Following is a speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Industry, Mr CHAU Tak Hay, at a seminar on "Benefiting from Intellectual Property" organised by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Business Software Alliance today (July 26):
Mr Tung, Dr Woon, ladies and gentlemen,
I am grateful to the Chamber for inviting me to speak to you today. I wish to outline what the Government has been doing for the protection of intellectual property rights in Hong Kong.
Increasingly our economic growth depends on innovative and knowledge-intensive activities. These include activities in the "new economy", where new products and services are created by making use of advances in information and communication technology. They also include high-value activities in our traditional industries, such as innovative design in fashion, consumer electronics, toys and games, watches, optical goods, to name just a few.
Innovation, and research and development in particular, generates new ideas and processes that can be copied and exploited by competitors. To encourage innovation as well as investment on research and development, Hong Kong must have an effective system for protecting intellectual property rights.
I am pleased to say that we have put in place a highly advanced legal regime for the protection of intellectual property rights in Hong Kong. In particular, over the last four years we have completely modernised the laws for protecting patents, registered design, copyright and trade marks, bringing them into line with the highest international standards.
The strength of our intellectual property rights protection regime is recognised internationally. Just last month, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) completed a thorough review of our IP (Intellectual Property) laws and I am glad to say that our laws were highly regarded by other WTO members and were considered as being fully consistent with the international standards laid down by the WTO.
But we are not complacent. We keep our laws under constant review. In June, we enacted new legislation to clarify the Copyright Ordinance to put it beyond doubt that anyone who knowingly uses an infringing copy of copyrighted work in the course of business commits a criminal offence. This means that a company which uses, say, pirated accounting software for its business, or photocopies a book without licence from the copyright owner, may be liable to criminal prosecution. We plan to bring this new law into effect next year after wide publicity.
Our robust legal regime is backed up by vigorous enforcement. Over the last few years, we have substantially increased both the manpower for enforcement and the penalties against the production and sale of infringing products. We have enacted tough legislation to control the manufacture of optical discs to tackle copyright piracy at the production level, as well as to prevent bootlegging. We have classified certain piracy and counterfeiting acts as offences under the Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance, whereby Customs officers are given additional powers to tackle them, particularly where criminal syndicates are involved.
As a result of our strong enforcement efforts, in 1999 alone we seized some 16.5 million pirated optical discs and 14 production lines worth over $360 million, and arrested some 2 700 persons. Our action against copyright piracy at the retail level has also been very successful. Last year, there were some 1 000 retail outlets of pirated compact discs with some five million pirated discs in the market place at any one time. At present, there are fewer than 100 outlets with some 100 000 discs in the market place at any one time. The reduction in volume is about 98 per cent.
Although the piracy situation is well under control now, we will keep up our efforts. But obviously enforcement action alone will not be sufficient. It is vital for our citizens to respect intellectual property rights, and to say "no" to pirated and counterfeit goods. To this end, we must enhance our public education and will spend some $17 million between 1999 and 2002 for this purpose.
In addition, we recognise that the Government itself must set a good example. We have introduced a software asset management system to be adopted by all government departments. We have appointed an intellectual property compliance officer in each department to oversee compliance matters. Civil servants who use unauthorised computer software on government premises will be subject to disciplinary action.
Of course, we also need the full participation of the business community. I am encouraged to read the Code of Ethics on Protection of Intellectual Property Rights issued by the Chamber recently. I applaud the Chamber for this work, which will provide valuable guidance for the business sector.
We in the government fully realise that only with the strong support and cooperation of the community will we be able to maintain Hong Kong as an excellent place for innovation and investment. Today's seminar demonstrates your commitment to this cause. I congratulate the Chamber and the Business Software Alliance for organising this event, and I wish you all a fruitful discussion.
End/Wednesday, July 26, 2000