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Patenting Boom in China/China’s Great Leap Forward in Patent Filing

Patenting Boom in China/China’s Great Leap Forward in Patent Filing

According to China Law Blog, an article in China Debate compares China’s current patenting boom to the Mao-era Great Leap Forward. The Great Leap Forward signifies a period when steel production was mandated in small furnaces in schools, workplaces and hospitals in China. This was done to help China become the world’s top steel producer overnight. However, the move backfired and resulted in the production of low-quality steel in the country. The patent boom, too, is mainly a result of China’s desire to be the top innovator in the world. It is mainly a prestige issue for the country, which has led to increasing number, rather than quality of inventions and patents.

As of 2008 Chinese inventors filed 203,481 applications for patents (as per the World Intellectual Property Organization). This makes China the third most innovative country, following Japan and the US. While the figures may look impressive, according to a Wall Street Journal article (“China as an Innovation Center? Not So Fast”) this boom hides the problems in China’s research and development aspirations. For instance, more than 95% of “inventions” made in China were filed with the State Intellectual Property Office. Besides, most of them are slight changes made on existing designs. Many also file for patents with an intention to sue foreign inventors in China (as the Chinese legal system does not recognize foreign patents). So, the current focus in China, according to John Kao, former professor at Harvard Business School and “an innovation consultant to governments and corporations,”(as quoted in the New York Times article, “When Innovation, Too, Is Made in China” is quantity, rather than the quality of innovation.

According to China Law Blog, many huge multinationals in China are developing their patent portfolios, with production lines dedicated to the task. They have increasing internal targets for developing patentable inventions, with attractive reward schemes for inventors. These companies also file thousands of patent applications a year. However, the result of this frenzy has been low-quality patents, developed to only meet growing internal targets and quota.

Other prominent sources of Chinese inventions include academics, small enterprises and solo inventors. Their increasing contributions stem from the Chinese government’s incentives for registering intellectual property and by the targets set for research institutes. So, the patent boom is largely a result of the incentives offered and increasing targets, rather than real innovations.

Given this scenario, here are some basic issues that need to be addressed (as per the Wall Street Journal and New York Times):

China, like any other country, requires you to apply for a patent in order to get one. For instance, a US patent cannot be enforced in China and vice versa.

China also allows registering for mini patents or utility models. These patents are basically improvements of existing technology, rather than real innovations; hence, they do not qualify for invention patents. Mini patents also give fewer rights than invention patents.

China also does not grant patents for inventions published in a different country before the priority date. In case you do manage to qualify, it could also lead to invalidation proceedings.

The China Law Blog also gives useful tips for people intending to work or working in areas where patent infringement is an issue:

Focus on doing freedom to operate work on any product or system that you plan to offer, use, make or import into the country. This will make sure that your product or system does not infringe on any existing patents. Avoiding a patent can be easy if you know about it early.

Develop your own patent portfolio to use in case some company opts to sue you for patent infringement.

You can peruse patents of companies thoroughly to get detailed information about their most innovative workers, their focus of innovations and so on. So, the more the number of patents a company has, greater is the amount of information you can get about those companies. Hence, you are also better equipped to fight with them.

While a lot has been said about the intellectual property scene in China, this article gives a fresh and different perspective on the patent boom in China. It also gives some useful tips on surviving in this changing environment.

Note: The preceding is a summary of an article found though our research, and is provided here with editorial comment for members only. Please see the full article at the following link for full original content.

The New Asia Innovation Team