To Protect Intellectual Property Is to Protect Innovation
On November 30, 2020, the Political Bureau of the 19th CPC Central Committee held its 25th group study session focusing on the topic of stepping up China's intellectual property (IP) protection. During this session, General Secretary Xi Jinping spoke on the significance of IP protection, summarizing the progress and achievements made in China's IP protection work since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, analyzing shortcomings in these efforts, and setting plans and requirements for intensifying IP protection in the coming years. He also made the important statement that to protect IP is to protect innovation, which highlighted the symbiotic and mutually reinforcing relationship between IP rights and technological innovation. This statement charted the course and provided fundamental guidelines for China's efforts to coordinate the protection of IP rights with S&T innovation.
I. Supporting independent development of science and technology by strengthening IP protection
As a foundational system for protecting S&T innovation, the intellectual property system plays an indispensable role in encouraging invention and creativity, facilitating the application of S&T advances, protecting the fruits of innovative and creative efforts, driving S&T progress, and promoting high-quality economic and social development. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core has attached great emphasis to strengthening IP protection. It has implemented a series of major strategies for protecting IP rights, improved relevant laws, regulations, policies, and systems, and boosted reform of corresponding systems and mechanisms. By bolstering all-round IP protection efforts, we have created a sound legal and policy environment for S&T innovation, and fostered an atmosphere in which knowledge and talent are respected and innovation and creativity are protected. This has brought out the vitality and potential of innovators and propelled the rapid development of IP rights in China. According to statistics, China ranked first in the world for the number of patent applications for several years running during the 13th Five-Year Plan period from 2016 to 2020. By the end of 2019, China had become a global IP leader, ranking second in the world with 2.67 million invention patents that were authorized and remained valid.
As the world is currently undergoing momentous changes of a kind unseen in a century and China is embarking on a new journey toward a modern socialist country, we are facing complex circumstances and serious challenges without precedent in our efforts to protect IP and spur S&T innovation. The Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee made it clear that we need to uphold the core position of innovation in China's modernization drive, and regard S&T self-reliance as strategic pillar of China's development. As we enter a new stage of development, we face increasingly arduous challenges in implementing the new development philosophy, fostering a new development dynamic, and spurring S&T innovation. It is therefore imperative for our IP protection efforts to evolve with the times and remain readily adaptable.
Against the backdrop of a changing global development landscape, S&T innovation has become an important point of contest between major countries. Some developed Western countries have made IP an effective tool as they continuously put pressure on China's efforts to step up S&T innovation through a variety of means such as putting up technological barriers, imposing restrictions on technologies, enforcing the "Entity List," and subjecting S&T exchanges and cooperation to harsh restrictions. In view of the above, we need to take urgent action to strengthen our IP protection efforts further and promote S&T self-reliance in a coordinated manner. We should raise awareness of the need to operate with a global outlook and according to the rules, and earn a greater say in international discourse by formulating forward-looking plans for scientific research and making breakthroughs on core technologies in key fields. We must thoroughly and actively participate in global IP governance, and promote improvement of international rules and standards. We ought to make good use of IP as an effective tool for defending our nation's core interests and our legitimate rights and interests. While promoting international cooperation and competition in the fields of S&T innovation and IP, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) actively engages in international exchanges and discussions on IP. By properly utilizing the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH), and other channels, CAS has been making arrangements for IP development overseas and provided assistance to overseas Chinese inventors and enterprises in protecting their IP rights, with the aim of boosting China's clout in S&T innovation and giving us a greater say with regard to IP-related matters on the international stage.
A synchrotron used for carbon-ion therapy. On September 29, 2019, a carbon-ion therapy system developed by the Institute of Modern Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and Lanzhou Kejin Taiji New Technology Co., Ltd received Class III medical device certification. The system is used in the treatment of malignant solid tumors, and fills a gap in domestically produced high-end radiotherapy equipment. CAS INSTITUTE OF MODERN PHYSICS / PHOTO BY YUAN HAIBO
The world's first 1.8 million ton methanol-to-olefin plant. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a patent portfolio centered on dimethyl ether / methanol to olefins (DMTO) technology, with 31 installations licensed to use the technology. PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE DALIAN INSTITUTE OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, CAS
Looking at trends in S&T development, it is clear that the new round of S&T revolution and industrial transformation is gaining momentum, with both discrete and clustered breakthroughs made in main disciplines and fields. New technologies represented by AI, big data, and gene editing are flourishing, propelling IP being created in faster speed and more varied in types. At the same time, however, these technologies have brought along problems involving traditional and non-traditional security, social ethics, and other issues, and posed a series of new challenges to IP protection. We must therefore assess the situation from an overall perspective and respond proactively.
