Glassmaker's heated pursuit to protect its discovery

09:15, December 15, 2010      

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After a year of research, Weihai Blue Star Glass Holding Co Ltd developed a glassmaking technology that saves energy - but it then had to burn up enormous effort to protect it.

The company's technology replaces oil and natural gas with a more efficient solid fuel. It also designed equipment for the technology that provides "significant reductions in energy consumption", said Ge Yankai, deputy director general of Blue Star.

At the company's Weihai facility alone, the process helped reduce costs by nearly 200 million yuan ($30 million) annually since it went online four years ago, he said.

The company applied for an invention patent in 2006, which was granted in 2008.

Yet during the patent processing period, a trade secret "crucial to the company's survival" was "stolen" by a Wuhan-based metallurgical engineering firm hired to build Blue Star's new facility, Ge said.

After Blue Star signed a contract for equipment with the Wuhan firm in 2006, the contracting firm's founder twice visited Blue Star's production site and learned about the technology.

According to Blue Star, the contractor then gave the technology a new name, applied for a new patent and succeeded. He then began licensing the technology on the Internet.

When Blue Star filed a complaint against him claiming the theft, the contractor filed papers with the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) asking to invalidate Blue Star's patent.

The request was rejected by SIPO's patent reexamination board and the contractor was arrested on suspicion of technology theft.

"Our perseverance in the case reflects our attitude toward intellectual property rights protection," Ge said.

Key to intellectual property rights, trade secrets are intangible, but valuable, assets for companies, said Li Chuntian, an intellectual property professor at Renmin University of China.

"Protecting trade secrets is becoming more important in this information era, especially for high-tech companies," Li said. "Otherwise the losses may be huge."

"Companies should set up special intellectual property management and protection teams and an emergency mechanism to deal with the disclosure of trade secrets," Li suggested.

Ge said his firm began working on finding alternative fuels used in melting glass "in response to the central government's call for energy saving and to reduce our own costs".

"The technology is key to lifting the industry barrier of heavy energy consumption and sharpens our company's competitive edge," he noted.

Source:China Daily
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