a decade.

Professor Douglas Arner, head of Department of Law, HKU
Photo: Danny Friedmann
The opening speech was given by Peter Cheung, director of the Intellectual Property Department (IPD) of the HKSAR government. 

Left professor Peter K. Yu, Drake University and the right Peter Cheung, director IPD, HKSAR Government
Photo: Danny Friedmann
"Trading Intellectual Property in Hong Kong"   
Mr Cheung recalled that he was invited by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to come to Hollywood. There, he familiarised himself with the Three-Act Structure, which is a success formula to make a blockbuster movie. But, as Mr Cheung explained, it can be applied to reach his goal, namely to use IP trade to drive stakeholders' economic development. In Act I the context is given, Act II the challenge, and Act III the resolution. I am sure that the Hong Kong movie scene uses a similar scheme to keep the audiences captivated. Those Chinese from the Mainland, versed in Marxism, might recall the different acts as Hegel's thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis, respectively. So if Act I is the setting whereby Hong Kong is introduced as a Special Administrative Region with the ambition to become a regional knowledge hub, Act II is the challenge of how to get there? In other words, how to apply IP, how to monetise these intangible assets? Mr Cheung was inspired by a Japanese car manufacturer who was not interested in cars, but in the money that you can make with cars. This same approach should be followed with IP. (IP Dragon wonders whether it is really possible to exploit IP, without really loving it?). MBAs teach you many interesting things but not about the role of intangibles, Mr Cheung said. Therefore, we need to map out our niche, and make an inventory of what is already available, predict change, seize opportunity and collaborate to innovate, and execute these processes in parallel. Because, we live in an IP economy, Mr Cheung told. The significance becomes clear when one looks at the most valuable brand in the world: Coca-Cola (71,861 million U.S. dollar, according to Interbrand in October 2011). If all tangibles are destroyed, Coca-Cola could resurrect itself because of the worth of its intangibles. IP can be lucrative, even though it is sometimes tiny. For example Mr Cheung knows the composer of the two second jingles.
If one accepts that one person in a million goes to the best university and has the change to become really  innovative, then Mainland China wins (with 1,340 people), Europe will be in second place (833 person ) and the US (312 person) third place. Hong Kong gets only 8 of these talented people. Hong Kong should become a platform where demand and supply come together. According to Mr Cheung Hong Kong can bring together IP owners that want to sell some of their IP, via IP intermediaries (for this Hong Kong needs officials, professionals, scientists and financiers) so that investors can buy IP. Now only goods and services are traded. There should be transformation to IP.
Hong Kong can have a first-mover advantage in IP trade. Hong Kong has a rule of law, attractive tax system, with a bilingual work force, and is not a gate-to-China, but is part of China. Hong Kong has to take the initiative and make it blaze its own trail. Shenzhen already has a trade platform, but just a website and they seem not very active, they do not have an international nor a holistic approach to the trade platform. China each province has its own platform. In Hong Kong there are more professionals.
The HKSAR government seems to have a lot of attention to niches such as Islamic banking. In the audience there was some concern about whether Mr Cheung is getting enough support from the government. Mr Cheung is well positioned to convince the HKSAR government for his case.

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