Jan 26 | 2015

Forget Patent Trolls…Focus on Convicts

While discussions about patent reform heat up in the United States, patent trolls are proliferating in an unexpected forum in China: prison.

Under Chinese law, a prison sentence can be reduced if the prisoner develops a patentable technology. While the purpose of the law is to incentivize innovation, it has led to an underground market of wealthy prisoners who exploit the system by purchasing ideas from legitimate inventors and patenting them. Chinese patents can be purchased for 6,800 yuan ($1,100) to 60,000 yuan ($9,600), depending on the complexity of the patent.

Prisoners may even hire an intellectual property agent to help them receive a patent that is most likely to get them out of prison early. How do intellectual property agents determine the perfect patent match? They evaluate all aspects of a prisoner’s background, including education, work experience, general interests, and family background.

One high-profile prisoner received a one-year reduction in his 10-and-a-half year sentence, in part, for purchasing four patents. The patents included a device that controls desktop monitors, a mobile phone stand, a portable soccer goal, and a tool for measuring soccer shot accuracy. The prisoner also published a science fiction book in 2012.

With Chinese prisons being deemed “China’s Nobel Prize Centre[s],” the law itself has not gone un-scrutinized.  In an ironic twist, wealthy prisoners who purchase patents may run the risk of more jail time, as the law technically requires the patents to be the prisoner’s own creation.

By Connie Boutsikaris, Esq.