General Secretary Xi made it clear that we need to improve top-level design over IP protection work, put our efforts on a firmer legal footing, bolster IP protection at every link in the chain, and further reform related systems and mechanisms. Meanwhile, we should also promote international cooperation and competition in the IP domain, and safeguard our national security in this area. This will help us drive the development of a modern economic system, energize innovation throughout society, and forge a new development dynamic. These important plans and requirements fully demonstrate that the CPC Central Committee chaired by Xi Jinping accurately understands our nation's strategic landscape and has a deep insight into the changing international situation, and they will further accelerate the development of China's IP-related endeavors and serve as important guarantees for enhancing China's innovative capacity and realizing S&T self-reliance.
II. Generating powerful momentum for original innovation by strengthening IP protection
In his speech, General Secretary Xi went into a deep analysis of the shortcomings that exist in the realm of IP in China, highlighting the fact that the quality and productivity of Chinese IP is insufficient and that there is a lack of high-quality and high-value IP. Though these problems are manifested on the level of IP, their roots lie in S&T innovation, and are mainly the result of our inadequate capacity for original innovation and short supply of high-quality S&T advances. Therefore, urgent action is needed to shift the focus of IP-related work from chasing quantity to raising quality. We must boost our capacity for original innovation and the quality of our IP significantly. Strengthening the protection of IP rights will help protect and stimulate the enthusiasm and creativity of scientific researchers, encouraging them to delve into research, make original innovations, and constantly produce original advances, which will in turn provide a deep well to draw upon in continuing to produce high-quality IP.
Through addressing the root cause of the problem of insufficient supply of high-quality indigenous innovations, China has made ongoing breakthroughs in recent years on original innovations and core technologies in key fields, creating a host of patent-centered indigenous IP exemplified by a series of major S&T achievements including manned space-flight and lunar exploration projects, the Beidou Navigation Satellite System, high-speed rail, deep-sea exploration, the Tianyan Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), and the Jiuzhang quantum computer. These have become an important foundation for bolstering China's core competencies in key fields and industries. What China needs to do now is take full advantage of these positive trends in S&T innovation, and more clearly define the strategic areas and main directions that should be focused on while aiming for a higher level, higher quality, and higher value. We need to become more oriented toward making new things in order to boost original innovation, take a farsighted approach in order to reinforce basic research and cutting-edge technology, and leverage our new nationwide mobilization system to tackle tough problems related to core technologies in key fields. We also need to step up efforts to create, accumulate, and protect indigenous IP in key fields, especially those with a bearing on national security such as next-generation information and communications technology, gene mapping, staple crop seed, and important foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals. Meanwhile, active support should be provided to key industries for their overseas IP layout, for only by gaining an upper hand at the source of the issue will China be able to overcome hurdles that have a chokehold on its IP development and gradually solve the problem of too much quantity and not enough quality in Chinese IP. For example, CAS has developed a patent portfolio centered on dimethyl ether/methanol to olefins (DMTO) technology, with 31 licensed industrial installations accounting for one-third of nationwide olefin production capacity. This portfolio covers over 20 countries and regions, including the US, Japan, and a number of European countries.
As we chart the course of S&T innovation, it is important that we pay attention to IP strategy. More specifically, we should carry out systematic analysis and research on IP dynamics in key fields and cutting-edge domains according to China's needs for innovative growth. This will enable us to choose the right direction for S&T innovation in a forward-looking and targeted manner on the basis of China's national conditions and development realities. It is particularly important that we devote greater effort to leveraging and building on our strengths while shoring up areas of weakness according to our national strategy. These coordinated efforts will give rise to a new pattern of competition featuring interdependence and complementarity and equip China with new strengths in future competition.
