Some Chinese officials get a bit too creative with patented ‘inventions’

September 2

Anti-corruption investigations in China has exposed creative schemes by officials looking to skim a little extra for themselves. There's been at least two cases of former police chiefs, including Wang Lijun (pictured here) making a quick buck by getting their departments to use "inventions" they own patents for. (CCTV via Reuters TV)

BEIJING – When it comes to corruption, Chinese officials have proven creative and resourceful at finding ways to wet their beaks.

Amid an anti-corruption campaign by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, every week has brought new details of the luxury paintings, antiques gifts and luxury villas used by officials to funnel their ill-gotten wealth.

But the latest scheme by a police chief in Tianjin takes the cake.

Wu Changshun -- a former chief of public security bureau in the booming city outside Beijing who is now under investigation for corruption -- not only thought outside the box to make some extra dough, he claimed to have invented the box altogether.

Wu owned 35 traffic patents, according to details trickling out in state media reports, and as a top official had his city rent those patents from himself for a handsome sum.

According to a recent report in state-controlled Beijing News, Wu’s traffic inventions have been widely adopted in Tianjin. And as the owner of such patents, Wu could be getting up to 5 percent of the revenue.

Before serving as police chief for the past 11 years, Wu was head of transportation for 11 years in the booming city. He filed his first patent in 1999 for a traffic light design, which was soon adopted in the city, according to state media. He then filed another 34 patents between 2002 and 2013, all of them related to “smart transportation systems,” like blood alcohol testing devices, sign boards, traffic monitoring systems, etc.

In 2002, Tianjin also just happened to become one of the first cities to serve as a pilot for smart transportation systems.

One of Wu’s invention – the “all-in-one countdown traffic light” — was first adopted in Tianjin in 2012, and local media reported that by May, it had been installed at 721 crossings. But some residents complaining on a Tianjin Web site say the new traffic lights are designed too low to the street and expressed worries it could affect traffic safety.

Wu is not the first police chief to try to make money as an amateur inventor. Another police chief, Wang Lijun in Chongqing, was thrust into the spotlight in 2012 after he triggered in China’s biggest political scandal in two decades.

In 2011 alone, Wang filed 211 patents, according to the Beijing Youth Daily. A year later he set in motion a political crisis when he fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, tried to defect and reportedly told U.S. officials that the wife of his boss, the powerful party chief Bo Xilai, had murdered a British businessman.

Wang’s “inventions” were often tweaks on existing concepts than outright novelties and ranged from the high-tech to everyday gadgets to handicrafts. He supposedly invented a machine that could map patterns of primary brain stem injury. A lot of his patents were police-related designs, such as boots, security guard coats, police car bumpers, rear-view mirrors for police cars, badges, police bags, uniforms, mailbox and even key chains for police use. He also invented a banquet table for hotpot that could automatically deliver food.

His gadgets too, of course, were widely adopted in the Chongqing police system.

In perhaps the oddest example, female patrol officers in Chongqing reportedly were made to wear red raincoats, personally designed by Wang (funny pictures here). In fawning articles while Wang was still in power, local media praised raincoat as convenient and beautiful.

One newspaper quoted residents saying that the red color not only suited female officers well but made drivers less tired by adding a splash of color to their rainy days.

William Wan is The Post’s China correspondent based in Beijing. He served previously as a religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent.
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