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China increases its IP focus

A surge in patent applications from China has contributed to a large increase in worldwide patent filings in the past two decades, according to a report published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on 14 November.

“The World Intellectual Property Report 2011–The changing face of innovation” says that annual patent applications filed in patent offices around the world increased from 800,000 in the early 1980s to 1.8 million in 2009.

Of the 2009 application, 229,000 were made to China’s State Intellectual Property Office from China-based companies, constituting 13 per cent of the world total. This compares with 93,000 patent applications made in 2005 and 25,000 in the year 2000.

Patents filed by China-based inventors at patent offices in other countries under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) are also on the increase, the report shows.

PCT patent applications originating in China now account for 7.5 per cent of the world total, compared with just 0.3 per cent in 1995. This places China fourth in the world, behind the US with 27.4 per cent, Japan with 19.6 per cent and Germany with 10.7 per cent.

Carsten Fink, WIPO’s chief economist and the report’s author, said: “Last year, China’s patent applications filed under the PCT system grew by more than 50 per cent and this is a trend we expect to see again this year.”

The report confirms that China is the world’s second largest spender on R&D after the US. This is largely the result of a growth in manufacturing capacity and the resulting increase in hi-tech exports.

“The driving force behind China’s patenting activity is its economic growth,” said Fink.

Public sector measures, however, have also played a part.

The share of China’s national patent applications originating from universities, for example, is the largest of any country, at around 13.5 per cent, the report says.

Bruno van Pottelsberghe, an expert in intellectual property at Brussels-based think tank Bruegel, said this was down to aggressive government policy focused on increasing the country’s intellectual property.

“In various regions in China there are very strong incentives and subsidies for universities to file applications, which explains why you see such a strong rise,” he said.

But Pottelsberghe cautioned against reading too much into the data on China’s patent applications.

“The lion’s share of China’s domestic increase is due to a very small number of companies, operating particularly in ICT. And we also don’t know what the quality of their inventions has been,” he said.