By Xinhua writers Yuan Quan and Yin Pingping
BEIJING, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- Liu Zilu's homework is always smudged, because he's left-handed. His left wrist is smeared with ink as it rubs on his exercise books when he writes. His parents, who are doctors, appreciate cleanliness and tried to prevent the smears and mess to no avail.
But the boy himself found the solution. Liu invented a writing glove for the left-handed. Made of elastic gauze or rubber, it has two separate sheaths for the left ring finger and little finger. The glove has concave and convex surfaces, which results in more friction and a smaller contact area with paper, reducing the likelihood of ink stains on the hand.
With the help of his father, Liu, at age 7, applied for a utility model patent on the glove.
"A patent can protect your ideas and your work, so others cannot easily make the same thing," said Liu, a second-grade student at the Experimental Primary School affiliated to Renmin University of China.
Liu is one of the few very young people with a patent, but he is one of a growing number of Chinese students who know what a patent is and how to protect intellectual property (IP) rights.
In recent years, the government has encouraged for efforts in IP education. In 2015, the National Intellectual Property Administration (NIPA), together with the Ministry of Education, launched a nationwide pilot demonstration project on IP education in primary and secondary schools.
By the end of 2018, a total of 165 primary and secondary schools had been assessed as IP pilot schools, 25 as IP demonstration schools and almost 1,000 as IP pilot schools at provincial level.
China's IP education is among the best in the world. A report by the U.S. Center for Intellectual Property Understanding listed China as one of the top seven countries for IP education along with the United States and Japan.
URGENT AND NECESSARY
The High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China is one of the IP pilot schools in Beijing. The teachers have written textbooks and started dozens of compulsory courses on patents, trademarks and copyright since 2005.
But they had difficulty teaching abstract IP concepts, "which are far from students' lives", said teacher He Lingyan. "Few students could understand or remember."
So they changed their methods, raising examples of iPhones and shared bikes, which students are familiar with, explaining the IP involved and studying patent dispute cases.
And it worked.
Meng Shi, 12, was inspired. He noticed people were reluctant to ride shared bikes on rainy days because the saddles were wet. He designed a waterproof cover for the saddle, controlled by the bike lock through a low-cost mechanism. With the help of his teacher, Meng applied for a patent for his invention and tried to contact a bike-sharing company to use it.
Many schools organize activities to teach IP knowledge, such as debating competitions, summer camps, visits to science enterprises and moot courts.
While some doubt the necessity of IP education at primary or secondary school, as IP is mainly a commercial field, Li Zuolin, head of the school's IP teaching group, argues it's "necessary and urgent".
Not long ago, Li went to the United States to attend a science and technology education seminar, where a well-known international publisher offered a free set of popular science books for young people. When Li asked for a set, the publisher refused because the books had been pirated on the Chinese mainland.
"I was so embarrassed," Li recalled. "It made me feel once again the importance of IP education, which should be stepped up and start with teenagers."
Hua Bing, founder of a Chinese IP information consulting company, finds that despite of China's IP progress, many people still lack respect for IP rights, including business executives and researchers.
"They do not care about infringement or even being infringed, because people of my generation and previous generations grew up with very limited exposure to IP concepts," said Hua. China's patent law was published in 1985, and people a decade or two older are unfamiliar with IP.
"I really think it's necessary to cultivate awareness of IP protection from a young age," said Hua. "When children receive IP education and participate in related activities at school, they might influence their parents at home, which will gradually improve the whole society."
MORE THAN PROFIT
China has ranked first in the world in the number of applications for patents, trademarks and industrial designs for many years.
However, some parents have mistakenly used IP as a means for their children to earn extra points in the fierce competition to enter top schools.
According to a school teacher, a father working in a scientific research institution made an invention for his child and tried to apply for a patent before the entrance examinations. When the child was enrolled in a leading high school, the family abandoned the application, because it was "useless".
In March this year, the Ministry of Education regulated that patents will no longer be used as score items for university enrollment.
The policy will not reduce students' enthusiasm, said Gao Ying, a teacher at Beijing No.8 Middle School. It will ask children to focus more on innovation, rather than "added value".
Wei Hanxiao loves invention. With his high school classmates, he invented a waste recycling device for a 3D printer and applied for a patent.
"It's good training," said Wei, who has received an offer from a prestigious university in Canada to major in electronics and computer engineering. The patent application experience helped him understand the importance of IP protection.
"My future career will definitely have frequent patent applications," he said. "Experience in middle school is very helpful."
According to the government, IP education in primary and secondary schools can help cultivate young people's curiosity, train their intelligence and increase their practical abilities.
Gao stresses to her students: "Respect for IP rights first requires respect for knowledge, then for rights." She worries that emphasizing rights first will mislead children to focus too much on "profit" and neglect the sharing of knowledge.
"The purpose of IP protection is to stimulate desire and energy to create value for society, rather than immediate personal interests," said Gao.
"For children, guiding them to innovate and protect their IP by applying for patents has no commercial concerns, but is just for them to experience 'I have an idea, which needs to be protected, and I have the ability to protect it'."