With China suffering its worst drought in 50 years, a Chinese inventor who created a device to cut toilet water usage by 83 percent has found it impossible to sell — despite winning a government award for his work.
Jia Tiexan, 52, sold his home to attract investment and set up a company to put the device into production, only to see his money trickle down the drain.
However, a patent on his device to cut the amount of water used in each flush from the standard six liters to just one earned him a 3,000-yuan prize in the first individual invention competition in Dalian, northeastern China’s Liaoning Province.
With a magnetic valve to prevent a backflow of dirty water and a pressure converter to increase the force of the flush, the invention also prevents bacteria spreading.
He used the proceeds from the sale of his home to set up a company for research, experiments and model development, but has seen no returns.
More than 1,000 inventors entered creations including architecture, heating, desalination equipment, and 40 won prizes ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 yuan earlier this month.
Jia’s invention has proved successful after more than two years of practical use, but he still has no investment support despite the fact that China is in the grip of the worst drought in half a century, which has left millions of people without sufficient water.
"My invention would definitely ease the pressure on household water use in drought-hit areas, as it can work without tap water. All you need is a bottle of water," said Jia, whose native Liaoning Province is one of the drought-affected areas.
"Enterprises I talked to were either too small to provide investment or afraid of low rewards and patent safety risks," said Jia.
None of his patents has drawn investment and his company has run out of money.
Despite his losses, Jia planned to set up a research institute after closing his company. "My confidence has never faded," he said.
Dalian Municipal Government had provided him with 100,000 yuan in subsidies and an apartment.
"The 3,000 prize is too little for me in terms of cash," said Jia, "But what really matters is the government’s expression of support."
The device is one of 13 inventions for which Jia has patents, but many more of his inventions had been put to use without patents, since he began inventing as a young student laboring in the countryside.
He first thought of applying for patents after the factory where he worked broke its promise of giving him an apartment and raising his salary for his inventions.
"Patent protection used to be weak in China. It was too costly to sue for patent right infringement, as we had to collect evidence and write our own indictment," said Jia.
"It’s much better now. The public security bureau reacts rapidly and takes the job of evidence collecting."
Individual inventors have held more than 60 percent of China’s patents since the government established an intellectual property rights protection system in 1985, according to the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO).
In other countries, most patent applicants are enterprises, said Tian Lipu, director of the SIPO.
"Compared with enterprises, research institutes and universities, individual inventors have fewer resources and no reward guarantees," said Tian. "However, they have shown great courage and persistence."
Last year saw the fastest growth of patent applications, with 476,264 applications from home and abroad, a year-on-year rise of 34.6 percent, said Tian.
However, less than 20 percent were put into industrial production. "China has had a poor record of transforming patents into productivity for the past two decades," said Tian.
Liu Shikuan, director of the Intellectual Property Office of northwestern China’s Gansu Province, said the main reason for the lack of investment was that many individual inventions failed to meet market demand.
The government has made innovation a national strategy, and created an incentive system to encourage innovation and facilitate the industrialization of patents.