17 July 2020Rory O'Neill

Chinese hackers targeting COVID-19 IP, claims Barr

US attorney general William Barr has reiterated claims that Chinese hackers have tried to steal IP and research related to COVID-19.

Speaking on the Trump administration’s China policy at the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum yesterday, July 16, Barr said that Chinese state-backed hackers had “targeted American universities and firms in a bid to steal IP related to coronavirus treatments and vaccines”.

These activities had “disrupted the work of our researchers,” the attorney general said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) made similar claims in May, while its director Christopher Wray said earlier this month that Chinese IP theft was the “ greatest threat” facing the US.

Barr also cited IP theft as part of the reason for the dominance of Chinese manufacturing in the pharmaceutical supply chain.

“American firms face well-known obstacles in China’s health market, including drug approval delays, unfair pricing limitations, IP theft, and counterfeiting,” he claimed.

Barr continued: “Chinese nationals working as employees at pharma companies have been caught stealing trade secrets both in America and in China. And the Chinese Communist Party has long engaged in cyber-espionage and hacking of US academic medical centers and healthcare companies.”

China has long denied allegations of state-backed IP and  trade secrets theft, as well as claims that US firms can’t operate freely in the Chinese market.

A central pillar of the Trump administration’s accusations against China has been that foreign corporations are coerced into handing over know-how and IP as part of “joint ventures”.

Chinese officials have  always denied that this practice occurs, and  experts at IP consultancy Rouse have previously told WIPR that the narrative of forced technology transfer is exaggerated.

But in the face of mounting criticism from both EU and US companies and governments, China committed to  formally outlawing the practice last year, as part of a wider set of reforms aimed at improving the country’s reputation on IP.

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