Intellectual property (IP) protection is one of the major concerns that western pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies
have while deciding whether to collaborate with Chinese companies. However, the IP protection situation has changed dramatically
in China in the recent years.
It is true that the IP protection history in China is very short. For centuries, the Chinese people had not had any sense
of protecting their own inventions or respecting the inventions of others, until 1984, when the Chinese government established
its first patent law. The Chinese government has realized that creating a positive IP protection environment is not only important
to protect the rights of foreign companies collaborating with their Chinese partners, but also critical to foster a creative
environment for technology advancement of Chinese companies.
The government, mainly through the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) has made tremendous efforts to promote the IP
protection environment. These include: amending the patent law numerous times to make it more acceptable to the rest of the
world; enhancing the law enforcement capabilities so that every county and city in China has a local IP protection office
in order to more effectively implement the law; increasing the fine and punishment for any breach of IP (IP violation in China
is considered a criminal action and anyone who is convicted faces both fine and prison time); promoting the awareness and
self-consciousness of IP protection among the Chinese people through nationwide educational TV programs; collaborating with
US and European governments to establish the IP protection guidelines; and inviting foreign government officials and journalists
as guest speakers at various IP protection forums held in China.
Years of education have made the Chinese people more self-conscious about the IP issue. Recently, 12 Chinese pharmaceutical
companies together challenged the validity of Pfizer's Viagra in China. Instead of pirating the rights of production and sales
of Viagra in China, these companies decided to lawfully challenge the product in a Chinese court. In another example, Shanghai
Sunway Biotech, Inc., recently in-licensed the worldwide rights to Onyx-015, a potential anticancer drug, from Onyx Pharmaceuticals,
Inc. Onyx-015 is structurally the same type of compound as Nexavar, a novel anticancer drug co-developed by Bayer and Onyx,
and approved by US and European authorities. Onyx once abandoned this compound. After conducting testing and observation of
its potency in certain cancer cell lines, however, Sunway decided to in-license this drug and continue its development.
The above examples show the self-awareness of IP protection among the Chinese pharmaceutical companies and their willingness
to follow the international rules of business conduct. Today, all Chinese pharmaceutical service companies are fully committed
to protecting their customer's IP and have practical operation procedures in place to safeguard it. As the Chinese government
strengthens the IP regime and its enforcement in the country, western companies will become more confident about intellectual
property protection in China.
Jim J. Zhang, PhD, is president of JZMed, Inc., 518.477.4831,