Cisco CEO says China will be ally

John Chambers also called for an end to the patent system

ORLANDO - This is a rough time for China in the U.S. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, plans to declare on "day one," if elected, that China is a currency manipulator. A congressional report this month said Chinese intelligence gathering efforts amount to an "ongoing onslaught" against this country. The same report also identified two Chinese telecommunications firms as security risks.

The companies named in the U.S. House intelligence committee report -- Huawei and ZTE -- are rivals of Cisco Systems. (They denied the allegations, with Huawei arguing the report was based on rumor and speculation.)

But on the stage at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo here, Cisco CEO John Chambers was far more sanguine about China than any government report or political position.

Chambers, who took questions from Gartner analysts, was asked whether the U.S. should be suspicious of Chinese IT companies. "No," he said, explaining that "we have had problems with intellectual property protection in this country, with our peers, in Europe and other areas.

"We protect our intellectual property very carefully," said Chambers. "At the same time, we partner in China, we build products in China. China should and will be an ally to the U.S. in my opinion, and you will see us interface with a number of Chinese companies."

On the subject of intellectual property, Chambers is critical of the U.S. patent process and said he would "completely throw out everything, and start from the beginning.

"It is a mess; There are patent trolls everywhere," said Chambers, noting that patent problems impose huge costs on every company.

But Chambers was also critical of the trend by tech companies of suing one another over alleged patent violations. He didn't name names, but, speaking to the audience, he said for "his peers" in the room, "you shouldn't be suing your peers."

Patent litigation, he added, slows down innovation.

Chambers also voiced his belief that no country would recreate something similar to Silicon Valley and cited the area's unique combination of academics, venture capital and risk-taking culture.

"I have watched lots of places try to recreate it (Silicon Valley) and most all of them have not lived up to expectations," said Chambers.

When asked where the next Silicon Valley will be, Chambers' answer was direct: "The next Silicon Valley is going to be Silicon Valley."

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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