Chinese prisoners can have sentences reduced for contributing to technical innovation

Online agencies who sell patent rights of inventions pave a possible way for prisoners to commute their sentence, but the legitimacy of the practice is still vague, the Beijing Youth Daily reported on Monday. According to the criminal law in China, the punishment shall be commuted if an inmate has inventions or important technical innovations to his credit.

Cases of ex-officials behind bars making invention to earn commutation have recently made headlines.

Nan Yong, the former vice-chairman of the Chinese Football Association and Director of Football Management Center, General Administration of Sport of China, was granted in Dec a reduction of one year from his ten and half year terms of sentence, for patenting four inventions.

It is believed that when a prisoner makes an invention, he can entrust an intellectual property agency to apply for a patent. But some agencies transcend their business scope by offering special services.

Tailored inventions to suit prisoners

Some intellectual property agencies publicize on their website that they can provide tailored inventions and patents to fit different sentences in different prisons to help prisoners reduce prison term.

A manager of such an agency based in Northwest China's Shaanxi province, surnamed Liu, said he could develop an invention solution based on customer's gender, education background, occupation, interests and specialties to make the invention more convincible for commutation.

The price of an invention ranges from 6,800 yuan (S$1,460.61) to 60,000 yuan according to its development period and commutation effect, Liu said.

But he also points out that "different prisons have different rules". He needs to know the specific rules on commutation in the first place.

Another similar patent agency told the Beijing Youth Daily that before getting a customised service, the customer should figure out what type of invention the prison recognises, whether the invention should be self-developed and whether the prison has specific requirements for the content of the invention.

No standard rule or procedure

Though some provincial-level regulations were issued to stipulate the number and type of inventions that could be regarded as the measurement of commutation, specific law and regulation on the application, judgment and enforcement of the commutation at large is still a loophole.

Currently, the practice of commutation depends on the situation with different courts and prisons in different places conducting their own way.

According to an official interviewed, who works at an intermediate people's court in Tianjin, the court will not accept a commutation application from a criminal directly but the prison he serves, before making a decision on whether the prisoner could get a commutation.

A prison worker in Beijing said whether an inmate could commute his sentence by making inventions depends on the condition of a prison.

If a prison has sound equipment and advanced management idea, the inmates could apply for and get the approval and support from the prison to make inventions. Once invention is created, the prison will help the inventor to contact intellectual property agencies for patent certification.

When it comes to the invention that is not made by the inmate himself, a staff member in a prison based in North China's Tianjin municipality said it is not legal under the regulation of the local court.

"The invention should be self-made," he said, adding "pretending others' invention as yours is not acceptable."