Compared to the 2005-6 interviews, it was noticeable that WTO accession and the TRIPS Agreement and consequent compliance were not mentioned and discussed as frequently. However, seven respondents did independently mention either the WTO or the TRIPS Agreement in the context of China’s IP system, but usually as a historic “milestone”56 in the ongoing revisions of China’s formal IP legislation and also to distinguish from subsequent revisions. Indeed, one respondent went so far as to claim that China’s IP-related laws are “totally compliant with the requirement of TRIPS and the legislation is no problem.”57 This was certainly not a unanimous view; however, the enforcement gap which was identified in the first stage of the research project and outlined in Chap. 6 has undoubtedly lessened, as both the legislation and enforcement environment continue to improve.
Technology has been a surprisingly significant contributor to the IP system in China as technological developments have necessitated shifts in business models. For example, the growth of online retailing has been stratospheric, with domestic companies such as Alibaba becoming influential players in the Chinese market. This is certainly not a unique trend experienced solely by China, but has nevertheless played an important role in recent changes to the Chinese IP system. However, the downside of technological innovations in the Chinese economy is that rights-holders may then experience more difficulties in enforcing their IP:
But now we are facing online, that’s even more difficult because the online platform will enable all those people called big fish who are hidden further below, it’s almost invisible. And we’re also, to be frank, we’re closing thousands of online shops every month but they are not our true enemy because they are not manufacturers, they only have individual or small shops selling fake goods, sometimes intentionally and sometimes they are also being cheated, they don’t know, they don’t have knowledge to tell. So we have to do this, we have to educate them and make them pay some price and so they learn.58
Generally, some of the factors which had been identified in 2005 as critical factors affecting the effectiveness of the IP system in China, such as local protectionism, inadequate damages and inconsistent enforcement, were still prominent in 2015. On the other hand, clear changes had been made in other areas, with the administrative capacity of key personnel within the IP system much less of a concern than previously. Finally, factors such as technological changes also emerged as influences on the Chinese IP system which had not existed a decade earlier.