The China National Institute of Standardization and Sun Microsystems co-hosted a one day conference on "Open Standards, IPR and Innovation" in Beijing. I was an invited speaker. The event's goal was to bring together a set of speakers that would provide different perspectives and practices on how standards and intellectual property rules play together inside and out of China, such that China can determine what will best work for them.
There is obviously a reasonable amount of tension between a handful of countries and China when it comes to claims of piracy, and as China's economy continues to grow, that tension has broken out in the standards arena as well with competing standards for such things as RFID technology and WiFi complicating the discussion.
The great thing about the conference was that one felt the Chinese speakers and attendees were definitely attending to learn, but it was NOT to learn how to be more "western", but rather to learn so as not to make the same mistakes. The growing sophistication of business and business practices is palpable in Beijing in general, and definitely present at the conference.
One thing that was also surprisingly apparent was the lack of patience with the multinationals and their pricing, Microsoft in particular. This was not an undercurrent in the presentations. It was right out there in the open.
I remember getting into the debate a few years ago while still at Microsoft. Some managers took the position that countries like India would obviously want to mimic the "American" success of companies like Microsoft. The debate continues along the lines that India would obviously NOT want to use open source software because it's IP hostile, and they really need to build lots of proprietary software businesses because it's a demonstrated way to "make money" and grow the economy. Of course they would want to do so on a Microsoft software platform.
First, open source software isn't IP hostile. It depends upon strong IP law. Second, countries such as India are service-based today, and that means EVERYONE gets to take home some money rather than focusing the wealth in the hands of a few. (The last thing India wants is a return to the days of the Rajahs with a handful at the top.) Lastly, (and this is the kicker), when you scale out the amount of economic growth that's taking place in countries such as India and China, the last thing they want to do is ship massive amounts of hard currency OUT of their economy to the U.S. for the privilege of developing software to improve business. (And Microsoft is a veritable Hoover in its structuring of its subsidiaries. No amount of in-country R&D re-investment can make up for the amount of money at risk here.) Open source rules in a case like this.
Leap forward to China. Same story. Same debate. Same mistaken thinking from the Western multinationals that somehow China wants to be like them or worse yet, ship all that money out of the economy (government perspective) or the market (corporate perspective).
I understand a naive Western marketing person's desire to believe that China is their next growth market but they fail to understand the economics involved. This is why Linux rules here -- the cost of goods sold is significant when you add up the royalty payment times the population of customers. I have held a Motorola Ming phone. Developed in China for the Chinese market. It is the sexiest little piece of hardware on the planet, and incredibly functional. It's Linux-based.
Why would Motorola want to send that much money in royalties to Symbian or Microsoft? Yes, yes, I can hear the "we're so valuable" statements from those marketing managers already. Frankly, I don't really want to read Word documents on a two inch by three inch screen. The Ming is a work of art. But I digress.
Several interesting items came out at the conference:
- China has its own document format standard called UOF. It is somewhat consistent with ODF. There is to be a convergence. I learned at dinner one night that Red Flag has already built UOF support into Red Office, so hopefully the support will rapidly ripple back out through the OpenOffice.org community and the rest of the ODF supporting products will soon support UOF as well. (Andy Updegrove also attended the conference. He has made the connections and will hopefully have a proper article on UOF soon on his blog.)
- China is very respectful of IP. They value patents. They seem to be uninterested in supporting software patents. They do however understand how patents might make a mess of the standards world, and are very interested in work like the new ex-ante based IPR policy from VITA.
This was the first event in which I've participated where there was simultaneous translation going on. My slides needed to be handed in a week in advance such that they could be translated as well. Wireless handsets were available so you could listen to the translation. While one screen had the slide in English, the other had the Chinese slide. Attendees and speakers simply worked in their native language. It was fascinating to see it all just work.
I've posted all my photos on flickr from the conference and the conference dinners. I still need to get some names tagged, but it's a start. All in all a great conference. I learned a lot, and it was a privilege to participate.