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La Cost of Spurious Crocodiles
What is the chinese for crocodile? Nope, me neither. But Lacoste are working it out. Daniel Altman, an editorial writer at the Herald Tribune, points to a new move in the ongoing attempts of the French clothing manufacturer to stop Chinese manufacturers waddling into the marketplace sporting what they call "spurious crocodiles".(Lacoste launched new action yesterday; read what the People's Daily has to say here.)
As NDN has said before, protection of IP has not been front of mind for the current administration. It is worth remembering, though, that there was a time when IP was even less of a priortiy. Following the revolutionary war, the considered view of the sitting administration was that it should get hold of as much foreign (normally, British) patented and copyrighted material as possible. (This book tells the story, while this was the result.) Now the boot is on the other foot. But, being fair, there is at least one obvious difference between 2000 and 1800. Two hundred years ago there was no way dominant European powers were going to let their valuable technological know-how slip out of their mercantalist trading areas. While India might get the tools, America had little choice but to steal and borrow its way to industrial might.
Today these ideas are widely available to any regime which shows a willingness to protect them. This is even more so in China. Companies are, at least to some extent, willing to trade-off the security of their assets for a foot-hold in a growing market. Its a complicated issue for sure, with some clever people on both sides. (I was surprised, for instance, to see a long passage in Jagdish Bhagwatti's excellent In Defence of Globalization in which he argued in favour of less stringent IP protection for medicines and software.) Yet, as our own Rob Shapiro noted earlier in the year, without these technological injections, there isn't much made in China that anyone would want to buy:
Most of the value of everything produced in China – from computers to automobiles -- comes not from the inexpensive labor and materials that China contributes, but from those who developed the products and the ideas that animate them, here in the United States or in other advanced countries. Yet, our government will nearly go to war with Europe over bananas and beef, while barely protesting which companies in India, China or Brazil rip off the ideas behind our pharmaceuticals, software and entertainment.
Lacoste might be french. But in filing suit to protect their famous crocodile they are acting in way that the Bush administration would do well to copy.