“Microsoft Corp.’s revenue in China this year will be about 5% of what it gets in the U.S. even though personal-computer sales in the two countries are almost equal”, according to Steve Ballmer (in the Wall Street Journal).
Foreign buyers also suffer from China’s lack of respect for their intellectual property rights (their designs, their drawings, their samples, their brand names…).
When a Chinese manufacturer makes a product according an importer’s design, it usually tries to sell the exact same thing to other companies. Worse, samples and drawings find their way in the showrooms of various intermediaries.
Only the most professional and the largest exporters pay attention to their customers’ intellectual property. With all the others, foreign buyers need to deploy a LOT of persuasion, threatening, and monitoring.
Where does this problem come from?
I read several times that the Chinese tend to consider the act of copying as flattery. Only beautiful/useful things get copied, and it is good for society…
But there is another, and probably more profound, reason.
The China Sourcing Information Center just published a thoughtful article (Cultural element to intellectual property theft in China?) that describes the absence of the concept of privacy in China:
There certainly is a different mentality in China as opposed to the West when it comes to issues of what is considered private versus public. This difference was made clear to me many years ago on my first day as an exchange student back in the 1990’s at a Chinese university located in Harbin. I returned to the dorm after lunch and found my Chinese roommate sitting at my desk with his feet on my bed, leaning back in the chair while filing through my personal belongings in the draws and on the desk.
Tim Clissold described something very similar in Mr. China. He even noted that the Chinese didn’t have a word for “privacy”.
And there is a direct relationship between this cultural trait and the disrespect of IP rights:
The same mentality extends into the business world, yet is in dramatic conflict with the western mentality of public versus private domain. Just as the room mates in the dorm had no ethical objections to using my personal items like my computer, some suppliers may not even think twice, or feel embarrassed, about using for their personal gain, what you believe to be your IP.
What do you think?