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China’s Role in Regulating the Global Information Economy

Oregon Review of International Law Symposium

With the world’s second largest economy, the largest base of internet and mobile phone users, a leading position as an exporter of information technology products, and a population that consumes mass quantities of domestic and global media and entertainment products, China’s regulation of knowledge and information — through intellectual property laws and information technology regulations — has effects far beyond its borders.

The Oregon Review of International Law (ORIL) and University of Oregon Confucius Institute welcomed a highly distinguished group of China technology and innovation policy experts, both international and domestic, in early April to examine these issues during “China’s Role in Regulating the Global Information Economy.”

Among the experts participating in this timely event were Peter Yu of Drake University Law School, who delivered the keynote address; the Hon. Sharon R. Barner, deputy under secretary of commerce for Intellectual Property and deputy director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (2009-2011); Mark Cohen, director of International Intellectual Property at Microsoft Corporation; Thomas Hart, senior advisor at China Academy of Telecommunication Research and visiting professor at China Southwest University for Finance and Economics; and Denis Simon, the University of Oregon’s vice provost for International Affairs, a renowned expert in Chinese business practices and technological innovation policy.

The issue of Chinese aspirations and intentions provoked some of the liveliest exchanges at the conference. Sharon Barner, who recently served as deputy under-secretary of commerce for intellectual property, noted that while it is reasonable for China’s leaders to want to enhance their country’s role in the global innovation system, she also suggested that Chinese policy makers must do a better job adhering to the established rules and norms regarding the application and enforcement of IP-related regulations.

A similar view was expressed by Mark Cohen, who serves as director of international intellectual property for Microsoft. Cohen strongly emphasized that while substantial progress has been made in the treatment of intellectual property rights (IPR) in China, many gaps remain in the way alleged patent violations are handled across the country; some cities and provinces have demonstrated a great willingness to follow through on the commitments made by Chinese leaders about improving the protection of IPR.

While there was no consensus as to whether China would or would not become a technological superpower, there was a growing recognition that Chinese behavior will shape the course of innovation activity — where it will occur, how it will occur, and who will be doing it.

As Law Professor Eric Priest, coordinator of the conference, noted at the end, the issue of China as a rule maker or rule breaker, and the question of China’s eventual adherence to current rules, norms and values regarding the treatment of information and management of innovation, will define the international economic, trade and research and development landscape for the coming 10 to 20 years.

“How it all plays out also will have as much to do with what we do here in the U.S. regarding education and talent development as with what China does in the realms of higher education and S&T policy,” he said.

ORIL is a student-run journal that publishes articles by academics, practitioners, and students addressing current legal topics in international law and policy.

ORIL 2011 Highlight Video


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