Experts are also quick to stress, however, that the legal environment surrounding IP in China is by no means one-sided and has made important strides in the 40 years since the country initiated its economic transformation.
In the process, it has introduced numerous western legal concepts in relation to the economy and business, including in intellectual property. Joining the World Trade Organization in 2001 spurred improvement, as did the rising quality of judges and the introduction in recent years of special IP courts.
“It’s no longer the wild, wild west,” Cedric Lam, head of Greater China Intellectual Property at law firm Eversheds Sutherland in Hong Kong, told CNBC last month, referring to the evolution in the more than two decades he has spent negotiating the country’s IP landscape.
“The legal framework is there, but how you go implement and execute those legal provisions, that has been the issue,” Lam said, citing a lack of enforcement as a perceived minus. On top of that, he said, the quality of judges may have improved, but it’s important to remember their salaries are paid by local governments.
Still, Cohen said foreigners have had success litigating IP issues in China for years. He cited a more than 80 percent win rate in patent cases involving foreigners even though they account for less than 2 percent of the civil docket for IP.
And while many would hail that and numerous other indicators — such as having the largest trademark office in the world — as proof China has arrived in terms of IP protection, Cohen said the situation becomes murky when “core” intellectual property is involved.
“The major issue we face in China IP is not unlike what we’re facing in other areas of our trade engagement,” he said. “It’s that China has a different system that is very much state-oriented and state-controlled.”