updated 4/19/2006 8:37:06 AM ET 2006-04-19T12:37:06

Chinese officials said Wednesday they are making progress in stamping out rampant software piracy as President Hu Jintao started a U.S. tour with a visit to Microsoft Corp.

Copyright enforcement officials said the government is replacing unlicensed software used on its own computers and is making headway in a campaign to get Chinese companies to do so.

"It is clear much hard work has been done by the government and much progress achieved," Zhang Qin, deputy director of the State Intellectual Property Office, said at a news conference.

Zhang's comments came after Hu had dinner Tuesday at the Seattle home of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates following a tour of the company's headquarters.  (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Hu promised to step up protection of copyrights and other intellectual property.  "We will seriously prove our commitment in the future," Hu told reporters.

Software makers regard China as one of the world's most promising markets.  But they complain that up to 90 percent of software used in China is pirated. U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez has criticized widespread used of unlicensed software by the government itself.

Wang Ziqiang, director of the Copyright Management Department of the State Copyright Bureau, said Hu's promise didn't mean Beijing believed it could completely eliminate software piracy.

However, Wang said at the news conference with Zhang that "they intend to send out a strong signal to the world that the Chinese government is very clear in its tough position to counter piracy and to assure foreign companies that they can be confident about China."

The Chinese officials, nevertheless, disputed U.S. estimates of the scope of software piracy.  But they said they had no official estimate of the piracy rate because the government is still conducting a survey of violations.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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