China may not yet be on an equal footing with the leading industrialized nations in terms invention quality and brand recognition, but according to a recent study by the World Intellectual Property Organization, it is feverishly trying to show it is.
In 2017 China filed more than twice the number of U.S. patent applications globally; more than ten times the number of trademarks; and about 14 times the number of design patents.
China was responsible for 43.5% of all patent applications and about 60% of trademarks filed worldwide. It is responsible for 90% of the growth in trademark filings. It also filed about 70% of the industrial design patents.
This is according to a report published by WIPO, the UN-supported World Intellectual Property Organization, “World Intellectual Property Indicators 2018.”
IP rights have become something of a numbers game in China, encouraged by the government, which is eager to compete in technology and commerce and willing to offer attractive incentives.
IP quantity can only take businesses so far, and there are many weak or questionable patents and trademarks held by Chinese entities, including universities, that never should have been issued. However, it is clear that China no longer wants to be considered a “copycat” nation and is taking what it believes are the right steps to assure that. It means to catch up with global leaders and quickly.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations: “The Chinese government has launched ‘Made in China 2025,’ a state-led industrial policy that seeks to make China dominant in global high-tech manufacturing. The program aims to use government subsidies, mobilize state-owned enterprises, and pursue intellectual property acquisition to catch up with—and then surpass—Western technological prowess in advanced industries.”
Chinese companies and universities are likely to have at least some quality patents and marks and, unlike Japanese IP holders which were high active U.S. filers starting in the 1980s, are more likely to enforce them.
Asia Tops Global IP Activity
According to the WIPO report, China recorded the highest application volume for both patents and trademarks inside the country, as well as among other nations, and seeks to protect and promote their work in one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies.
Asia has strengthened its position as the region with the greatest activity in patent filings. Offices located in Asia was responsible for 65.1% of all applications filed worldwide in 2017 – a considerable increase from 49.7% in 2007 – primarily driven by growth in China.
While China claims more patents than any other nation, Bloomberg News says that “most are worthless.” The lapse rate is extremely high, with more than 50% of the five-year old utility patents abandoned and 91% of design patents.
Subsidies and other incentives are geared toward making patent filings, rather than making sure those claims are useful. So the volume doesn’t translate into quality, with the country still dependent on others for innovative ideas, such as modern smartphones.
Bloomberg’s analysis may not be entirely fair. IBM, for example, consistently the top annual U.S. patent recipient, permits a huge number to lapse. Many of those that remain are quite valuable. Some patent strategists in tech believe that it is effective to patent broadly to prevent some inventions from becoming proprietary and then pare back as sectors and products evolve.
A handful of great patents can be more valuable than thousands of mediocre ones, as the pharmaceutical companies have proven. It takes a lot of work – and some luck – to identify them. China is still learning what IP is and how to use it. Japanese companies patented very aggressively in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s when they were being sued by American tech companies, sometimes with the threat of injunction. Many of the patents were said to be of questionable quality but they were able to generate more IP respect for Japanese companies and made them somewhat less vulnerable to U.S. enforcement.
China Foreign Filing Up 15%
China reported a 15% growth in filings abroad, which is far above that of Japan (+2.1%) and the U.S. (+2%). Both Germany (-0.6%) and the Republic of Korea (-4.1%) had fewer filings abroad in 2017 than in 2016.
Total patents in force worldwide grew by 5.7% to reach 13.7 million in 2017. Around 2.98 million patents were in force in the U.S., while China (2.09 million) and Japan (2.01 million) each had around 2 million.
No data was provided about the percentage of foreign patent applications in China.
The IP office of China had the highest volume of trademark filing activity with a class count of around 5.7 million, followed by the U.S. (613,921), Japan (560,269), the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO; 371,508) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (358,353).
The top 10 patent applicants worldwide, based on total number of patent families from 2013 to 2015 were Canon (Japan); Samsung Electronics (South Korea); State Grid Corporation of China; Mitsubishi Electric (Japan); International Business Machines (US); Toyota Jidosha Kabushiki Kaisha (Japan); Huawai Technologies (China); Toshiba (Japan); LG Electronics (South Korea); and Robert Bosch (Germany).
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the global forum for intellectual property policy, services, information and cooperation. A specialized agency of the United Nations, WIPO assists its 191 member states in developing a balanced international IP legal framework to meet society’s evolving needs.
For the full WIPO report, World Intellectual Property Indicators 2018, go here.
For the summary, interactive charts and key facts and figures, go here.
Image source: wipo.int