Intellectual Property and Confucianism

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In the past two decades, policy makers, industry leaders, and academic commentators have repeatedly condemned Confucianism for blocking or slowing down intellectual property reforms. Nevertheless, few have revisited the debate on intellectual property and Confucianism following the recent dramatic changes to the intellectual property landscape in Asia. In 2013, for example, Japan, China, and South Korea were among the top five countries filing international applications through the Patent Cooperation Treaty, along with the United States and Germany. Chinese and Japanese firms such as Panasonic, ZTE, and Huawei Technologies also emerged as the world's top three leaders in corporate filings.

If Confucianism has presented a major barrier to intellectual property reforms in China and other parts of Asia, what causes the Sinicized countries to move forward so quickly in the intellectual property world? Is it the World Trade Organization and its TRIPS Agreement? Is it the success of external trade pressure, such as pressure exerted by the U.S. Trade Representative and the various chambers of commerce? Is it the result of the countries' successful use of culturally supported piratical and counterfeiting activities to play economic catch-up? Or could it be that the impact of Confucianism on intellectual property developments in China and other parts of Asia has been misunderstood all along? After all, 30 years seem far too short a time to fully evaluate the impact of a philosophy that has lasted for more than two and a half millennia.

This chapter calls for a reassessment of the impact of Confucianism on intellectual property developments in China and other parts of Asia. It begins by examining the Confucian influences on Chinese culture. Focusing on William Alford's seminal work, it underscores the important distinction between the strong form of his Confucianism-based claim and its weak form. The chapter then examines the challenges of interpreting Confucian teachings and discussing them in the context of intellectual property developments. The chapter also questions claims that seek to use Confucianism to explain the massive piracy and counterfeiting problems in China and other parts of Asia. It concludes by briefly suggesting that Confucianism may provide insight into the future development of the intellectual property systems in both China and abroad.

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Cambridge University Press


New York, NY


Irene Calboli & Srividhya Ragavan

Book Title

Diversity in Intellectual Property: Identities, Interests, and Intersections