At the same time, original innovation can play a powerful role in supporting and improving IP protection. As there are great demands for S&T advances in laying the groundwork for the development of IP protection, more interdisciplinarity and integration of new technologies is needed, while proactive efforts should be made to see that new methods and products like AI and big data are broadly applied in IP protection. This will provide greater technical support for building smart, digital IP infrastructure. Meanwhile, we should further expand open access to S&T platforms, data, and resources in order to provide more quality S&T services for IP protection.
III. Providing institutional guarantees for the effective application of S&T achievements by strengthening IP protection
Xi Jinping has pointed out that we need to coordinate every link in the IP chain including creation, application, protection, management, and services. Intellectual property rights are a bridge between innovation and the market that turns S&T achievements into actual productive power. China must move quickly to shift from being a major absorber to a major producer of IP and establish itself as a global IP leader. To realize this goal, we must use diverse measures and a coordinated approach to strengthen policy guidance and incentives in the application of S&T achievements so as to raise the overall quality and productivity of China's S&T advances and IP.
We should tailor S&T innovation to economic and social development needs by further coordinating every link in the value chain of S&T innovation. While enhancing and effectively applying various incentive policies, we must push forward ownership reform for S&T achievements and IP by expanding the pilot reform granting researchers ownership of or permanent usage rights over S&T achievements made in the course of their work and establishing sound mechanisms for distributing the profits generated from the application of such achievements. This will greatly stimulate the initiative, enthusiasm, and creativity of scientific research institutes and their personnel.
On December 4, 2020, China National Space Administration (CNSA) released a photo of Chinese national flag taken on the surface of the moon by Chang'e-5 lunar probe. XINHUA / PHOTO PROVIDED BY CNSA
A systematic and standardized institutional framework focusing on IP is needed for managing the following S&T activities. First, in the selection of research topics, we ought to encourage a greater focus on demand and application, and put in place sound review mechanisms for IP involved in major projects in order to ensure the quality and effectiveness of research output. Second, in the organization of research projects, we should fully leverage the advantages of the new nationwide mobilization system, while also clarifying the IP-related rights, interests, and responsibilities of innovators with a view to controlling quality. As long as all parties concerned are motivated, there will be powerful synergy to drive S&T innovation. Third, in terms of research management, we must move faster to form early warning and response mechanisms for international risks and emergencies related to IP. Fourth, with regard to evaluating S&T outcomes, we should guide and encourage innovators to lay more emphasis on raising the quality and efficacy of S&T innovations by setting performance in IP protection and application as important targets. Finally, we must encourage qualified research institutes and universities to be engaged across the entire IP chain, set up an efficient platform with high standards for managing IP operations, and put together a capable contingent of IP management professionals. This management framework will give a robust boost to IP protection and the application of S&T innovations.
As Xi Jinping noted, it is essential that we raise awareness of the need to respect and protect IP rights throughout society. In the face of new changes taking place both at home and abroad, we must establish firmer awareness of IP and fully exert the guiding role of IP in S&T, making conscious efforts to see that the IP system is flexibly and effectively applied throughout the entire process of innovation. We must conduct extensive training to raise IP awareness, making a good command of IP systems and requirements a basic qualification and competency among researchers. This will ensure that they not only follow IP regulations and respect the legitimate rights and interests of others, but also that they are conscious and capable of protecting their own IP rights in accordance with the law.
As an important strategic force in the field of science and technology in China, CAS will strive to meet the requirements put forward by General Secretary Xi, namely taking the lead to achieve major strides in the S&T domain and to become a national hub for creative talent, a high-level national S&T think tank, and a world-class research institution, as well as seizing the upper hand in this domain by turning itself into a fount of original innovation and accelerating breakthroughs on core technologies in key fields. Bearing these requirements in mind while upholding awareness of IP rights and IP protection across the whole process of S&T innovation, CAS will work more quickly to foster an array of pioneering original innovations of great importance and indigenous IP of high quality. By raising the overall quality and efficacy of S&T achievements, we will support China's efforts to become a global IP leader with high-quality innovation, and make new and greater contributions toward accelerating China's transformation into a modern socialist country that enjoys scientific and technological self-reliance.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 3, 2021)