Protecting assets in Asia

Stuart Adams, Partner at Rouse & Co International LLP, a specialist IP business, has been representing international clients in Asia for the last 19 years. Here he shares his insights on doing business in Asia.

We were established in 1990 and now have a team of nearly 600 people, including lawyers, patent and trade mark attorneys, and specialist IP investigators working in 18 offices around the world. We provide the full range of IP services, from registration to commercialisation and enforcement. Our long standing clients include many of the world’s foremost IP owners.

Much of our work is done throughout Asia, where we have been doing business for the last 22 years. We have offices in China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, among others. A large tranche of our work in Asia focuses on three key areas; consumer products, which covers sectors such as automotive, drinks, health and beauty; technology and telecoms; and pharmaceuticals. We mainly help western companies in these sectors but do plenty of work with local clients as well.

When the company was established in July 1990 our focus was anti-counterfeiting. Problems with counterfeits in Asia were serious and escalating. For many brand owners enforcement was simply too difficult. Our founder, Peter Rouse, was a partner with a major international law firm in Singapore. He therefore had first-hand experience of the massive problems IP owners were facing in Asia and was confident he could offer them some solutions. He returned to London and established a specialist IP firm that worked closely with its clients in a way that large law firms were finding difficult.

Getting a foothold in Asia took time and tenacity. We had to take an organic approach; first focusing on where the demand for our services was most acute. Not surprising it was China.

Rouse & Co International LLP – facts and figures

  • Its UK base is in the Docklands in London where 80 people are employed

  • Established in 1990, it has a team of over 500 people, including lawyers, patent and trade mark attorneys, and specialist IP investigators working in 18 offices around the world

  • In 2012 its offices were consistently rated in the top tiers for IP services by numerous trade magazines and directories. Rouse’s China practice, in particular, has been rated best IP practice in China for several years.

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In order to represent our clients we had to find the right local lawyers to work with. We relied on word of mouth recommendations, numerous Trademark Association directories and other industry connections to find potential partners Not only were we looking for people with a good local track record but also those who could fit into the type of legal practice we embody – unstuffy and approachable. So I and my colleagues spent a lot of time jumping on planes to China to meet and assess candidates and see whether we could work with them.

We had to completely trust them before assigning cases as our reputation hinged on their knowledge and experience. So after a careful selection process we began to build up a network of legal specialists to assist us in representing our clients in China.

As increasing number of western companies and brands were establishing themselves in China, and it wasn’t long before the demand for our services warranted the opening of our own offices there. We managed to attract some of the best local legal experts to add to those already working with us. We now have four offices in China – Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong – employing around 250 people.

Every year I still spend quite a lot of time visiting our offices in Asia. With so many employees across the region, maintaining a strong bond between our offices is crucial for success. In synergy with the ethos of our business, we like to encourage as much face-to-face interaction throughout the organisation as possible.

In those early days we learnt a lot of lessons along the way. To do business in Asia you need to completely change your mind set. Business etiquette, regulations and bureaucracy are so different from what you’re used to in the UK. You really have to take off your UK blinkers.

We found the support from experts such as UK Trade & Investment invaluable. We tapped into the British embassy resource whenever we could. The local UKTI team introduced us to the British business community already in the market, and often invited us to networking events. Making these connections in my opinion is key to success; you can always learn from others’ experiences and find new opportunities through word of mouth. I wouldn’t recommend doing business in Asia without tapping into this resource.

Following our success in China, we replicated the same business model in other markets as we began to open offices throughout the region. We now have offices in India, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Doing business in Asia can be very rewarding, but you have to be prepared for the challenges and pitfalls. Just about everything is done differently. Most of the markets are difficult to predict and require patience and resolve. Bureaucracy can be very challenging, but it is not insurmountable.

You also have to be prepared that in some parts of Asia bribery and corruption can be deep-rooted and pro-active management and due diligence is essential. Recognising and managing such issues and remaining compliant with UK, international and indeed national law is far from easy. In addition, with the UK Bribery Act 2010 now rigorously enforced, and applicable to all UK citizens/companies/firms wherever they are doing business, it is even more critical that companies doing business in Asia realise their responsibilities.

Before you jump in, seek the advice of experts and know your rights and responsibilities. Talk to experienced lawyers regarding IP – both to protect your own and to ensure you don’t infringe somebody else’s.

Our greatest achievement in Asia is winning big cases for non-local clients against local traders, proving that by doing things properly it is possible to get justice in the face of perceived local protectionism. Over the years we’ve seen massive development in the effectiveness of IP enforcement, especially in China. Across the rest of Asia things are continually improving.

Despite the obstacles, I can’t stress enough how exciting it is to do business in Asia. The markets are growing rapidly. This creates a lot of opportunities, and means life is never dull. I’ve seen how it has changed over the years and how fast Asia is developing. For me Indonesia is the one to watch (and Jakarta is my personal favourite city!).

Stuart’s top tips for doing business in Asia:

  • Go with an open mind and enjoy the experience

  • Be really mindful of bribery and corruption – don’t be afraid but be aware. Remember the UK Bribery Act applies to you as a British citizen no matter where you do business

  • Make sure you’ve consulted lawyers and accountants if you’re setting up locally so you are fully protected and compliant with local laws, rules and regulations

  • Make sure your intellectual property assets are fully protected

  • Understand local customs and treat your hosts with respect – I found using a little bit of local language goes a long way, even if it is just the basics.

Sectors: Financial & Professional Services
Countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam
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