"A great company must be a creator and a leader" As technology advances, home appliance manufacturers are tapering off the price war and swing to the competition in R&D, innovation, and product quality. However, they are also facing the challenge of industrial restructuring, transformation, and upgrading. Despite the fierce competition, Gree Electric Appliances, Inc. of Zhuhai has maintained its lead in the home appliance industry for more than 20 consecutive years, making it a symbol of the rise of Chinese brands.
Dong Mingzhu, Chairwoman and President of Gree, is an outstanding female entrepreneur in China. She ranked fifth in the 2021 Forbes China Top 100 Businesswomen List, the ninth time she entered Forbes lists. With Ms. Dong at the helm, Gree has been leading China's home appliance industry for years through innovation in core technology, talent training, and management system. With a deep conviction in independent innovation, Ms. Dong, once a member of the National People's Congress (NPC), put forward many concrete suggestions for IP protection. In the interview with IP PEOPLE, Ms. Dong shared her insights into innovation, branding, talent fostering, and IP protection.
"A great company must be a creator and a leader"
IP PEOPLE: Gree is a leader in China's home appliance industry. You have been with Gree for 30 years. What do you think are the key contributors to Gree's long-term market leadership?
Dong Mingzhu: I think three things matter most to Gree's development over the past 30 years: independent innovation, a fair and just corporate culture, and the courage to challenge ourselves. It is independent innovation that has turned Gree from an air conditioner manufacturer into a vast conglomerate specialized in both industrial equipment and household appliances. As we know, real economy plays a critical role in national development. As the backbone of the real economy, manufacturers must stick to independent innovation. We believe that a great company must be a creator and a leader. A great company is supposed to lead an industry and create a lifestyle. A great company is duty-bound to meet consumer needs and care for their health. This is what we value at Gree.
Gree has proven the importance and correctness of independent innovation with action. During his visit to Gree in 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke highly of Gree 's earnestness in learning, developing, and applying advanced technologies. In an everevolving world, we should never stop innovating even if we are the leader. There is no end to innovation. Speaking of investment in R&D and innovation, Gree sets the tone: The sky's the limit. So far, we have applied for 85,128 Chinese patents, including 43,563 utility patents, and 4,081 international patents, including 2,212 PCT patents. We have granted 48,745 patents, including 11,872 utility patents. Gree ranks sixth nationwide and first in the home appliance industry by the number of patent applications and grants according to a ranking released by the China National Intellectual Property Administration. At present, we have 33 cutting-edge technologies, and have won many accolades including two National Science and Technology Progress Awards, two State Technological Invention Awards, two China Patent Gold Awards, and three China Design Gold Awards.
IP PEOPLE: You put forward many proposals relating to innovation and IP protection when you were an NPC member. What do you think IP protection means to Gree?
Dong Mingzhu: The Trademark Law and the Patent Law amended in the past two years have introduced a punitive damages system, where malicious IP infringement will be subject to a penalty up to five times the determined amount of damages. This system provides strict IP protection and reduces the cost of rights safeguarding. Rapid collaborative IP protection is achieved by administrative and legal means. A healthy business environment requires not only sound policies and regulations, but also the support of all practitioners and companies. IP protection is an essential precondition for better product development.
Stricter IP protection boosts Gree's confidence in independent innovation. It is also an effective way to enhance the core competencies of Chinese manufacturers. When it comes to innovation, Gree pursues the constant upgrading of technology, rather than the number of patents, because a patent generally lasts about 15 years, and once it expires, the protection ends and the invention enters the public domain. We demand protection of proprietary technologies because it facilitates healthy competition in the industry, and provides a solid foundation for iteration, upgrading, and breakthrough of technology. In other words, strict IP
protection can encourage us to challenge ourselves to become ever more inventive and maintain our lead in technology R&D.
IP PEOPLE: Gree is one of the companies with the most patent grants in China. So do you have any suggestions for Chinese companies on IP creation and patent application?
Dong Mingzhu: Profit should not be the sole purpose of IP creation and patent application. A company's IP and patents should also serve its mission and contribute to national development. Only in this way, can the company get stronger. I think a company must take into account how many of its creations will contribute to society and improve people's lives.
For example, when COVID-19 broke out in 2020, we did what we should do: Muster up confidence and courage and get through this, as we knew bewailing economic losses was not going to help. Like many other companies, we have stepped up to the plate and helped the country grapple with the pandemic. We have launched a range of products, such as air purifiers, disinfectant generators, and heat pump washers, to help consumers keep their home healthy.
Firm commitment to making the world a better place
IP PEOPLE: In recent years, Gree has ventured into fields including automobiles, small appliances, and chips. Nineteen of your patents won the 22nd China Patent Award in 2021, and among them are robotics and chip patents. How does Gree manage to continue independent innovation in these new fields?
Dong Mingzhu: Gree's diversification effort is more than just adding a few new categories or products. It is a long-planned move backed by our technical expertise. More often, we expand into new areas out of business and product upgrade needs. Such expansion has a solid technical foundation. On top of that, we seek industry collaboration to accumulate experience.
Diversification is a challenge for Gree, but we are never afraid of any challenge. From technological invention to product design, we always focus on improving the quality of people's lives through breakthrough innovations. We diversify our business, in an effort to promote the high-quality development of Chinese manufacturing as well as the healthy development of the real economy. A company should serve the country's needs. Gree has instilled innovation into all aspects of business development. We relentlessly hone our core technologies to make our business sustainable and to boost the high-quality development of Chinese manufacturing.
IP PEOPLE: Driven by the ambition to make "Made in China" percolate through to the whole world, Gree has been aggressively building up its global presence over the years. However, global expansion requires effective IP protection. How does Gree avoid IP risks in overseas markets?
Dong Mingzhu: Gree sticks to independent innovation, attaches great importance to IP protection in overseas markets, and respects the legitimate IPR of others.
First, we implement a diversified international IPR strategy, using the IP laws and policies of countries around the world to improve our abilities to tackle IP challenges in overseas markets. Up to now, Gree has applied for 4,750 patents in 35 countries and regions including European countries, the US, Japan, and ROK, and 14,515 trademarks in 215 countries and regions.
Second, we have established an early warning system to promptly discover, identify and eliminate IP risks in overseas markets, including risks associated with patents, trademarks, copyrights, standards, and major IP disputes, through channels such as IP databases, overseas IP firms, and overseas branches.
Third, we have established an IP risk control system to detect IP risks in products before they are exported and ensure they will not infringe others' IPR, based on the status quo of IP protection in the exporting and importing countries as well as our product development process.
IP PEOPLE: What is next for Gree in terms of IP operation and utilization?
Dong Mingzhu: The purpose of Gree's IP effort is to raise social awareness of innovation and promote industry development.
First, we raise people's awareness of the importance of innovation by attracting their attention to IP laws. Up to now, Gree has filed more than 30 patent lawsuits, involving more than RMB 300 million in total, and won damages amounting to nearly RMB 60 million, breaking the record for the amount of damages in China's home appliance industry. Several of our cases are selected into the top 10 patent cases in China.
Second, we innovate to make the world a better place. We must combine patented technologies with the needs of people and society so that we can make the most of these technologies. The patent licensing between Gree and Grundfos is the first step for our patented technologies to go global. We will hold fast to our commitment to helping the industry grow with the best technology.
Source: IPR Daily-IP PEOPLE
Editor: IPR Daily-Selly