China’s “Inventor Inmates” Get Early Release

Several Chinese prisons offer a rather unorthodox way for inmates to receive sentence reductions… by coming up with patents. In doing so, prisoners have reportedly been able to shave off a year (if not more) of their sentence.

According to Global Times, China’s Criminal Law grants inmates eligibility to have their terms reduced if they “provide great contributions to the state and society.” This privilege does not apply to just anyone, though. No, the focus here is on connected officials and other high-profile, white-collar criminals.

Nan Yong, former vice chairman of China’s national soccer association, is one of those who have benefited from submitting patents while behind bars. In 2012, Nan was sentenced to just over 10 years for accepting bribes and match fixing. As of last year, he had a year taken off of his sentence by submitting four inventions, patented by the State Intellectual Property Office.

This appears to have motivated another inmate, Liang Jianxing, former head of a health bureau in Zhejiang Province who was sentenced to eight years for bribery. So far he has submitted 11 patents, and in 2011 was granted a 15-month reduction.

Not surprisingly, this has created an underground business that not only offers patents to inmates for a fee but also selling inventions. (To note, however, neither of the cases above were accused of buying their patents.)

In an interview, one unnamed agency based in the Anhui Province explained that they offer professional services for prisoners seeking patents. They openly advertise customized patent/invention packages and even stated their pricing structure for different types offered, ranging from 1,970 yuan (US$318) on the low end to 4,070 yuan (US$657) for the purchase of an invention. Other agencies offer more technical or complicated patents for 10,000 yuan (US$1,600) or more.

However, due to the reporting of this on many Chinese media outlets, this practice is said to have gotten more difficult to facilitate.

“The loose management of the patent application process has caused this loophole to be exploited by unscrupulous agencies, violating both these agencies’ professional ethics and relevant laws,” said a prison administrator.

In response, various prison officials have explained some of their requirements (and limitations) on granting prisoners’ appeals for reduced time.

“Inventions can be the basis for courts’ decisions regarding commutation. However, the procedure is becoming stricter. The commutation should first require a trial, and the results of this should be made public,” explained Zhou Rongqiang, a judge in Nanjing.

As such, it seems that the days of easy patent procurement might be over for most, or at least on the way out. Especially so in light of President Xi Jinping’s national anti-corruption campaign. However, for those who do have bona fide patents that they have obtained for an invention which is truly their own, they can still get time off if lucky enough to be in the right prison.

H/T: Global Times