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Remarks at Jinan University, Guangzhou, China

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

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Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at Jinan University
Guangzhou, China

Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. It is an honor to be with you at Jinan University.

I have been looking forward to this visit to southern China for some time. My roots are here. The ancestral home of my family, a village called Jilong, where my mother and father were married, is located here in Guangdong Province. My brother and sisters and I, and our spouses, were delighted to join my parents when they returned for a visit a few years ago. It was the trip of a lifetime for all of us.

Let me begin this afternoon by congratulating each of you for your acceptance at one of China’s premier universities. Jinan has produced countless government, business and academic leaders throughout its history—and is recognized as one of the leading research universities in China.

You are here at Jinan at a time in Chinese and world history that is at the same time frightening and exciting. On top of a struggling global economy, our world has more serious issues to deal with than we'd all care to count:

Climate change, poverty, disease, terrorism—each issue on its own is enough to consume all of our time.

But we've got to deal with them all at once. It's enough to make anyone despair for the future. But not me. I'm optimistic and confident the world is equipped to deal with the challenges we face—and a big part of the reason is seeing young people like you.

Because, although these problems are daunting, they do have solutions. Many of them can be solved with the science, math and engineering skills that you learn here every day. With your talent, your creativity and your ingenuity, you have the power to make a real difference, and I hope you will seize that opportunity.

But your skills alone are not enough. That's only half the equation. To spur the new technologies, China needs to grow its economy and help solve the world's problems. China must also have a system of laws and a regulatory infrastructure that rewards and protects those who take risks to develop new innovations; and it must vigorously enforce those laws and regulations.

And your school, Jinan University, has taken a huge step to empower innovators like you for decades to come. Jinan has established a College of Intellectual Property, the first of its kind in Guangdong Province.

Earlier today, I participated in the Pearl River Delta International Forum on Innovation and Intellectual Property. And just now, I had the opportunity to meet with some of the students from your College of IP. As I told the Vice Dean, the fact that an entire school is devoted to the study of intellectual property and its protection indicates the impressive progress China has made in the area.

As China’s economy evolves from an export-driven model to one focusing on high-tech and high-value innovation and domestic consumption, intellectual property rights will become paramount. I know that building an effective patent and trademark system is not easy—because over 200 years after its founding, the United States is still working to perfect its own.

Only a few years after the American Revolution, our third president Thomas Jefferson, helped create the U.S. patent office because he understood two fundamental truths. He knew:

  • That long term economic growth was dependent on a continuous flow of new technologies and new ideas entering the marketplace;
  • But he also knew that without a promise of ownership protection for these ideas, innovators would never be willing to take risks to improve upon the status quo.

Although the United States continues efforts to reform our own patent system to reflect the rapid changes in the global economy, the necessity of having robust patent and trademark protections is not a matter of serious debate.

And when I come to a place like Jinan University, it makes me believe that sentiment is starting to take deeper root in China.

Soon enough, many of you will be entering the workforce. Perhaps you will find work here in Guangdong, which is one of the most economically-vibrant areas in all of China. It’s home to over 100,000 businesses, billions of dollars of foreign direct investment and has the highest number of patent filings and trademark registrations in China.

Or perhaps you will find work in another part of China, or even in the United States or another country. But whether you make your mark here in Guangdong or in California's Silicon Valley, you will soon see the value in the protection of ideas.

Consider for a moment, the path of one of America's most famous innovators, Bill Gates. When Bill Gates quit college to begin his path toward starting Microsoft, he had no guarantee of success. On numerous occasions, he faced failures and disappointments. But he kept moving forward, because he hoped that someday, all the money he invested and all the hours he labored just might result in the creation of something special that he could call his own.

And because Bill Gates received IP protection for his ideas, millions of people around the world have benefited.

Somewhere in the world, perhaps somewhere in this room, is the Bill Gates of clean energy, or the Bill Gates of medical research—and we need to make sure whoever that person is has similar protection.

Despite the impressive progress that China has made protecting intellectual property, much more still needs to be done. American and other foreign companies in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals and biotechnology to entertainment still lose billions of dollars from counterfeiting and IP theft in China every year.

Stronger intellectual property laws have been written—but they are only as valuable as the civil and criminal penalties people face for breaking them—and China’s enforcement of IP laws is often uneven.

I do hope that places like Jinan will continue to be a positive influence to convince more of China's people of the critical importance of protecting ideas and intellectual property. And I hope all of you today, will be ambassadors for that message among your family, friends and colleagues.

I applaud Jinan University for making intellectual property rights and protection a strategic part of the curriculum, and wish each of you much success in your academic careers and future endeavors. As leaders, innovators and consumers, you will write the next chapter in China’s rich history.

You have an enormous amount of responsibility riding on your shoulders, because your success isn't just important to you and your family—it’s important to me and everyone else who cares about solving the world’s problems.

I hope you make the most of your time at Jinan. Thank you for having me here today.