Finally, China Joins the World

Can you trust Chinese companies to protect your intellectual property? Increasingly, the answer is yes.

March 9, 2000

Can you trust Chinese companies to protect your intellectual property? Increasingly, the answer is yes.

At a lunch the other day, a friend who is a leading business author in the United States told me that he was positively shocked. “Remember all the colorful television footage of Chinese officials raiding illegal CD factories, using bulldozers to crush all that illicit production?,” he asked. “Well, I’ve got news for you.”

A year and a half ago, a Chinese publishing company contacted his agent in the United States about publishing Chinese-language editions of a dozen or so of his best books. The publisher was convinced that Chinese readers stood to learn a great deal from this man’s understanding of the key principles of international business and finance.

For a country generally known for having a complete disregard for international intellectual property rights, it was amazing that a contract finally appeared, in quintuplicate, with each copy already signed by the publisher. The contract promised that, once signed by the author, he would receive a small advance against royalties for each of the twelve books.

Told of the venture, many of the author’s close friends, including some in top positions in the U.S. government, expressed their skepticism. “You’ll never see a dime from China,” a former trade negotiator told him. Another quipped, “For your generosity, you’ll probably get some kind of award from the World Bank for your educational efforts in the developing world.”

A few days ago, long after he had forgotten these comments, the author received a letter from the publisher. Inside, there was a check for the full amount of the promised advance. Still, the author did have to wonder whether the publisher would be so forthcoming should the books sell well enough to generate royalties beyond the advance.

But based on the evidence so far, he said, “I suppose I should offer to testify before Congress when they debate China’s entry into the WTO.”