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Trailblazing SMEs wanted to join £1.5 trillion long term care revolution

If you are developing innovative solutions to support an ageing population, you may be thinking about export, and where better than the world's largest emerging market place?

By the end of last year, China had a population of 249 million aged 60 or above, larger than any other country, accounting for 17.9 percent of the national population.

Official estimates anticipate this number reaching 487 million by 2050, or over a third of the total population. Furthermore, as a by-product of the one-child policy, the majority of older adults are facing family structures of four seniors, one young couple and one child.

This increasing dependency ratio means traditional family supported care no longer satisfies the needs of a population growing, as a percentage, much faster than the world’s average.

Consequently, the Chinese government has introduced a series of policies encouraging private enterprise to address the challenge, employing new forms of private, public and community cooperative with the State and local authorities.

According to Deloitte, China’s “elderly care” industry will reach RMB13 trillion by 2030; roughly 1.5 trillion British Pounds. While this clearly constitutes a huge opportunity, what of the risks of doing business in China, especially in terms of IP protection?

I put this question to Professor Guo Guangsheng President of the Beijing Academy of Science and Technology (BJAST) and, Li Junkai, BJAST’s Director of Foreign Cooperation, during the International Forum on Senior Care Science and Innovation, in Beijing last week.

It was encouraging to hear our hosts acknowledge that IP protection is a genuine concern for foreign companies willing to do business in China and I was assured that BJAST is working with government and the China Intellectual Property Association, in a collective effort to safeguard and boost an emerging silver economy.

Risk Management

Thinking about doing business in China? Then you really need to assess the risk for your self, starting with IP. To put things into perspective, it is worth noting that the modern concept of copyright originated in Great Britain in 1710; while in America the first patent was signed by George Washington in 1790. In China, the first ever patent was granted to Hu Guohua as recently as 1985; so there is quite a lot of catching up to do.

To be fair, the Chinese government is not burying its head in the sand. President Xi Jinping first highlighted the need to speed up IP protection in 2017. Last December, China announced it was introducing punishments that could restrict local companies’ access to borrowing and state-funding support over IP theft. Earlier this year the government announced it would accelerate the passage of a new foreign-investment law that includes administrative measures to protect the IP of foreign companies and ease pressure on them to transfer technology. According to Bloomberg, a subsequent survey by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China found that “visible progress” had been made around IP, although 51 percent of firms said enforcement was still inadequate.

Blockchain as a force for good

It may be that an emerging technology can be harnessed to fast track IP protection. While I was in Beijing, China Daily reported that the People's Bank of China is exploring blockchain applications as a means of safeguarding intellectual property transactions.

When President Xi sited blockchain as a core technology at the frontier of industrial and societal transformation, urging more efforts to quicken development of the technology and industrial innovation, blockchain-linked stocks on the Chinese mainland rose nearly 9 percent, according to Shanghai-based information provider Wind Info.

Speaking to China Daily, Sun Tianqi, chief accountant of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, implies blockchain could be a force for good: "Efforts should be undertaken to lead blockchain's development in the right direction, such as reducing poverty, solving the financial problems of small and medium-sized enterprises, and building a better credit information system."

That said, Cao Yin, managing director of the Digital Renaissance Foundation, a leading consultancy founded by a group of early blockchain adopters from Europe and China, observed that most blockchain developers are still focusing on underlying technologies, calling for more application developers to work in the industry.

Cross border exchange and collaboration

Back at BJAST, Dr Jianbing Liu, Director of Service Engineering and Smart Health for Seniors is committed to establishing a cross border ecosystem to promote academic exchange, knowledge sharing and business exploration.

With responsibility for BJAST's impressive innovation platform and 'living lab for senior care service innovation', Dr Liu would like to test more blockchain applications designed to support senior care.

Given that Dr Liu represents the largest R&D organisation in China, with 28 institutes and more than 5,000 employees, BJAST is ideally placed to facilitate international cooperation. Consequently we are in the process of setting up a working group with a view to establishing a pipeline that will enable UK and other European SMEs to trial innovative agile ageing solutions in Beijing with some degree of security.

Next week I will report on truly radical efforts to promote age-friendly environments in Beijing. If you are thinking about doing silver economy business in China don’t miss it. 

Image: Copyright budastock