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Did China Literally Steal This Design?

Two months after Chinese leaders requested a visit, the offices of Pelamis were broken into and five laptops were stolen.

It was early 2011, and things were looking good for Scottish renewable energy manufacturer Pelamis Wave Power. The company, at the forefront of the development of wave technology, had been working for years on a giant energy wave machine, which it named Pelamis. It looked like a metal snake, facing directly into the waves, harnessing the power of the sea, with a unique hinged joint system that helped regulate energy flow as waves ran down its length. In 2004, it became the first wave energy machine to generate electricity into the grid.

The Guardian is reporting that in 2010, this cutting edge technology piqued the interested of Chinese investors and then-vice-premier Li – who is now the Premier of China – paid a visit to the Scottish company. After a rundown on the key stages in the construction of Pelamis, a fancy dinner and some schmoozing, vice-premier Li and his team left Edinburgh and that was that.

The group from China never did invest in Pelamis, but some are speculating that it’s not because they weren’t interested in the technology. You see, two months after the visit, the offices of Pelamis were broken into, under cloak of darkness, and five laptops were stolen. At the time, Pelamis chalked it up to just another theft at the dockyard – not unheard of, but odd that it seemed to be so targeted. Strangely, the thieves completely bypassed the Siemens facility on the main floor and zipped straight upstairs to the Pelamis office suite.

Now fastforward a few years: pictures have emerged showing a remarkably similar project manufactured by the Chinese called the Hailong 1. The product, besides looking visually similar, seems to have similar features like that hinged joint system, and a system for placing in and recovering the project from the sea that was also uncanny.

Photos and footage of the manufacturing facility in Edinburgh aren’t exactly top secret – just Google it and you’ll see what I mean. So was Pelamis targeted by China, or were they simply working from the same abstract idea? Well, Pelamis ran out of funding three years after the robbery and so the company is now defunct. That said, a few of its former executives still work in the industry, and on offshoot type products, but many are hesitant to make any sort of direct accusation – perhaps because there is so little that can be done. Neither the UK nor Scottish governments has any plans to challenge China over the patent, likely because intellectual property is simply not protected there.

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