Jack Ellis

Detroit-based AutoHarvest Foundation and Guangzhou’s WTOIP have forged a partnership designed to accelerate the exchange and adoption of technology by IP owners on both sides of the Pacific. “I hope that bringing the invention engine of the United States stoked by thousands of small companies to the attention of capable Chinese partners, especially SME groups, will generate impact,” Jayson Pankin, CEO, president and co-founder of AutoHarvest told IAM.

Under the terms of the deal, WTOIP – which describes itself on its website as China’s “largest IP trading and services platform… using the internet as the delivery medium” – will grant AutoHarvest access to its online-and-offline user communities, giving the US organisation the chance to present a selection of its members’ IP offerings and needs to an expansive Chinese business audience.  

For its part, WTOIP will join AutoHarvest’s ‘Innovation Hub’ and will provide updates on IP licensing, sale and purchase opportunities in China. In addition, the two organisations will encourage their respective members to explore potential IP-based collaborations and will support them in conducting IP and technology transactions in China where needed.

“WTOIP was created to unify Chinese IP developers and product innovators through an on-and-offline network offering a deep pool of partners, patents, branding and global markets,” said Boon Xie, CEO of WTOIP, in a press release, adding that the organisation currently has over 600,000 patents and 500,000 trademarks for sale.

AutoHarvest was launched in August 2011 with the aim of facilitating collaboration and open innovation between the faltering US automotive industry and adjacent sectors in transportation and other advanced manufacturing fields. To achieve this objective, the AutoHarvest team developed an online e-commerce platform where businesses in need of technology could reach out to third parties with their requirements; while those with the solutions could likewise showcase their intellectual property. Since its inception, it has signed up hundreds of IP vendors and prospective customers, not just from the automotive manufacturer and parts supplier areas, but also a diverse array of SMEs, research institutes and university spin-outs with very different technological backgrounds - all potentially having a part to play in the development of tomorrow’s smarter, greener vehicles.

AutoHarvest also counts the US government’s Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and Patent and Trademark Office among its partners. I asked Pankin whether, considering the seemingly endless back-and-forth between the US and Chinese governments on issues such as IP theft in recent years, the relationship with WTOIP was an especially risky one from his standpoint. Could the hook-up with Chinese industry cause disquiet among AutoHarvest’s existing members and partners – and could it deter other IP owners from joining up in the future?

“Protecting IP is universal and the inventor must be vigilant everywhere in the world,” he said. “That is not a China-centric issue; it is good business practice. The issue of IP theft in the headlines, that engages the highest levels of government and law enforcement, is very serious, but it is not our issue. Our focus is to bring IP creators and IP commercialisers together so they can see if they can find common ground for a business relationship.”

Whatever its basis in fact, it is unfortunate that an atmosphere of suspicion appears to continue to thrive between China and the United States when it comes to the thorny issues of cybersecurity and IP misappropriation. It is no surprise that this seems to become more pronounced at election time in the United States, or at politically important junctures in China (where there is no 'election time', so to speak). Nevertheless, just as many companies (and their investors) that were previously apprehensive about collabarative R&D have changed their minds in recent years and decided to use their patents to do just that, the same will hopefully happen for partnerships between those companies and their counterparts from China - some of which are already exploring the possiblities of open innovation. “It is my personal hope that as this mindset takes hold, the dialogue of normal business ventures will be on profit sharing and no longer on nefarious activities,” said Pankin. “It is a better world when you are partners bringing to market innovative products and services.”