Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Chinese Paper Company Relies on IP to Gain 7.9 Billion RMB Loan

March 6, 2014: I recently learned of important news from the Province of Shandong in northern China. A Chinese paper company, Quanlin Paper (also known as "Tralin Paper") has used its portfolio of patents and trademarks to secure a loan of 7.9 billion RMB (about $1.3 billion). The story was reported on March 3, 2014 on the website for the Chinese magazine, China Paper. This deal may be a record for China in terms of how much value IP brought in seeking financing. To emphasize the significance of this development, the normally dry China Paper publication begins with a somewhat flowery statement based on an interview with the Chairman, who expresses surprise and delight at how much money they were able to obtain with their IP. Here's my loose translation, followed by the actual Chinese:
"I never thought that intellectual property could have such a big effect in obtaining this loan. IP was a big part of it," according to Quanlin Paper Company's Chairman of the Board, President Li Hongfa, speaking today to a reporter about the 7.9 billion yuan from bank lenders that began this week. He said that this money will help them rapidly expand and seize market opportunities. Money has been tight for business, and this new addition is welcomed just as the mist-covered earth rejoices in the spring rains from the night before. 
核心提示:“没想到知识产权能在这次贷款中起这么大作用,占这么大比重!”泉林纸业有限责任公司董事长、总经理李洪法今天对记者说,79亿元的银团贷款本周已开始放款,这笔资金对正在快速扩张、抢抓市场机遇但一直资金紧绷的企业来说,就像雾霾重重的大地喜迎昨夜的春雨。
That may be overly flowery for some tastes, but again, this is big news for China and things get flowery when big news is good. This development shows that IP in China can be valuable (though the portfolio includes some international patents, it is mostly Chinese IP). It also shows that Chinese companies, even in seemingly dull industries like the paper industry, can be innovative and create valuable IP. I haven't reviewed their IP to assess its value, but I understand they have over 100 Chinese patents in areas such as technology for using straw and other renewable or recycled materials for making paper, with alleged benefits of enhanced environmental friendliness and cost effectiveness. Shandong Province's IP Office has also created some publicity about Quanlin's IP estate (see the Chinese article here), though this was before the news of the massive loan secured with the help of IP. Expect more publicity from them shortly.

Further background comes from Baidu's wiki-like entry on Quanlin Paper.

When nations develop strong IP systems, companies can use their IP to protect their innovations. This also motivates them to take the risk and spend the money need to drive further innovation, and gives investors courage to fund growth and innovation. In this case, it helped give a lending partner (a Chinese financial organization) the courage to loan a giant sum of money to help Tralin grow. Tralin has been pursuing IP not just for tax breaks it seems but also for strategic purposes, and information coming out about this story shows that they have been developing expertise in their staff to develop their IP estate. Sure looks like that has paid off for them.

This is one of many signs that China is becoming serious about IP and innovation, and not just low quality IP, but IP that can provide significant value. For IP to apparently be a crucial part of such a large loan in this challenging economic times is a remarkably positive sign for China, in my opinion.
On the other hand, the loan may be due to politics and guanxi with officials, and the IP is just window dressing. That's possible. But to even choose IP as the window dressing for publicity and hype is a remarkable thing in it's own right, and still a sign of China's rapid transformation in valuing and pursuing intellectual property.

