China home appliance giant embraces stronger IPR protection

Updated 2017-09-01 15:31:44 Xinhua

Fu Rao, a patent engineer at Chinese home appliance maker Midea Group, has no time for cooking yet knows everything there is to know about kitchen ventilators and microwave ovens.

Standing in front of a wall of patent certificates, Fu said his job is to clear patent barriers from other companies to make sure Midea's kitchen products can reach the shelves of any market.

"Protection of intellectual property rights enables us to break through the patent wall built by our competitors and expand our own businesses," he said.

Starting as a rural production unit of just 23 members half a century ago, Midea has grown into a global home appliance giant with an annual revenue nearing 160 billion yuan (24 billion U.S. dollars).

Last year, after taking over German robotics firm Kuka and several arms of Japan's Toshiba, Midea announced plans to enter patent-intensive smart industries, including intelligent supply chains, automation, and heating ventilation air-conditioning.

Midea applied for more than 13,500 patents in China in 2016 alone, including 5,500 invention patents.

Sun Mingyan from the law department said the company had also stepped up international patent application.

"We will probably encounter major setbacks in global market if we can't protect our technological assets effectively or manage our intellectual property properly," Sun said.

He said Midea had invested 20 billion yuan in technology research and development from 2012 to 2016. The investment, patented technologies, 17 R&D centers across the world as well as over 10,000 technicians have become Midea's most important assets.

For instance, the core technologies of inverter microwave ovens had long been monopolized by Japanese companies, Fu said, but Midea made a major breakthrough in converter technology in 2016 after ten years of continuous investment.

"Concerning converter technologies, Midea has applied for 57 patents, including eight international ones. Midea is becoming a world leader in this field," Fu said.

Hao Chuanxin, director of a patent and trademark agency for multi-national Chinese companies, said quite a few high-tech start-ups in China had paid a lot of attention to building intellectual property from the very beginning.

Midea has a patent team of over 90 members, including 70 patent engineers. Each new product will go through at least four patent examinations before being put on the market.

"As Chinese companies gain progress in IPR protection, efforts to contain their expansion and development in overseas markets using patent and intellectual property barriers have proved futile," Hao said.

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