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Speech by PSCI at IPR Conference (English only)

    Following is a speech by the Permanent Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology (Commerce and Industry), Miss Yvonne Choi, at an Intellectual Property Rights conference organised by the American Chamber of Commerce today (November 9) (English only):

Ms Leung, Mr Cunningham, Mr Lee, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good afternoon. It is my great pleasure to join you at today's conference, and I commend the American Chamber of Commerce for organising it.

     We have a very interesting theme for this conference: "IP as Soft Power: Is Hong Kong Getting it Right?". The term "Soft Power" was coined by Harvard University Professor Joseph Nye in 1990.  Contrasted with the traditional "sticks and carrots" approach, "soft power" refers to attracting others to get them to want the same thing you want. It is about sharing values and co-opting others.

     As you all know, Hong Kong aspires to be a knowledge-based economy. In that context, intellectual property is a source of soft power. It nurtures innovation and creativity. By attracting investment, creating wealth, and producing job opportunities, it contributes to sustainable economic development.  

     Is Hong Kong getting it right? To me, the benchmark for answering this question is two-fold. First, can Hong Kong protect IP in a comprehensive and robust manner? And second, can Hong Kong give international investors, scientists and creative talent confidence that the fruit of their investment and mental labour will be well looked after? My answer to both these questions is, "Yes, Hong Kong is doing it right".  

     We fully recognise IP protection as a cornerstone of Hong Kong's economic development in the 21st century. It is the Government's firm commitment to maintain a robust IP protection regime in Hong Kong. Our strategy is multi-pronged, involving an interplay of hard power íV carrots and sticks íVand soft power, or co-option. These include (a) a legal framework that is regularly updated to meet social development and advances in technology; (b) strict and predictable enforcement; and (c) an ongoing public education campaign on the benefits of IP protection.  

     In terms of an effective legal framework, one in keeping with social and technological developments, intellectual property has long been on the legislative agenda in Hong Kong. In 1998, we introduced the Prevention of Copyright Piracy Ordinance to regulate manufacture of optical discs and combat bootlegging. In 2000, we introduced amendment legislation against business end-use of pirated software, music and movies. In 2003, we enacted the new Trade Marks Ordinance to enable businesses to protect their trademarks more effectively. This year, we introduced legislative proposals to enhance corporate governance against business end-user piracy and deter circumvention of technological measures for copyright protection. By the end of this year, we plan to consult the public on issues relating to effective copyright protection in the digital environment.  

     All these examples show our determination to ensure that our legislation remains relevant and balanced in present-day circumstances. In formulating measures to protect IP, we are mindful that the legitimate interests of the users of copyright works should be reasonably taken care of. That, I believe, is in line with what Professor Nye has emphasised íV attracting others to want what you want, based on credibility and legitimacy.  

     As for law enforcement, that function in the intellectual property field in Hong Kong is vested in a single agency, the Customs and Excise Department. It has 400 enforcement officers designated to combat criminal IP offences. That is in addition to the 3,000 Customs staff who work at control points to guard against the import and export of infringing materials.

     Thanks to vigorous enforcement efforts by Customs over the years, large-scale production of pirated optical discs and counterfeit goods has been driven out of Hong Kong. Retail sales of these infringing materials have also been vigorously suppressed.  

     The Customs Department monitors the occurrence of online IP offences round the clock. It takes prompt follow-up action against suspected infringement. To its credit, it successfully prosecuted the world's first criminal case involving copyright infringement using a "peer-to-peer" file-sharing Bit-Torrent programme.

     This brings me to our sustained public education efforts to cultivate a culture of respect for IP rights within the community. We have recently been spending about US$1 million a year on public education programmes. Our programmes are directed at both the public at large íV through TV and street advertising, for example íV as well as at selected segments of the community.

     Our public education strategy has many strands, but a very important one is to create awareness that innovation and creativity are a source of wealth for the community. To nourish creativity and innovation, the community must respect and protect intellectual property. We recognise the importance of building consensus between the users and owners of intellectual property. Our main objective is to find as much common ground as we can, so that users are co-opted into our efforts to protect IP, rather than feeling they are at the receiving end of harsher and harsher enforcement efforts.

     In the coming year, a key area on the public education front will be intensifying efforts to promote compliance with IP rules within the business community. To this end, the Government, in collaboration with the Business Software Alliance, launched a series of programmes in September to promote respect for copyright in computer programs and to help create an atmosphere in which enterprises take pride in IP compliance. A major element is the Business Software Certification Programme, which was launched just a few weeks ago.  

     Under the Certification Programme, we have commissioned a contractor to reach out to individual enterprises, especially SMEs, to promote best practices in software asset management. Enterprises joining this programme would not only avoid any potential legal risk from inadvertent use of unlicensed software in business, but can also lower their operational costs and improve business performance through software asset management.  

     Ladies and gentlemen, many of you here have been partnering with us for years to promote IP protection in Hong Kong. You are probably well aware of our strategy. Helen Keller, the renowned author and lecturer, once said, "We can do anything we want as long as we stick to it long enough." It has been our firm commitment to uphold a robust IP protection regime in Hong Kong. Our sustained efforts on this front have earned us international recognition, and we will stick to our commitment in the years ahead.

     I had better stop here to let other speakers share their thoughts on this very important issue of IP protection. I wish you all a constructive and fruitful discussion today.  

     Thank you.  

Ends/Thursday, November 9, 2006
Issued at HKT 16:21