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IP Means Business

  Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s growing role as
an IP middleman and regional IP services hub is underscored by the Chinese mainland’s drive to build an IP economy

More than 700 professionals from around the world took part in Hong Kong’s inaugural intellectual property (IP) forum, focusing on the city’s strengths as an emerging regional IP trading hub. 

Organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and the Hong Kong Design Centre, the event, held 2 December at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, brought together IP professionals and government officials to discuss the latest developments in Asia’s IP market. 

Huge Demand 

“Hong Kong’s proximity to the booming Chinese mainland market creates huge demand for overseas IP,” said Margaret Fong, HKTDC Deputy Executive Director, speaking at the event’s opening. “And mainland-based IP owners are increasingly looking for IP specialists to help take their business global. Hong Kong is where they turn to,” she said. 

Experts agreed that IP gives businesses a competitive edge, while serving as a form of currency and reliable revenue generator. “IP is closely linked to economic growth,” said Andrew Liao, Practicing Senior Counsel. “It’s the Cinderella of the new economy,” he added. 

“Patents and IP are like chips in a knowledge economy,” said Dr Jacqueline Lui, President of the Hong Kong Institute of Patent Practitioners. “If you don’t have your own secure IP, you cannot be a player in the new knowledge economy.” 

IP Bridge 

Margaret Fong  

Speaking at the BIP Asia Forum’s opening ceremony, HKTDC Deputy Executive Director Margaret Fong says Hong Kong offers the best platform for IP trading in the region 


Since IP cannot be built very quickly, companies need to acquire it if there’s a gap in their portfolio, according to Dr Tao Zhang, Patent Sales Group Director at Hewlett Packard (HP). “So I believe there will be huge growth in the industry for intellectual property, and Hong Kong can play a significant role because of its unique advantages.” Dr Zhang said that Hong Kong’s autonomy, advanced political and social systems, East-meets-West culture, and long history in obtaining US patents, make it an ideal bridge for IP trading. 

Hong Kong entities, according to Dr Zhang, can serve as a link between companies that hold the IP portfolio and businesses that need it. She pointed out that Hong Kong companies can engage in technology consulting services, including understanding a client firm’s IP strategy, finding any gaps, and helping it source the needed technology. 

Dr Zhang noted that Hong Kong companies would need to understand the types of programmes run by portfolio holders, as well as their goals. For HP, which has some 1,000 patents for sale, that means optimising the return of investment on innovations. 

Helping SMEs

Government efforts include setting up R&D centres such as the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP). About 350 companies are based at the HKSTP, with some 6,000 professionals engaged in R&D. Under its incubatee programme, the HKSTP provides 50 per cent funding for companies that file patents, according to Allen Yeung, its Vice President, Business Development and Technology Support. 

The HKSTP also boasts a virtual IP chamber, which allows suppliers and potential buyers access to test an IP in a secure environment. “For the buyer, because this is a trial system, they are able to use this at a fraction of the full price,” Mr Yeung said. “Before they have this trial system, they may not know exactly whether this is the right IP or not. Having this kind of IP mechanism will facilitate a lot of IP transactions,” he added. 

Besides Hong Kong, other Asian economies such as Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are leading the region in developing their IP portfolio. “IP is one of the very few elements small and medium-sized enterprises should leverage for long-term growth,” said Dr Johnsee Lee, President of Taiwan’s Industrial Technical Research Institute, which generates up to US$80 million from licensing each year, according to Dr Lee. 

“But because they’re small, they’re short on resources. They don’t have critical mass, so the government sponsor or supporting research organisations can play a pivotal role in helping SMEs.” Dr Lee pointed out that research institutes also serve a critical role by helping to determine where a new innovation fits in the overall IP chain. 

China’s IP Economy

BIP Asia Forum  

The first BIP Asia Forum brought together IP professionals and government officials to discuss
the latest developments in Asia’s
IP market

Perhaps the biggest potential for the IP trade lies on the Chinese mainland, where the upgrading of the mainland’s industrial sector has led to significant demand for overseas IP. Dr Zhang noted that the drive to build an IP economy “comes from the very top,” referring to a statement from Premier Wen Jiabao, who said that “enterprises, whether large or small, will need to build their own intellectual property portfolio and will also need to build their own brand.” 

As a result, global companies such as Microsoft have seen tremendous licensing opportunities on the mainland. Interest in acquiring patents is “vibrant,” according to Microsoft’s Simmone Misra, Outbound Licensing, Corporate Intellectual Property and Licensing. “They want help to bring their products to international standards. They want to build world-class brands to sell globally.”   

Planting Trees

The growing globalisation of IP trading activities and increasing IP supply and demand in Asia are giving rise to the need for regional IP intermediaries. 

“Hong Kong is in a good position to build an IP trading hub for China and Asia, by understanding the culture of China and the West, and having the rule of law and IP culture,” the HKSTP’s Mr Yeung said. “Having a system that would embrace the buyer side, the seller side and also the intermediaries on the service side, will take some time; like planting trees. But I think, over time, this can happen.”

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