Where Do They Come from?

2013/6/6By Kevin Nie, China IP Magazine,[Comprehensive Reports]

People are always curious about other people’s life stories. This article mainly discusses the background of Chinese IP managers, to be specific, their working experiences and their motivations for entering the IP field.
 
The Third Generation IP Managers
Li Fushan, Patent Operation Director of Tencent Technologies, calls himself and his peers “the third generation” of corporate IP managers. In his view, echoing the history of China’s IP laws, Chinese IP managers have experienced three development phase
The first generation corporate IP managers should be the elder IP practitioners in statedowned enterprises (SOEs). There was an upsurge of IP after the implementation of China’s Patent Law and Trademark Law in the 1980s. However, as time passed the names of these senior practitioners become forgotten and whether their work can even be counted as patent or trademark management is doubted. Mr. Li cannot agree with such determinations. In his opinion, for enterprises, IP management is actually profit and property management, therefore no matter how managing skills may differ or how the expressions and understandings based on external situations may vary, the core issues of management are universal. The second generation refers to IP managers who were active in the 1990s. During this period, China made many law amendments to join the WTO and Chinese enterprises began to explore overseas markets. As a result, some private enterprises started to manage their IP assets. Meanwhile, a number of large SOEs were also dealing with IP issues, but at a scale much smaller than today. The working goal of the second generation IP managers was to comply with foreign IP laws.
“We should be deemed as the third generation. The sudden globalization puts forward a series of IP problems. At present, most issues facing us are internal and external IP pressures caused by business activities. Meanwhile, former external pressures have turned into internal management pressures. The economic globalization requires IP management to be done with global perspectives. We now shoulder heavy responsibilities and have a long way to go,” said Mr. Li.
 
Foreign Companies Took the First Step
Since the reform and opening up, multinational companies, in particular the Global 500 companies, surged into China, bringing in not only high-tech and new products, but also the concepts and management experience of IP protection. The most positive result was that a large number of outstanding Chinese IP managers emerged from these international companies, and have formed an integral part of the current Chinese IP managers circle.
Among these foreign companies, Philips is the best example. As it is known to all, Philips has a world leading IP management team with great global service power. Its history dates back 90 years and has over 400 employees. Philips carried out IP related business in China early on and trained lots of professional IP management talents for the Chinese IP industry. That is why it is praised as the “Whampoa Military Academy” in China’s corporate IP management field.
“Experts come from professional teams.” Peter Zhang, Principal IP Counsel of the Intellectual Property & Standards Department (IP&S) of Philips (China) Investment Co., Ltd. has a deep understanding of this view.
In 2001, the year when China entered into the WTO, Mr. Zhang joined Philips IP&S as its first professional recruited in China. Before Philips, Mr. Zhang worked for Nike Inc. and engaged in Nike’s brand protection work in China. In Philips IP&S, his initial work also concerned trademark and especially brand protection issues for Philips in Mainland China and Hong Kong. Thereafter, his work shifted to drafting patent applications, answering office actions, supervising PCT processes, conducting infringement analyses, defending against third parties’ infringement claims, patent litigation, patent licensing, laying down IP policies concerning standards, dealing with IP issues caused by Philips’ business mergers and splits as well as other IP related work successively. To date, he has accumulated over 10 years of experience in corporate IP management.
When being interviewed by China IP, Mr. Zhang emphasized time and again his working belief: “Creative use of IP is based on profound understanding of business activities.”
Ren Feng is the current IP Manager for the Panasonic Corporation in China. She graduated from the Chemistry School of Peking University, went to Japan for further education in 1990 and acquired her doctorate degree of engineering there. In 1995, Ms. Ren entered the second largest patent firm in Osaka, mainly dealing with patent applications in the electrical equipment field. For the reason of nationality, in 1998, Ms. Ren returned to China to take examinations and was qualified as a patent agent.
The work experience within a patent firm gave Ms. Ren the chance to work with Panasonic. “At that time in the firm, I mainly dealt with patent issues related to the US, EU and Japan. Since Panasonic was one of our clients, we cooperated many times. By then, Panasonic had already begun to value its business development in China and would like to strengthen patent power. So they invited me to join the company,” Ms. Ren told China IP.
Thus, in 2001, Ms. Ren formally took up occupation in Panasonic’s headquarters in Japan, and became the first Chinese employee in Panasonic’s IP Department; her job was to manage Panasonic’s China-related IP businesses. Around 2005, Panasonic began to expand its business in China at a large-scale and highlight localized management. Having worked at the headquarters for 5 years, Ms.
 
