US executive lauds China's IP protection system
William Mansfield, IP director of Indiana-based ABRO Industries, praised China's IP protection efforts in an interview with state-run Xinhua. He said that most Western brand owners misunderstand China's brand-protection system, and thus fail to make good use of it.
ABRO manufactures automotive, industrial and consumer products. About half of its products are made in China.
"As a brand owner, it's not their [China's] job to conform their system to mine, it's my job to learn and understand their system," Mansfield told Xinhua. "If I want help there, I need to comply with their rules, adding that the company's "strong position in China comes from our focus on working with the Chinese as equals."
Most coverage of IP issues in the Chinese press focuses on police raids, court verdicts, work reports and the occasional long-term trend, like counterfeit shoe production in Fujian Province.
Yet on the eve of a state visit by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has ordered an investigation into China's alleged IP abuses, an interview with an American executive praising China's IP environment appears on the English-language website of state-run Xinhua News.
U.S. firms with heavy exposure to China are pushing back against the probe, fearing Beijing's retribution. That's understandable, although ABRO's Mansfield may have gone a bit far in his defense of Chinese counterfeiting. Given its status as the world's factory, China is bound to produce plenty of counterfeit goods, he told Xinhua. "If most of everything was made on the moon, most of the counterfeits would be made on the moon, and we'd all be angry at the moon people," he added.
As it turns out, ABRO was the only U.S. firm that openly opposed the Section 301 investigation into China's alleged IP abuses. Mansfield himself appeared before an International Trade Commission hearing in October to represent "the people [assumedly doing business in China] whose things are going well."
For his part, Trump needs to tread carefully. He should be wary of giving too much leeway to Beijing on IP issues. Beijing won't compromise on its "core interests" (such as territorial integrity) but there is room for discussion about intellectual property. The Chinese leadership is well aware that stronger IP protection benefits Chinese companies too. Meanwhile, if the Section 301 investigation is shelved without achieving any concrete progress, Trump will squander an opportunity to level the playing field for U.S. firms in China.