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The Limits to Law: How Intellectual Properties Are Used and Protected in Chinese Industries

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 July 2019

Qiaoling HE*
Zhejiang University


Many studies agree that a weak intellectual property right (IPR) legal system likely reduces innovation or creation; they also predict that increasing intellectual properties (IPs) in developing countries will automatically lead to local needs for stronger formal protection. However, the situation is found to be more complex in China. With a focus on the use of IPs and relevant protection mechanisms in China, this study points out that many companies acquire IPs for purposes that do not depend on their enforcement; many companies have informal ways of protecting their IPs without resorting to court enforcement. Both the alternative functions and the alternative enforcement mechanisms are shaped by industrial characteristics, especially in four aspects: technological features, administrative regulation, market characteristics, and network structure. Based on studies of different industrial sectors in China, this article develops a general framework for analyzing the role of IPRs in industrial practice.

Legal Risk Society in East Asia
© Cambridge University Press and KoGuan Law School, Shanghai Jiao Tong University 2020

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Correspondence to Qiaoling He, PhD, Department of Sociology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada. E-mail address: The author thanks the International and Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada for providing funding for the fieldwork in 2016. The author also thanks Professor Michael Smith at McGill University for his support throughout this research; Professor Juan Wang, Professor John Hall, Professor Matthew Lange, and Professor Jason Carmichael at McGill University, as well as Professor Sida Liu at University of Toronto, for their comments. The author also extends her thanks to Professor Jiming Yi, Professor Feiyu Sun, and Professor Xiuting Yuan.


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