Is China secretly preparing to clone native versions of Jack Valenti or his counterparts from the pharmaceutical industry in the States? Well, maybe not. But you’d almost think so if you go by a headline in People’s Daily—Intellectual Property Protects China’s Traditional Cultural Heritage. A sample:
A Chinese official said, China has for a long time had the largest numbers of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in the world. Add to that the practitioners of TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine], the scholars, craftsmen, artisans and businesspersons in all fields. Clearly, there is an immense national heritage to protect and defend…
Treatment that evolves from traditional methods and unique techniques should be considered as an important contribution to national economic and social progress and should be protected by patents.
“Imagine if the science of acupuncture, which has been widely adopted worldwide, was subject to intellectual property control by China. Now extend that image to other methods and products of Chinese inventions. One quickly can see the potential size of the markets involved, in every technology sector,” said David J. Pratt, vice president of the M-CAM Company in America.
The TeleRead take: Yes, the story does say “traditional methods and unique techniques,” but one wonders if the nuances might vanish someday. What’s ahead? Patent protection for ancient practices “discovered” by greedsters and passed off as original? Kinda like copyrights on folklore. The scary thing is that Valenti and company don’t realize what a demon they’ve unleashed. What if ancient Chinese stories can’t be pick-up fodder for Disney, the way the Brothers Grimm were? Perhaps the Central Committee of the Communist Party can supply appropriate creative guidance.
Less frivolously, consider the following in the story: “A Chinese official said, China has for a long time had the largest numbers of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in the world. Add to that the practitioners of TCM, the scholars, craftsmen, artisans and businesspersons in all fields. Clearly, there is an immense national heritage to protect and defend.” Now flash ahead a few decades. China dominates more and more industries, including the high-tech variety. It’s also stronger militarily. And guess what: It actually wants to gouge the West the way we’ve run roughshod over developing countries in areas ranging from drugs to entertainment.
Yes, piracy in places like China is a problem. But in a zeal to spread around the gospel of “intellectual property,” let’s be prudent capitalists and not overdo it in patent or copyright areas. Instead think of more constructive solutions, such as a program to help developing countries create national digital libraries with free or affordable content for users and appropriate compensation for creators–balance, in other words. The present Hollywood-dominated approach could could boomerang against the United States the way “Atoms for Peace” has in certain Third World countries (even if China wasn’t an AFP participant). No Maoist rant here, just a capitalist one. Valenti-esque laws and court cases, in the long run, could be just plain bad business. Jack, can you spell p-r-e-c-e-d-e-n-t? While not as deadly as nuclear proliferation, the copyright-and-patent variety comes with its own share of negatives.