Fact Check
Data get a protection detail
By Lan Xinzhen  ·  2023-11-20  ·   Source: NO.47 NOVEMBER 23, 2023

The unstoppable growth of the Internet has helped create a global knowledge-based society, the very existence of which depends fundamentally on the provision and use of information. Data, the elementary building blocks of the world of information, are therefore increasingly being recognized and valued for the constitutive role that they play.

But their dynamic nature and massive volume make the creation and collection of data extremely difficult to properly categorize as an intellectual property right (IPR).

According to Shen Changyu, head of the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA), China is now speeding up the formulation of data IPR protection rules.

Four basic rules for data IPR protection have now been formulated. They are: to protect data security, public interests and individual privacy; to grasp the unique properties of data and the rules of property rights systems; to respect the work of data workers and their related input; and to give full play to the function of data in the digital transformation of industries and high-quality economic growth.

Pilot programs for the protection of data IPRs have been launched in eight major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, in an effort to accumulate replicable experience and lay the foundation for the subsequent system design.

Mountains of data in China need to be brought under the IPR protection umbrella. The official establishment of the National Data Bureau in October underscores China's emphasis on data protection. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China's digital economy, for example, was worth 50.2 trillion yuan ($6.9 trillion) in 2022, accounting for 41.5 percent of the country's GDP and ranking second in the world—following that of the U.S. As shown by the CNIPA, the number of effective invention patents for core industries in the digital economy had reached 1.27 million as of late 2022. 

Since 2016, the annual growth of said invention patent grants has been 1.5 times that of invention patents in all industrial sectors. Also noteworthy here is that 71.3 percent of China's inventions for core industries in the digital economy take place in the Yangtze River Delta in east China, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area in the south, and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region up north.

Data are the new energy of the information age, an essential factor of production considered as important as traditional factors such as land, capital and technology. In the digital era, the key to global economic competition is the transition from "material" things to intangible things such as information, knowledge or data.

Based on the development of China's digital economy and the characteristics of invention patents, the CNIPA's data IPR protection measures not only promote data security and the legitimate rights of data owners, but also ensure the steady growth of China's economy and the healthy and sustainable economic growth of human society.

The CNIPA's next step is to ramp up international exchange and cooperation in data IPR protection to promote technological innovation and global governance in the data industry.

As demonstrated by the CNIPA, China has seen a steady increase in the number of foreign companies applying for invention patents for core industries in the digital economy, from 6,418 in 2016 to 7,613 in 2022. As of late last year, right holders from 95 countries and territories had secured 327,000 such invention patents in China. Strengthened protection of data IPRs will also be a boon to them.

Existing international laws are not sufficient to protect the oceans of data around the world for many reasons, such as countries' different levels of development and fragmented legal systems on data IPR protection. It is necessary to strengthen international cooperation in building related systems. Because data are in desperate need of a protection detail.

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

Comments to lanxinzhen@cicgamericas.com 

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