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half of the first character differentiates the
knockoff from the corporate product.
“There are so many options, depending upon
the meaning of the character,” Wu says. “Having
knowledge of the Chinese language certainly
helps to assess the risks and better understand
the client’s trademarks.”
But both Wu and Chen see good things
coming out of Chinese IP law. “The Chinese
trademark system is only a couple of decades
old—I think their trademark law passed
in 1983—and they keep establishing new
authorities. They have new intellectual property
courts that opened up in late 2014,” Wu says.
“The law is still developing, and it’s a positive
thing for U.S. and international brand owners.”
MOVING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK
It's all so new. China’s current constitution
was only enacted in 1982, while the economy’s
private sector wasn’t officially recognized and
protected until a 1988 amendment. The country
is still run by the communist party, while its
long-held philosophy tends to discount written
laws for moral example.
Yet this nascent legal system currently
undergirds the world’s second-largest economy.
Is this a cause for concern?
Economic fluctuations in China this summer
certainly caused panic around the world. Then
there's the recent detainment of more than 200
rights lawyers in China, which Sullivan calls “a
stark reminder” of the authoritarian nature of
“Authoritarian states greatly fear political
instability and social unrest,” he says, “which
is why improvements in the rule of law tend
to be more marked in the economic and
commercial arenas than in human rights
and freedoms. This kind of restraint on rights
lawyers obviously impedes the development of
an independent court system and a free legal
profession. ... [But] I would think that as China
moves increasingly toward a consumer-driven
economy—as opposed to, say, an investment-
driven economy—and social media makes it
impossible to suppress the flow of information,
we will slowly begin to see systemic reforms to
the criminal justice system, and these types of
restraints on lawyers will become less common.”
Chen says many in China continue to wonder.
“People there are still arguing the question,
‘Which is greater: power or law?’” he says.
Several times a year, Chen returns to China
for business, and each time he tries to make
it back to Wenzhou, where he was born, and
where his mother and two brothers still live.
He’s invariably surprised by all the changes:
“I miss the originality of the old city and
countryside,” he says, “with its vivid pictures of
rice fields and Chinese buffalo.”
The rice fields where Chen worked are
also gone—replaced by high-rise apartment
buildings and factories. As a teenager, the
reality of those fields all but obliterated Chen’s
dreams; now it’s the rice fields themselves that
seem the dream.
“The scale of the change of the landscape
makes you wonder if you are from there,” he
says, “so different from the old days.”
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