23rd jun, 2012

Taking our own medicine in China

The saying “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” is popular as a proverb for patents in Denmark. Signaling that the kids shouldn’t mimic their parents bad behavior but follow their directions.
That is apparently also true for western companies operating in China. Danish Newspaper Berlingske has an interesting article today about IP piracy in China…performed by European companies. The Danish producer of quality paint – Flügger – has experienced that British retail chain B&Q has produced copies of Flügger products to sell in their shops in China. Flügger tried to get the products off the shelves and expected the British company to understand their reasoning about IP piracy being harmful – but with no success.
The problem is that the signal to the Chinese manufacturers is a double one. On one hand we preach IP to the Chinese on the other hand our actions show that it’s ok to break IP rights. My first reaction was “how can they not see that they are harming the overall cause?”. Thinking it thru I revised the approach considering it is not the primary function of companies to educate or influence the general population. But it should be. The harm companies do with their dual nature – demanding enforcement of IP and at the same time pirating where it is practical for them – is pretty big.
As a company B&Q tries to promote a brand based on ecology and ethics, but when it suits them this value set is pushed aside. If western companies are to succeed in imprinting their ideas on the population and legal system of China they must follow those rules themselves. In too many cases companies cry out to public regulators to fix problems they themselves are in the best position to fix.

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