James Dyson shares his views on the potential and risks China, a ‘perilous place’, offers and warns firms: defending what’s yours can be tough. We are less adept at developing an idea and registering its intellectual property.
THE forthcoming visit of China’s trade delegation this week offers Britain a great opportunity.
In the short term, it gives access to a mass of aspirant customers. In the long term, it is a chance to balance our trade books.
But we need to tread carefully. The value of ideas and inventions lies in their ownership. And in China, defending what’s yours can be tough.
New ideas and technologies are valuable to their inventors and to Britain. Historically we have a knack for the ingenious. These days, however, we are perhaps less adept at developing an idea and registering its intellectual property. In 2009, we filed nearly 5,500 patents compared with Japan, which filed nearly 30,000.
To protect our ability to create world-class ideas in future, we must make sure that we give our young people the right skills.
The new JCB engineering academy will help to ensure a new generation of high-tech pioneers. The other essential is to protect those ideas we have.
While we might not be able to compete in large-scale manufacturing, we can still rival China when it comes to engineering new, breakthrough technology. And it is breakthrough technology that will pull us to economic safety as we export it around the world.
Research and development is undertaken by companies in the knowledge that the idea is theirs and they will be rewarded for its success.
Yes, inventing can be lucrative. But it is also expensive, risky and labour-intensive. When I started out, protecting and renewing my patents almost bankrupted me.
At Dyson the ideas generated in our Wiltshire laboratories are our lifeblood. We vehemently defend them if needs be and our legal team fights battles on many fronts. China has proved a perilous place. New technology is fair game to unscrupulous manufacturers. Defending it is tough.
We have recently had two successes through the Chinese courts, but the copycat culture is rife and tracking down the culprits a full-time occupation.
It is hard enough for Dyson, a company with 3,000 people, to fight its battles in 52 countries. So spare a thought for young designers and engineers who are just setting out – they need all the support they can get.
Small and medium-sized businesses, lured by the potential that China offers, should also be aware of the risks.
The manufacture of fakes and the market around it is endemic in the East. And it is not just Louis Vuitton handbags. From iPhones to JCB diggers, no technology is immune from lawless copies.
An iPhone for £50? Does that reflect the value of the technology? Buying a fake may seem financially prudent and perfectly innocent – a middle-fingered salute to the higher cost alternative – but it chokes the firms that invest in the research and development, and stalls the development of new ideas.
Tracking down rogue manufacturers is difficult and expensive. Bringing them to justice is even harder and the penalties issued by the courts meagre. One manufacturer we pursued used a Tube station as its registered address. And guess what? It appeared to have caught the last train home.
Dyson is cautiously entering China this year. This week, as the business deals are signed around Britain and the relationships developed, who will be asking the Chinese authorities to stamp out this thorny side to the otherwise beneficial relationship?
David Cameron and his Government must use the opportunity to put pressure on China to put its house in order. If our relationship is to be mutually beneficial, British ideas must remain just that.Source