With its proximity to the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong is a prime hub for the growing Asian IP market. Thanks to its solid legal system, a strong IP protection regime, diversified financing services and extensive connections with the world, the city is a regional IP trading and services centre, where a dynamic cluster of companies serves as agents of international IP owners and sells their IP to foreign markets.
"The China factor definitely has great significance," says Joanne Hon, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific, CPA Global, which offers a range of general legal and IP support services. "When mainland Chinese companies want to internationalise their business and need foreign IP service providers with foreign experience, they are inclined to go for Hong Kong providers first."
By the same token, foreign companies that want to access the Chinese market like to use Hong Kong as an IP intermediary. "Many foreign companies tend to be daunted by the prospect of tapping into China. But Hong Kong's great infrastructure, legal system and talent give them confidence," says solicitor and notary public Yvonne Chua, who is a supervising partner of law firm Wilkinson & Grist's IP practice group. "Hong Kong is very blessed. Our system and infrastructure were developed well during the British colonial era. We have an IP regime that goes back over 100 years. All this makes us attractive to overseas companies."
Trusted Global Brand
Events such as the Business of IP Asia, held in Hong Kong, gather global players together to promote IP trade in the region
Hong Kong, more than a decade ago, tightened its IP protection laws and stepped up enforcement, prompting its removal from the US Watch List in 1999.
"The turnaround of the situation was closely linked to what the government had done," says Ms Ngan. "When piracy was at its most rampant, bootleg CDs and VCDs were all over the streets of Hong Kong. Today, you hardly find any. Hong Kong is viewed as a global brand that can be trusted as far as IP is concerned."
It's no coincidence that a growing number of IP services providers has set up in Hong Kong, offering IP-related services to small and medium-sized enterprises and big corporations in and outside Hong Kong. A case in point is CPA Global, which expanded its Hong Kong regional headquarters in October (see "IP City," Trader's Choice).
"Many people think of Hong Kong as a service centre. That's very right, but statistics don't show that Hong Kong is a big IP centre," says Ms Hon, noting that corporations looking to gain access to such key regional markets as the mainland, Korea and Taiwan, generally maintain a good operation in Hong Kong. "We want to be with the clients wherever they are, so we are in Hong Kong."
Human capital also draws companies such as CPA Global to the city. "In Hong Kong, it's very easy to find people with multilingual skills and the sensitivity of understanding the international landscape," says Ms Hon, who had no trouble finding Chinese, Koreans and Taiwanese in the city. "They have that local culture and understanding, but they are international enough and as flexible as a Hong Kong person. So it's really because of the human capital that we came to Hong Kong first."
Still, business representatives believe that more government resources should be devoted to education and professional training, to enlarge Hong Kong's IP talent pool. "After all, we are a small place, and we need to nurture a talent pool of people with a technology background and legal training, as well as commercial knowledge, said Ms Ngan. "But" fortunately, our people learn the ropes fast, so I am cautiously optimistic about our future."
Alice Ngan and Yvonne Chua will be panel speakers at the Business of IP Asia Forum, 7 December, at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.