China: Wealthy prisoners buy 'get out of jail' patents

Inmates in a Chinese prison Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Inmates in China can have time knocked off their sentences if they invent something

A government scheme aimed at encouraging inventors is allowing well-off Chinese prisoners out of jail early by buying patents, it's reported.

Under the law, prison terms can be commuted if convicts show they have come up important technical innovations, but cash-rich inmates are buying other inventors' ideas and patenting them, according to the Beijing Youth Daily. The newspaper says it's found several intellectual property agents openly advertising the service. Prices start at about 6,800 yuan ($1,100; £700), but more complex patents can cost up to 60,000 yuan. Agents even offer a bespoke service, scrutinising the inmate's background - including education, work experience and interests - in order to find the patent most likely to get time off their sentence, the paper says. "Some rich people come to us right after they get into trouble and before they go to jail," one anonymous agent told the daily. "It takes a lot of early preparation."

The government scheme itself comes in for some criticism on social networking sites. "So in China, as long you're not facing the death penalty, there's an early way out," one Weibo user comments, while another quips: "Prisons should hang up a sign outside saying 'China's Nobel Prize Centre'."

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