Ren was relocated to China to strengthen the IP Department of Panasonic (China), of which she formally took charge in 2006.
 
The Advantages of Being a Former Patent Examiner
According to a survey of conducted by China IP sometime earlier, nearly 10% of Chinese IP manages were once patent examiners. Comparing with IP managers with other backgrounds, they have unparalleled advantages. They have been polished by good training and practices under formal management systems and are familiar with IP related laws, regulations and examination procedures. Their participation is beneficial to the overall improvement of the IP management level of Chinese enterprises.
Xu Weifeng, IP Manager of the Intellectual Management Center of COFCO, has worked as a patent examiner for 8 years. In 2002, the Shanghai IP office held training classes for the first time for high-end management personnel. From among over 90 trainees, 26 were selected and sent to the US to receive training for another three months. Through this news, Mr. Xu, who was then only a student majored in High Polymer Materials in the East China University of Science and Technology (ECUST) saw the prosperous vista of the IP industry. “I paid close attention to the training plans of the Shanghai IP Office, and felt that more policies and measures would be launched at the national level to guide the development of IP, therefore, I was positive about the future of the IP industry.”
The year 2002 when Mr. Xu graduated from university was also the first year that the State IP Office (SIPO) recruited patent examiners in large numbers. Thus, with favorable anticipations for the IP industry, Mr. Xu and a number of newly graduated ECUST students came to Beijing.
During the eight years in SIPO, Mr. Xu examined patent in the Second Division of Chemistry Inventions and the Materials Division successively, and was once temporarily transferred into the International Cooperation Department to participate in a research project concerning patent strategy analysis. In 2007, he entered the Patent Reexamination Board and engaged in patent reexamination, patent invalidity and administrative proceedings.
At the end of 2009, after doing the job for seven years, Mr. Xu began to consider whether he should change his career. Viewing from previous cases, IP agencies and IP law firms are the common choices for patent examiners. However, with a patent agent’s certificate and a lawyer’s certificate at hand, Mr. Xu ruled out both choices for a “thorough change.” “If I joined an IP agency, I could have a higher salary immediately, but my working content would remain the same as before. At that time, I wanted nothing but a new working environment, so I was more inclined to manage IP in a company.” When speaking of his considerations, Mr. Xu expressed frankly his curiosity and longing towards the commercial area.
 
A rare opportunity put Mr. Xu in touch with the heads of COFCO. After a brief communication, he was attracted by the newly set up COFCO innovation system and inspired by the high value that the leadership of COFCO put in IP. Thus, he joined the preparatory group of the R&D and innovation base of COFCO.
 
The Strong IP Power of Shenzhen
Since the 1980s and 1990s, Shenzhen has not only been on the frontline of China’s opening and reform, but also one of the fiercest battlefields for overseas and domestic companies. It has fostered a group of companies strong in R&D and IP management and with the development of these companies, a large number of prominent IP managers emerged. Wang Haibo of ZTE, Wang Huotao and Li Fushan of Tencent and Zhao Jie of BYD are typical examples.
Wang Haibo, the IPR Director of ZTE, is a “star” in China’s IP field. Since his graduation in 2000 from the Renmin University of China, Mr. Wang has devoted himself to IP management for 12 years, and experienced many shifts and changes of ZTE’s IP strategies and business focuses. Under his direction, ZTE has gained admirable achievements in IP. In 2011, the volume of ZTE’s international patent applications amounted to 11,000, among which over 60% were from LTE/3G, cloud computing, internet, smart terminals and other new technology spheres. According to WIPO’s statistics in March 2012, ZTE’s PCT fillings had leapfrogged Panasonic and ranked No.1 in the world.
Speaking of his career choice, Mr. Wang said: “There are always chances and contingencies in one’s career route, at the beginning, no one can know for sure which direction he/she is heading for. I myself could not forecast my future either. The reason why I chose ZTE was because of ZTE’s accomplishments in the communications industry as well as its foresight and attention on IP. I felt that my interests, professional knowledge and career plan would all fit in well here.” Hence, Mr. Wang joined the legal department of ZTE and began his IP career.
“My working experience is rather simple. I was lucky to be able to handle IP work immediately after graduation. In my opinion, once you have chosen a road, walking down that road with confidence is of greater value than having second thoughts,” said Mr. Wang.
Another example is Foxconn, which is another “Whampoa Military Academy” for Chinese IP managers. When the majority of domestic enterprises were still planning for an IP department, Foxconn had already had an IP team with nearly 200 engineers, many of whom were science and engineering students accidentally entered into the IP field. Today, the backbones of many enterprises’ IP departments have working experiences in Foxconn.
The career of Li Qianjiang also starts at Foxconn. Graduating from the Sichuan University of Science & Engineering, Mr. Li entered the IP field and began to handle patent issues in 2000 in the Central Legal Department of Foxconn. As it is known to all industry insiders, Foxconn started earlier in IP management than most Chinese enterprises, and enjoys a comparatively mature management system. In Foxconn, Mr. Li accumulated basic knowledge of IP.
In 2003, Mr. Li left Foxconn for BYD, where he acted as the manager of the electricity and communications patent section in BYD’s IP and Legal Department, being in charge of all the company’s patent affairs concerning IT products. As everyone knows, the development history of BYD is also a history of IP wars. The company has grown bigger and stronger through numerous IP battles with its competitors. As its IP manager, Mr. Li’s skills and abilities were sharpened. Only after a few years, he became experienced in combating corporate IP wars.
In June 2008, Mr. Li Joined Beiqi Foton as the Director of IP Department and Vice Manager of the Legal Department. To date, Mr. Li has tackled IP problems in three different manufacturing companies for over a decade. He has grown from a green hand into an experienced expert.
 