Here is my loose translation of the China Paper article:
泉林纸业知识产权质押融资创国内最高
Quanlin Paper Crafts the Nation's Largest IP-Backed Financing 
泉林公司以110件专利、34件注册商标等质押获得的这笔贷款,2月21日在国家知识产权局完成备案。经省知识产权局核实,这是迄今为止国内融资金额最大的一笔知识产权质押贷款。 
On Feb. 21, 2014, Quanlin Paper secured a loan using a pledge of intellectual property. The pledge, recorded with the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO), includes 110 patents and 34 registered trademarks. The Shandong Province Intellectual Property Office has verified that this is the largest amount ever financed in China using intellectual property. 
“这笔资金到位,我们的大项目就能加快推进,市场机遇不等人啊!”李洪法说的大项目,是一个年处理150万吨秸秆的制浆造纸综合利用项目。泉林公司总部位于聊城市高唐县,是一家以浆纸业为核心的大型企业,利用秸秆制造“本色”纸品,变废为宝、环保健康,改写了人们对造纸业的既有印象,也在改变着人们的消费习惯。企业提出这个大项目后,很快得到环保部、国家发改委认可、立项,是全国资源综合利用和循环经济示范工程,也是2013年省重点建设项目。目前,项目基本建设已经全面展开,计划年底前建成,投产后,预计年可实现销售收入81.65亿元,销售税金4.89亿元,利润12.4亿元。 
"With this funding obtained, we will be able to accelerate our large projects. Market opportunities wait for nobody!” said Chairman Li Hongfa. The primary project Li refers to is a straw-based pulp manufacturing complex for papermaking that will process 1.5 million tons per year of straw. Quanlin company is headquartered in Liaocheng City, Gaotang County (Shandong Province). Quanlin’s core business among their large-scale enterprises is pulp and paper manufacturing using straw to create “natural color” paper. Quanlin turns waste into treasure and promotes a healthy environment, transforming both the impression that people have (of the industry) and their habits of consumption. 
After the enterprise brought this large project forward, it rapidly gained approval from the Environmental Bureau and the National Development and Reform Commission. The project is an important program for the nationwide comprehensive utilization of resources and a model project for China’s recycling economy. It was also considered a provincial key construction project in 2013. Currently, capital construction is fully underway and should be complete by year-end. Once production begins, the expected annual sales revenue will be 8.165 billion RMB, with anticipated sales taxes of 489 million RMB and annual profit of 1.24 billion RMB. 
知识产权获资金市场高度认可,对科技型企业无疑是巨大的利好。尽管泉林公司本身的发展就是受益于在知识产权、核心技术上的不断投入——即使在企业资金最困难的时候,这上面也从来没有“短”过,李洪法这次还是被深深地触动了:在这次贷款中,企业拥有的专利评估价值达到了60亿元,对贷款顺利达成起到了关键作用。这意味着,专利等知识产权不仅能垄断市场、为企业创造长期利润;质押融来真金白银,更是能够解决科技型企业成长中最头疼的资金饥渴,释放发展潜力,及时把握市场机遇,让企业“长大”。 
For intellectual property to receive this high level of approval from the market is without doubt a giant benefit for technological enterprises in general. Although Quanlin company's own development has now benefited from their intellectual property, they continue to invest steadily in their core technology—continuing even during the times when investment is most difficult. This is an area where the company has never gone “short.” The result has made a deep impression on Li Hongfa: in the process of obtaining these loans, the appraised value of Quanlin’s patents reached 6 billion RMB and played a key role in successfully obtaining the financing. This means that patents and other IP rights are not just about obtaining a monopoly in the market, but can be used to creating long-term profit for the enterprise. They can be used as collateral for significant financing to resolve one the biggest headaches for high-tech businesses, the hunger for funds to grow, to capture hidden potential, grasp favorable market opportunities, and to let the company “grow up.” 
这一融资方式也让银行对科技型企业增添了兴趣。不仅国家开发银行牵头银团,为泉林公司发放了这笔79亿元的贷款,交通银行甚至还与省科技厅签署专门的战略合作文件,并推出了专门的知识产权融资产品。交行山东省分行零售信贷部总经理姜鲁荣说,知识产权看似无形,却体现了企业价值创造和持续经营的能力,银行业务风险没有增加,却有可能抢占一批优质客户,改善银行客户结构,“就像泉林公司这样”。 
This financing will stir the interest of banks other technology enterprises. Not only did the China Development Bank and their affiliates issue Quanlin a loan of 7.9 billion RMB, but the Bank of Communications also signed a strategic cooperation document with the Provincial Science and Technology Department, and launched a specialized intellectual property financing product. Jiang Lurong, General Manager of the Retail Credit Department of Shandong Branch Bank, said that while intellectual property seems invisible, it reflects value creation and the ability to continue operations without increasing banking risk, and can help obtain more high-quality customers, improve the system for customers of the bank such as companies like Quanlin.
Kudos, by the way, to Dr. Ian Feng of Goldeast Paper in Zhenjiang, China for alerting me to the story in China Paper.

