There was a time when pirated software, DVDs, toys and all sorts of parallel goods seemed to be available in almost every street market in Hong Kong. Now, though, after a decade dedicated to educating the public about the importance of copyright issues, the Intellectual Property Department feels it is starting to win the battle against piracy. Nevertheless, Paula Lee, one of the department's senior intellectual property examiners is quick to point out that there is still much work to be done.
Ms Lee explains that the first step for anyone seeking to protect certain intellectual property rights (IPR) is to register an original patent, trademark or design. "That is one of our jobs but it is only part of an ongoing process," she says. "When a new trademark or design has been registered, we still need to ensure no one abuses or violates the IPR relating to the registered item."
Before any trademark is registered, extensive research takes place. For Ms Lee, this is often the most interesting part of the process. "Products and services are categorised in compliance with international standards and, in total, there are 45 classes," she explains. "Garments and cosmetics are simpler, but medicines and high-tech products are more complex, so we have to surf the Internet for information and check for possbile registration elsewhere."
Leading a team of five, Ms Lee has a flexible work routine. It involves investigating applications, coaching junior staff and participating in promotional programmes. "We are one of the more dynamic government departments," she says. "We participate in symposiums and seminars all the time, which helps to broaden our horizons."
The department also conducts numerous school and company visits to promote better understanding of IPR protection. "With these efforts and with more extensive media coverage, we can see an obvious change in attitudes and greater awareness, particularly among the younger generation," Ms Lee notes. "However, it is a long journey and things don't happen overnight."
Having joined the government immediately after graduation, Ms Lee first worked as an executive officer in the Housing Department. Two years later, when an opportunity arose to transfer and take on the newly established role of intellectual property examiner, she jumped at the chance. "When I applied, I only had a vague idea what the job was all about, but soon realised it is interesting and multi-faceted," she says. The work was varied and allowed her to take an active part in many different areas and learn the importance of working as a team.
As a civil servant, Ms Lee has been able to take advantage of the many training courses offered by the government. Over the years, she has learned about trademark registration practices in the UK, Malaysia, Singapore and the mainland. "We also have exchange programmes which help us to learn from other offices around the world," she adds. "That's one reason why the job is exciting and educational."
Department staff are expected to have a high standard of language and communication skills. They are also encouraged to take a Bachelor of Laws qualification, for which they receive financial assistance with course fees.
"The government offers good job security, so you can really concentrate on doing the job," Ms Lee says. "The main challenge for us is that we work in a fast-paced environment and many new things are happening all the time. We have to keep thinking ahead and can't afford to be bureaucratic in the way we operate."