The Real Mischief of Tianjin’s Patenting Police Chief

Many media, including the Wall Street Journal, have reported on Tianjin  police chief, Wu Changshun 武長順, who seems to be following in the footsteps of Chengdu police chief Wang Lijun, 王立军 as a police officer/inventor who also ran afoul of Chinese law.

The story of Wu Changshun however seems to be a bit more complicated than simply being a police chief who scammed China’s innovation system. Wang Lijun, as I blogged before, may have been profiting off of patent subsidies to file low quality patents.  He had 150 patents to his name, and likely used a widespread subsidy mechanism to generate revenue and appear innovative.  It is unclear if he commercialized these patents.

As reported by SIPO’s newspaper, Wu seems to be of another stripe – the “scholar official”  or the “inventor official.”  In fact 34 of the 35 patents he obtained were transportation-related.  Wu worked in 18 institutes of higher education and research institutions, including as an adjunct professor and researcher.  He has credentials as an advanced engineer and he has a Ph.D.  Indeed, he was developing inventions that at first glance might be useful to him in his police work – precisely the type of employee/inventor that China wants to encourage.

The real trouble this may be elsewhere than in lower quality patents.  For example, of the four inventions in which he is listed as the sole inventor, three involve a paneled traffic light.  This paneled light has become a bit of an annoyance to Tianjin residents and out of town drivers, perhaps because as this picture shows, it had a unique design and functionality.   The problem of Wu was not only in what he invented, but in how he commercialized his inventions.  He apparently held power on certifying products for safety, standardization, as well as government procurement and through these efforts made it impossible for others to compete on Tianjin public road procurement projects where he had a personal stake.

Wang abused China’s petty patent system.  Many of these patents lapse after one year, because they are never commercialized.   Wu, however, seems to have showed considerable creativity in how to abuse the system for commercialization of patents.  His story may underscore the need for more transparent and competitive technical standards, open government procurement and clearer employer ownership/inventor rewards systems, without reference to where a product was innovated.

Funny, those are some of the issues that foreigners would like to see China focus on as well….

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