China’s patent targets for 2020

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The Chinese Government has recently announced a policy decision to treble the number of patents filed by local Chinese inventors by the year 2020. More specifically, the hope is to increase the number of patents filed by local inventors from four per 10,000 persons to 14 per 10,000 persons by 2020.

Approximately one-third of the patent applications filed annually world-wide are filed in China and this percentage is currently increasing year on year. We cannot second-guess the reasons for the policy announcement – there is plenty of speculation to be found online – but in the words of the Chinese Government: “Intellectual property is increasingly becoming a vital component of China’s strategic resources and competitive ability”.

Of course, quantity is no guarantee of quality. At the moment, the percentage of Chinese patent applications which are also filed abroad is very small. Merely increasing the number of patents filed is not, of itself, an indication of a boom in innovation.

Accompanying the target for the number of applications is a target to expedite the process for handling patent applications.

The recent increase in the volume of patent applications has been attended by an increase in patent litigation. For Western owners of intellectual property rights, enforcement remains the biggest stumbling block to investing in China, and the actions taken by the Chinese Government following its announcement of its intention to enhance the enforcement regime will be followed closely.

China has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 2001 and WTO membership confers an obligation to uphold minimum standards in respect of intellectual property rights. As such, China has an intellectual property system which is readily recognisable to Western eyes. Even so, complaints continue that the system is skewed in favour of local players with IP owners sometimes feeling that they have no alternative other than to negotiate a licence with local infringers.

It has become platitudinous to emphasise the importance of China in the global economy. It is also platitudinous to talk about the importance of intellectual property rights in the global economy. When the two are taken together, then… well, it’s doubly important.