Note: IAM Magazine issued a blog post on the use of IP in lending in China: "Chinese companies have secured over $10 billion in patent-backed loans since 2008" by Jeff Wild, March 4, 2014. The news I share below (cross-posted at InnovationFatigue.com) definitely supports their article. Great timing! Further, responding to the news that I first broke to English speakers on the Innovation Fatigue Blog, IAM Magazine has written a blog post about this story (kindly citing my announcement), wherein they observe just how big of a deal this is. I agree, though I also think it's fair to wonder how much of the transaction actually depended on IP and how much was due to guanxi and other factors. I have not yet evaluated the IP and if I do look at it in more detail, do not plan on sharing my analysis publicly, but may still offer further updates on this story here. IAM's post includes a translation of the Chinese article behind this story. My independent translation above was prepared before I saw the IAM translation. If there are significant differences in meaning, I'll defer to them since my Chinese is still rough.

Cross-posted on the Shake Well Blog.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Imitation Without Knowledge: A Problem for Innovation and Potato Peelers

Pictured to the right is my potato peeler/fruit peeler which I purchased in Shanghai. It is dutifully based on the design of typical peelers long sold by Western companies. But I suspect this imitation object was copied and manufactured by people unacquainted with the finer points of peeling potatoes. In peeling potatoes, one frequently encounters eyes or other bad spots that need to be gouged out. Good potato peelers have a curved metal end that can be used for gouging potatoes and fruit. My Shanghai peeler has dutifully copied the general shape of other peelers, with a somewhat pointed tip and a concave surface below it, but the tip is made of thick blunt plastic that is useless in gouging. It is a classic example of imitation without understanding the details of how something works. It can look the same, but the results are disappointing.
The innovation efforts of many companies are like my potato peeler: they imitate what they see others doing, but lack the knowledge and experience needed to make the systems actually work. So we get innovation rhetoric, a temporary budget and Big Program, with consultants sailing in and trying to change employees when the real barriers to innovation may be elsewhere. We get brainstorming sessions that lead to nowhere, momentary IP races that waste resources and leave inventors discourage, innovation funnels that become echo chambers, and improvised staged product launch systems that result in decisions made without adequate knowledge and little hope of success. In some cases it all comes down to instinct and gut feel from an omniscient leader imitating Steve Jobs or some other charismatic innovator, while overruling all logic and leaving a wake of confusion.
Innovation requires experience and deep knowledge. It requires systems and cultures designed with innovation expertise, not just a quick fix and temporary effort to imitate others. Innovation leaders need the support and attention of management at the very top, and systems tailored to enhance the innovation culture across the company. Innovation success is far more difficult that it looks when we are imitating someone who makes it look easy. It rarely is. Real knowledge and real patience are required.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Trade Secrets and Open Innovation

A culture that can protect trade secrets is vital for innovative companies. Such a culture becomes especially important in collaborative innovation efforts where failure to protect trade secrets can severely damage partners and the offending company’s reputation. 
Chinese companies are increasingly recognizing the value of what the West calls “open innovation.” In fact, forms of open innovation were the basis of a great deal of innovation in China long before the term was coined in the West. Innovation in China tends to be fueled by guanxi with trust between partners being far more important than the legal details drafter by lawyers for a joint venture or other collaborative effort. Innovation in China, though still largely overlooked by the West, frequently occurs as trusted friends or acquaintances discuss their needs and challenges and find new solutions by crossing disciplinary borders. The many partnerships and allies involved with leading innovators like Ten Cent, Alibaba, Foxconn, and Huawei testify to the fluidity and rapidity of innovation in China achieved via collaboration and shared vision among partners. 
However, when companies in China or anywhere collaborate to find innovation, the inevitable sharing of trade secrets between partners puts the players at risk should there be inappropriate disclosure. Two leaders may fully trust each other, but if one of them leads a company with a weak IP culture where individuals fail to respect trade secrets, the partnership can be destroyed and severe damage can be done. Those engaging in a collaborative venture should be aware of the risks and consider their own culture and processes, as well as the culture, processes, and track record of partners. Zealous efforts are needed to avoid harm, even when there is no intent to harm or defraud. Simple slips can disclose information inappropriately and hurt a partner and one’s own reputation. Those pursuing open innovation need to pay particular attention to trade secret protection and ensure that only a few well trained employees will be exposed to the trade secrets involved in the partnership. 
Unfortunately, university culture in China and throughout the world, generally speaking, is inherently geared toward sharing and publishing information, so partnerships with universities should be carefully pursued with the realistic expectation that information may be leaked. Containing the scope of the partnership and minimizing any sharing of corporate secrets can reduce risks, while still allowing a company to tap the many riches of knowledge and innovation in China’s academic community, where many companies are finding success in advancing innovation.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tortoise Innovation: The Problem with Corporations (and Their Inventors) Hiding in a Shell


