Bill Gates to visit Vietnam, push licensed software

Bill Gates is set to meet communist Vietnam’s leaders on Saturday to promote licensed Microsoft products in the country where, an anti-piracy industry group has charged, 90% of software is counterfeit.

The co-founder and chairperson of the United States software colossus was due to meet Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and President Tran Duc Luong, who are taking time out on Saturday from their crucial five-yearly party congress to meet him.

Gates was also due to promote a project to connect rural centres via the internet, chat with Hanoi university students and meet members of the country’s fledgling IT community during the two-day trip starting on Friday evening.

His visit comes days after leaders opened the 10th Communist Party Congress beneath a bust of Ho Chi Minh, stressing their aim to turn the developing country into a “knowledge-based economy” and make it an industrialised nation by 2020.

Khai met Gates last year during the first visit by a post-war Vietnamese leader to the United States.

Gates was expected to speak about joint efforts with government bodies and schools and visit a village post office outside Hanoi on Saturday to launch a project that uses Vietnamese-made computers with Microsoft programs.

The visit is “a win-win,” said Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert with the Australian Defence Force Academy.

“He’s donating and giving to Vietnam, and there must also be commercial activities involved. For Vietnam wanting to make that leap and develop, that relationship is just where they want to go.”

Vietnam’s IT sector may still be in its infancy, but the decision by leading chip-maker Intel Corporation this year to build a plant outside the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City has created considerable buzz.

“Bill Gates wants to understand more about Vietnam before setting his investment strategy,” said Tran Doan Kim of the Association of Vietnam Software Enterprises.

“I think he is visiting because he is curious about Vietnam.”

Industry experts warn, however, that Vietnam must rein in piracy if it wants to build a software industry.

Trade group the Business Software Alliance has said over 90% of software sold in Vietnam is fake, the highest figure in the world.

In a country where the per capita gross domestic product of $640 matches the retail price of many software packages, most people opt for the pirated versions that sell for less than two dollars.

The United States and other trade partners have pressured Vietnam to step up the protection of intellectual property rights, patents and trademarks in the year it hopes to join the World Trade Organisation.

“Even if nobody can predict what exactly Bill Gates’ statements will be, his trip may not have a 100% positive effect like Intel’s decision,” said Christopher Muessel, senior associate with law firm Baker and McKenzie.

“Microsoft is very concerned about counterfeiting, so Bill Gates is likely to say at least that Vietnam needs to go further in protecting intellectual property rights, and that’s a negative element. But overall speaking, his trip will surely give a quite positive image of the country.”

Microsoft may be losing money now to piracy, but the flood of fake software is, ironically, helping cement its popularity in Vietnam, a highly literate country where two thirds of the population of 83-million is aged under 30.

The Microsoft Corporation chairperson is set to speak before more than 1 000 students on Saturday at the Hanoi University of Technology.

“Every country in the world wants to have a Bill Gates,” said a commentary in the Thanh Nien [Student’s Union] daily on Friday.
“Many young people will wish that one day Vietnam will have a rich and kind man like Bill Gates.”

Among many in Vietnam’s young urban elite, Gates enjoys almost cult status, said Thayer. “If you go to a Vietnamese bookshop and look what’s selling, it’s all the books about Bill Gates and the internet,” he said. “He’s a kind of guru.” - AFP

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