Probe over Chinese patents naming scientists in Australia

Probe over Chinese patents naming scientists in Australia

Sharri Markson – The Australian – Tuesday 25 August 2020

Patent applications filed in China that name scientists who are employed full-time at Australian universities are under investigation, Education Minister Dan Tehan has revealed.

The Australian on Monday exposed a raft of cases where universities were unaware their senior academics had applied for, or been named in, patents filed in China.

In an interview with Sky News host Andrew Bolt on Tuesday evening, Mr Tehan was asked about UNSW Professor Joe Dong and UTS Professor Guoxiu Wang, who were named in patent applications filed in China unbeknownst to either university before The Australian presented them with the evidence.

“All these cases are being investigated,” Mr Tehan said.

He added: “With regards to those patents, obviously if there has been illegal activity where those patents have been recognised against the will of those researchers or scientists … that will be investigated and measures will be put in place to prevent that occurring again.”

The Australian’s investigation on Monday revealed dozens of researchers at universities across the country have been recruited by the Chinese government’s Thousand Talents Plan, which in some cases pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to academics and provides other lucrative perks.

Academics are often bound by stringent contract terms, which can include a requirement to assign intellectual property to Chinese universities.

In the Sky News interview, Mr Tehan admitted the Morrison government did not know how many scientists and academics have been recruited to the Thousand Talents Plan and was relying on the university sector to abide by foreign interference guidelines introduced in November last year.

“We are working with the universities to make sure they have a clear understanding that there is transparency around all the contracts that are entered into by our scientists, by our researchers,” he said.

“We have put specific requirements on our universities to understand what arrangements their scientists or their researchers are entering into, who they’re entering it into with and to make sure that is done within Australian law.

“We’ve also made sure there is very close collaboration between our intelligence agencies and our universities so if there is malpractice taking place, if there is illegal activity taking place then that will be acted upon.”

Pressure is mounting on Mr Tehan, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Scott Morrison to launch a parliamentary inquiry into foreign interference in Australian universities.

Chair of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, Andrew Hastie, and Liberal Senator James Paterson led the calls, which have now been supported by more than a dozen politicians.

The Deputy Chair of the Intelligence Committee, Labor MP Anthony Byrne, has also backed calls for an “urgent” inquiry.

Mr Tehan has not committed to holding an inquiry and instead has organised his department to brief politicians who are concerned about the Thousand Talents Plan.

He said, however, that he was open to strengthening the law.

“Do we always have to be doing more in this space, do we always have to be on guard in this space? Absolutely we do. If there are more measures that we need to put in place, we’ll put them in place,” he said.

“We’ve got to make sure that every bit of research we do where we collaborate with other countries is in our national interest.”

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