tortoise hiding in a shell
Many large companies take a tortoise approach to innovation and stay as hidden within their shells as possible, even some who advocate open innovation. Tortoise companies may have creative R&D staff, including many scientists doing good work, but they keep these inventors hidden in the shell rather than encouraging them to publish or present their work.

The hares, on the other hand, take greater risks as they frequently step out of their comfortable burrows. They let their inventors not just show up at conferences and other events, but take the podium and present. Or, when appropriate, publish their work in major journals. As a result, their inventors become known and get to know many others with related interests. It is that visibility that allows potential partners to find them, to learn about their work, and to come forward with proposals for partnership or further innovation. These visible minds become more highly connected and able to contribute more directly and effectively to the open innovation needs of the Corporation. They are connected to other industries and better connected to the market, and may be more likely to recognize ways to adapt their inventions for better success.

The extreme of tortoise innovator may well be the large body of government scientists that conducted high-tech R&D for decades in the old Soviet Union. One of my past open innovation activities at Innovationedge included traveling to Moscow to assist Russia (more specifically, ISTC: http://www.istc.ru/) in finding external partners for the huge body of invention that arose from government labs in past work (this public information: e.g., I am listed as a speaker on the published agenda of a biotech meeting in Moscow with a presentation entitled "Innovationedge Partnership to bring innovation from Russia to the U.S."). 

Unfortunately, much of that work in the Soviet Union, in my opinion, was dominated by deep drilling into highly isolated wells of expertise, with advanced technologies that were unconnected to real-world industry and markets. Creating connections and finding market opportunities after the fact (as in “answers in search of problems”) is much less efficient that developing inventions tailored to meet real market needs in the first place. The scientists were some of the best in the world, but they were working in isolation, often in great secrecy, with little ability to discuss their work with outsiders and obtain needed feedback and insights to make their work more useful outside their immediate focus. Looking back in time at the fruits of past Soviet era R&D to me looked like closed innovation to an extreme.

My observation of the isolation of Russian R&D relative to industry and markets is consistent with the detailed observation and analysis by Dina Williams in “Russia’s innovation system: reflection on the past, present and future” in The International Journal of Transitions and Innovation Systems, Vol. 1, No. 4, 2011, p. 394-412, available via Academia.edu at  http://www.academia.edu/1207385/Russias_innovation_system_reflection_on_the_past_present_and_future (free download with registration).

Success in open innovation and even in making conventional internal innovation more successful can be enhanced when innovators “get out more often” and increase their visibility in relevant communities. Innovation is frequently about crossing boundaries and making new connections, and open innovation almost by definition involves reaching past one’s own corporate boundaries to find solutions outside. What better way to do this than by having innovators physically or virtually stepping outside those boundaries and being visible to potential partners?

One of my favorite experiences during my days at Innovationedge involved seeing a technology go from an inventor’s garage to a multinational corporation where it is now being commercialized globally. A key event in that story involved speaking at technical conference where my presentation included some information about our client’s invention. Afterwards, I was approached by an R&D leader from a significant corporation who wanted to know more. There was much more work after this—open innovation success is rarely fast and easy—but that new connection took us on a path toward success. Related stories occur frequently when innovation is shared. But silent companies who rely on their tortoise shell eventually find that solid defense is irrelevant. Sometimes, the prizes go not to those who best hide behind their fortifications but to those who cross the finish line in the race for innovation.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: Prisoners of Hope: How engineers and Others Get Lift for Innovating

