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February 6, 2015

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Corrupt officials exit jail early by ‘inventing’

UNDER the Penal Law of China, inmates who make patentable inventions while in prison can get their sentences reduced, a regulation that has not only allowed many rich, often well-connected prisoners to escape confinement under dubious circumstances, but also bred “a gray industry.”

It is a system that would seem ripe for reform, given the central government’s anti-corruption efforts of the last two years.

The former chairman of Jianlibao beverage brands, Zhang Hai, was sentenced to 10 years in 2008 for bribery, but in 2009 he was commuted by four years for his patented invention — an automobile front and rear double mirror.

However, it was soon revealed that Zhang hired others to make the inventions and bribed 24 people, including one judge, two lawyers and 11 prison guards.

In recent years, many corrupt officials in prison have had their sentences reduced by “making patentable inventions.”

Last December, Nan Yong, former director of the Football Management Center of the General Administration of Sport who was sentenced in 2010 to 10 years for corruption, got his sentence commuted by one year after he was credited with making four patentable inventions related to football while in prison.

Liang Jianxing, former director of the Health Bureau in Fenghua City, Zhejiang Province, has 11 national patent certificates, all earned while in prison over the past six years. Among them are eye massager, PM2.5-proof nose cap and medicine pills counter.

Lou Weigang, former deputy director of a road transport bureau in Sichuan Province, was credited with inventing a wall-mounted cigarette holder while serving his sentence. Chen Jianping, former director of the Beijing Geothermal Department, Land and Resources Bureau, obtained a patent certificate for his expertise in energy and resources.

According to the Penal Law of China, prisoners can get their sentences commuted if they have genuine repentance or make “significant contributions.” And “great inventions and technological innovations” are regarded as “significant contributions.”

The key factor in whether an invention is significant is usually based on whether it can obtain a national patent certificate. Thus a gray industry has surfaced through which an online shopping platform offers “one-stop” service for prisoners to make “tailor-made” inventions and apply for patents. The price ranges from several thousand yuan to several dozen thousand yuan.

Shanghai Daily made an undercover call to an online shop based in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, which provides patent application and sales services.

The shop didn’t advertise on its website that it can make patentable inventions for prisoners, but the customer service manager surnamed Wang made it clear that they could offer any services related to patentable inventions, once he learned that was the purpose of the phone call.

“As far as we know, different prisons have different regulations. I suggest you find out the specific regulations,” Wang told Shanghai Daily.

He wanted the reporter to send a detailed background of the prisoner, including his education, expertise, hobbies, former job and the industry he had worked in.

“We can offer a tailor-made invention for your friend, which will have more chance to pass,” the manager said.

Wang said a functional patent that can be used in daily life would be relatively quick to obtain.

In China, there are two kinds of inventions — functional and innovative. For the functional type, generally with lower cost and shorter invention time, it’s easier to get a national patent certificate. An innovative invention often focuses on technology, requiring a longer study time and stronger theoretical background.

Most prisoners who have their sentences reduced choose functional inventions.

As for the price and time frame, the manager said each functional patent costs 3,000 yuan (US$480), including invention time and successful application.

“We assure you that we can have it done within half a year and you’re sure to get the patent certificate,” the manager promised, without specifying how such a guarantee could be made.

The innovative patent costs much more — about 50,000 yuan — and takes a longer time, usually a year to 18 months. The manager advised Shanghai Daily to choose the innovative patent, because it will carry a better chance for the prisoner to get the commutation, albeit with a longer wait time.

He admitted he could not 100 percent guarantee the penalty abatement. “After all, it depends on the court and judge,” he said. “We have some rich clients, who have started to prepare one year or two in advance.”

Lawyer Wang Weihua of the Beijing Yingke Law Firm’s Shanghai office says inmates are encouraged to make inventions, but the situation varies by prison. In some well-equipped prisons with good facilities, it might be easier for inmates to study for their inventions.

An inmate can apply to the prison to make inventions. After the application is approved, the prison will give him/her support by providing books and other printed materials for research.

When the invention is made, the prison will help contact companies to apply for the patents. But there are no regulations that govern how an inmate proves he made the invention instead of it secretly being sent by his friends or family members.

“To test whether the invention is made by the prisoner himself is not that difficult,” Wang says. “The prison can organize an expert team to hold a thesis defense, which is my idea, of course.

“Patent inventions, somehow, have been kind of a loophole in the law for those rich prisoners,” he adds. “And it is against the law to offer such service.”


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