daimlerfuelcell.jpgStill think China slavishly copies western technologies? A string of recent announcements suggest that China's oft-voiced desire to develop hi-tech products based on home-grown IPRs may slowly be coming true.

In fuel cells, for example, Chinese authorities have recently approved the first hydrogen fuel cell car that is based on “completely independent IPR”, according to Fuel Cell Today.

The project involves Chery Automobile, J&K Technologies and Tsinghua University. The first prototype tests of the vehicle took place earlier this year.

Western companies has long been eyeing China as an interesting market for fuel cell-powered vehicles.

It is one of the few countries in the world that has the scope to produce fuel cells in sufficient scale to make it cost effective. In addition, private transportation is a relatively new idea in China, so unlike the west, it does not have a huge “legacy” infrastructure devoted to dispensing oil-based fuels — at least not yet.

Nevertheless, concerns about IPRs have made western fuel-cell manufacturers uneasy about China. See for example this Asia Times story about how how Canada's Ballard Power struggled with the IPR issue. I guess it has now conquered its reticence because Ballard recently signed a MOU with Shanghai Fuel Cell Vehicle Powertrain covering the demonstration and field trials of vehicles based on Ballard's technology.

Powertrain was set up by Tongji University and SAIC Motor Corporation. Shanghai's municipal government has announced funding for a program that will demonstrate 100 fuel cell vehicles by the end of 2007 and could see up to 1,000 vehicles on the road by 2010.

Ballard has also supplied fuel cells for three Mercedes-Benz Citaro urban buses (photo above) that Beijing is testing. The vehicles have have clocked up more than 27,500km since the trial started in 2003.

Sticking to the green energy theme, Chinese researchers have also developed flue gas desulphurisation technology that, once again, uses “independent IPRs”, according to China's ministry of science and technology.

The technology could end China's “long-term dependence” on the import of flue gas desulphurisation technology for large coal fired power plants, according to MOST.

Finally, in semiconductor manufacturing equipment, China is catching up with the western and Asian manufacturers — although it still has a long way to go, I suspect. MOST recently announced the first sale of etching tools and ion implantation equipment bearing the “Made in China” label and based on “independent innovation”.

SMIC, China's largest chipmaker, signed the contracts with Beijing North Microelectronics and Beijing Kexin Technology.

However, some things never change. Taiwan's TSMC recently filed a lawsuit against SMIC alleging systematic IPR theft and patent infringement by SMIC. More in this EETimes article.

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