Prisoners of Hope: How Engineers and Others Get Lift for Innovating by Larry Vincent is an unusual book on innovation that I found to be a refreshing guide to strengthening innovation with great practical value. Part of what makes this book unusual and, for some, perhaps highly challenging, is that it is written from the perspective of a preacher turned innovation champion, filled with references to biblical material, including frequent passages cited from scripture and analogies, sometimes extensive and detailed, drawn from the Bible. Although I treasure the Bible, initially this approach caught me off guard. In fact, at first I felt the attempt to find practical secular lessons for innovators from Bible stories was strained, even to the point that I initially disliked the book after the first chapter or two. But after a few more pages, I began encountering many valuable insights and modern case studies that revealed the author really did understand the practical challenges of bringing innovation to life, especially in a corporate environment. Once I got past my initial challenges with the unique angle of the book, I found it well worth my time, even inspiring. I still struggle with some of the passages using scripture to explain innovation and its challenges, but others may enjoy that. On the other hand, I was impressed by his application of Ezekiel’s “dry bones” vision in the Old Testament, where the prophet Ezekiel saw a valley of dried bones that became living humans again. His treatment made it a very apt and interesting analogy for the challenges inventors face in breathing life and commercial success into their inventions.

Author and innovation expert Lanny Vincent understands the life and challenges of innovators, especially those in corporations. Inventors and innovators are the “prisoners of hope” of the title, people driven and even held captive by their vision of changing the world with their innovation. It is their faith and hope that drives them forward, and this faith and hope allows for many biblical insights to be relevant. Whatever their feelings about scripture, this book can be valuable for them and for those who guide or influence them. Vincent understands how they can be more successful.

Aspects I especially enjoy are the numerous case studies and examples. While many come from the consumer products industry, especially from Kimberly-Clark Corp. where Lanny Vincent had a great deal of industrial experience, the lessons and practical guidance from the author will help engineers, scientists, and other inventors in many disciplines, and may be especially helpful to leaders responsible for innovation and business development.  In these case studies, Vincent draws out key lessons to guide and inspire innovators today.

One of my favorite sections is in the middle of Chapter 6, “Inspiration and Appreciation,” where Vincent recounts how we worked with a team of automotive engineers in Michigan to help them innovate in the area of automotive suspensions. As he observed their responses and discerned that they were there because they had to be, not because they wanted to be, he departed from his normal process. He sought a way to help those jaded survivors of extensive downsizing become more inspired about the innovation task before them. He asked them to tell him the basics of the suspension system, including the history of its development. Admitting his naiveté and asking the engineers to share their knowledge seemed to engage them. They were then asked to draw a timeline of the development of related systems and then to characterize major epochs of the timeline as if they were historians. Then, in light of the past, how would they characterize the next era of development? They energetically and swiftly responded, and then Vincent simply explained that that was the area where they needed to invent. The invention workshop turned out to be highly productive.

One of the interesting insights regarding corporate barriers to innovation is the tendency for companies to promote successful innovators in their ranks to new positions where their rich innovation experience may be unused or essentially lost. The wheels of innovation are constantly being reinvented in companies as those who succeed are moved away from the field where they were able to create success.

Vincent also calls for corporations keep inventors and innovators close to projects as they become commercialized. There is a tendency in large corporations to hand off new products to others and leave those with the original vision and passion out of the picture by the time consumer feedback is being obtained, but Vincent identifies this as a huge missed opportunity. The inventors and innovators may have exactly the insights and knowledge needed to interpret and apply the feedback from the market, and they should play a pivotal role in refining and adapting the product as it moves forward.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Chester Carlson and the Xerox Story: Do Great Inventors Really Have to Die Early and Lonely?

The photocopier, one of the most valuable inventions in the modern world, began with the all-consuming passion of one man, Chester Carlson, who sacrificed almost everything he had for years to realize his dream of "dry printing" using electrostatic means. In the end, he became wealthy and successful, but the years of effort required should be noted by all seeking to launch a major new invention. One of the most important lessons in his story is that he obtained a valid and valuable patent, otherwise companies could have taken his idea and left him behind. You cannot neglect IP if you are an inventor.