An Unexpected IP Life
In China, IP schools appear and exist only in a few universities and colleges in recent years. As a result, graduates majoring in IP are few. Meanwhile, since the IP discipline is often affiliated to law schools, it is hard for technology talents to enter the field. Consequently, among today’s Chinese corporate IP managers, only a few have received college IP trainings, while the majority jumped into this field by pure accident. They learn through work and feel their way through practice.
Song Qiaoli, Director of the IP Department of Beijing NMC Co., Ltd. (NMC), is exactly one of them. Graduated with a master degree from the Dalian University of Technology, her original plan was to become a college teacher, however, due to some sudden changes, she stumbled into NMC.
In common with many Chinese IP managers, Ms. Song started her career from R&D and invented over 10 domestic invention patents and five overseas patents. According to her introduction, as the first graduate specialized in plasma physics in NMC, her initial job was designing plasma source. Since the structure of plasma source is crucial to plasma state, plasma source is a decisive part to plasma etcher.
“When I was doing research, I had to know whether my research results infringed upon others’ patent rights, so I read a large amount of patent claims and often felt frustrated because whatever I came up with seemed to be patented already. In fact, viewing from the claims, the idea might not have been completely covered, but due to a lack of knowledge, it seems to me that whatever I was thinking of has been patented and published. Hence, I had no choice but to learn IP,” said Ms. Song. In 2005, the Beijing Intellectual Property Center held patent classes, Ms. Song then asked her superior for permission to take the classes “My superior was far sighted and looked to the future; he cherished the opportunity and sent 6 of us to attend the classes. Maybe because I listened most attentively and showed most interest, when we got back to the company, I was asked to ‘give lessons’ to my colleagues on Patent Law and relative IP knowledge.” That was how Ms. Song became the “IP expert” in her peers’ eyes and developed an affinity with IP. In July 2006 when NMC established its IP Department, Ms. Song was asked to take up the post of department director and manage the company’s IP affairs.
Compared with Ms. Song, how Chen Luchang, Director of the IP Department of Sany Heavy Industry Co., Ltd. (Sany), entered into the IP area is more natural. Before entering Sany, he had engaged in research and design work for 5 years. In 2000, he joined Sany and began to take up technology management. At that time, the total number of Sany’s employees was less than 1500, and there were only 5 people in his department. Their working scope covered patent management, standardization management, R&D project management, science and technology awards application and other technology management work. At work, he generated strong interest towards IP management, and believed that the industry would enjoy a bright future. So in 2001 when his department expanded and staffs’ job responsibilities became separated, Mr. Chen volunteered to focus on IP management, which marked the real beginning of his career as an IP manager.
From Mr. Chen’s view, during the transformation from a technical and administrative staff to an IP manager, the biggest challenge comes from the necessity of making quick breakthroughs on IP expertise. At the start-up phase, IP work was not much in his department, so he spent all possible time on learning. In the same year, China’s Patent Law went through the second revision and the country joined the WTO, IP received wider attention and more policy supports at the national level. Mr. Chen then took the opportunity to participate in a large number of on-site trainings and online trainings organized by national, provincial and municipal organizations. Highly intensive trainings significantly improved his professional abilities, complemented with the experiences he had accumulated in the design work and technical management, Mr. Chen soon combined his newly learnt IP knowledge with practice, and began to settle into the professional role of IP manager.
 
(Translated by Monica Zhang)
 
 

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