Chester's path to invention and innovation began in poverty at age 13, working as a printer's assistant. It was there that he began thinking about better ways to print. He went on to graduate from Cal Tech and then, still at the edge of poverty, dedicated his spare time to tinkering in his kitchen, looking for ways to pint without wet inks, taking advantage of the potential he saw with static electricity as a tool for moving dry particles onto paper.

Chester's story is told well in the Engines of Our Ingenuity radio program series by John Lienhard at the University of Houston. Here is an excerpt:
Carlson patented a copying process in 1937, before he'd really figured out how to make it work. Author Dean Golembeski tells us that he hired a German refugee named Otto Kornei to help him. Working on a budget of 10 dollars a month, they finally managed to reproduce an inked message by electrostatic means. Kornei saw little future in the process, so he went on to a regular job. Carlson spent the next six years looking for corporate backing.

Battelle finally bought into his patent, and Carlson vanished into the work of developing the process. First his marriage fell apart. Then Battelle gave up on the process. Finally, a little company called Haloid bought the patent rights and hired Carlson.

Haloid turned to a Greek scholar for help in naming the process. Since it didn't use any photographic liquids, he suggested that they base the name on the Greek word for dry -- xeros. He suggested that they call it "Xerography." That word was simplified to "Xerox," and Carlson's dream was finally on its way. It took another 13 years to produce the first really successful Xerox machine, but then Carlson was suddenly worth 150 million dollars.
Endless toil, an all-consuming passion, years of sacrifice, then an invention, a patent, and years more of work to obtain corporate investment and eventually commercialize the process--this was what it took for Carlson to achieve success and wealth. And then he dropped dead at age 62, a lonely man. Was it worth it?

Frankly, one thing that passionate inventors often need is a touch of balance in their lives, with more attention to family and personal growth. Chester's zealous focus appears to have cost him his marriage and perhaps his health. Sometimes that kind of balance gives people insights and connections that help them bypass some of the fruitless decades of futile meandering that occurs in many inventor's lives and more directly realize their goal. It also gives them longevity. High stress for decades to realize your passion, only to be promptly terminated with an early heart attack, is too common a pattern in "successful" business leaders and innovators. Again, with balance, more complete and meaningful success may be realized and enjoyed for much longer. Don't overdo it, inventors! Slow down, pay attention to your family and your health, and open channels of creative inspiration to realize you dream more efficiently.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Changes in China: Moving from Copied in China to Invented in China--Seriously

My two years in China have overturned many previous paradigms that I held, including the stereotype of China as merely an IP copier and not an IP generator. While the West clings to that view, largely discounting the patents and innovation capability of China, a rapid transformation is occurring in which China has taken the global lead in national patent filings and is about to tie with Germany as the #3 international patent filer (expensive, generally high-quality PCT filings). China is now #2 internationally in scientific publications, behind the US but ahead of England and everywhere else. In hot areas like graphene, the two-dimensional carbon nanomaterial that is opening whole new vistas of nano-possibilities, China has a clear global lead in the number of patents filed so far.

In my own innovation-related experiences, I have seen that teams of Chinese college graduates, though often seemingly shy and unresponsive at first when challenged to contribute in ideation and innovation sessions, can, with the right guidance and framework, become as energetic and innovative as any Western team I've worked with. One must understand Chinese culture a little and take some steps like removing the boss from the room and setting up rules and guidelines that make it clear they won't lose face by participating and might lose face (or delay lunch and bathroom breaks) if they don't. Once we get past the initial shyness, it can be hard to get them to turn off the innovation juice.

For some, the biggest challenge in China has been the IP system, which many have felt was too weak and lacked adequate means for enforcement. This is being addressed, and the new 4th Amendment to Chinese patent law looks like it will bring some major steps forward, including opportunities for discovery of evidence and stronger penalties. The trend is clear, though, that China is working to strengthen its systems and is treating foreign IP holders as fairly as Chinese companies in general.

Do not ignore the rising tide of IP and innovation in China. Some extremely importance advances in technology and business models are emerging here. The nations and companies that can respect China and its IP are the ones that will benefit most. The opportunities are staggering.