China tops U.S, Japan to become top patent filer

HONG KONG Wed Dec 21, 2011 8:15am EST

The shadows of spectators are seen through a Chinese national flag at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 12, 2008. REUTERS/Phil Noble

The shadows of spectators are seen through a Chinese national flag at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 12, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Phil Noble

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China became the world's top patent filer in 2011, surpassing the United States and Japan as it steps up innovation to improve its intellectual property rights track record, a Thomson Reuters research report showed on Wednesday.

The report said the world's second-largest economy aimed to transform from a "made in China" to a "designed in China" market, with the government pushing for innovation in sectors such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals and technology.

However, legal experts said China would need to do more before it can lead the world in innovation as the quality of patents needed to improve.

The government provided attractive incentives for companies in China to file patent applications, regardless of whether a patent was eventually granted, they said.

"The idea of subsidizing patents is not bad in itself, however it is a blunt instrument because you get high figures for filings, but it does not tell you anything about the quality of the patents filed," said Elliot Papageorgiou, a Partner and Executive at law firm Rouse Legal (China).

"One thing is volume, quality is quite another. The return, or the percentage of grants, of the patents is still not as high in China as, say, in the U.S., Japan or some places in Europe," he said.

The Thomson Reuters report said published patent applications from China were expected to total nearly 500,000 in 2015, following by the United States with close to 400,000 and Japan with almost 300,000.

Published applications from China's patent office have risen by an average of 16.7 percent annually from 171,000 in 2006 to nearly 314,000 in 2010, data from Thomson Reuters Derwent World Patents Index showed.

During the period, Japan had the highest volume, followed by the United States, China, Korea and Europe, the report said. It did not give figures for 2011.

"The striking difference among these regions is China -- it is experiencing the most rapid growth and is poised to lead the pack in the very near future," it said.

Of total patents filed in China, the percentage of domestic applications rose to nearly 73 percent in 2010 from less than 52 percent in 2006, indicating that Chinese companies have outpaced foreign entities in the patent boom.

In terms of patents overseas, Chinese companies have also been climbing in the rankings, according to data from the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO).

In 2010, China's No.2 telecommunications equipment maker ZTE Corp was second on the list of applicants, ranking just behind Japan's Panasonic Corp.

U.S. chip maker Qualcomm Inc came in third, while China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, the world's second-largest telecom gear maker, was fourth, according to WIPO.

Chinese companies have been trying to be more innovative as they transform from contract manufacturers to regional and global brand names producing higher end products to improve margins.

Patent filings have also increased among Chinese companies due to legal battles that they have had to fight, especially in the telecommunications sector. For instance, Huawei and ZTE have been embroiled in patent disputes over fourth-generation wireless technology.

(Reporting by Lee Chyen Yee; Editing by Chris Lewis)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
KyuuAL wrote:
Oh look… more things by which… China is surpassing the US. Will America finally let go of this “greatest nation on Earth” mentality?

Dec 21, 2011 6:22am EST  --  Report as abuse
nolul wrote:
what a load of crap reporting from reuters….where are the number to back this up? China is in fact #2 surpassing Japan but not the U.S. according to WIPO. In 2010 U.S. 490K patents files, China 390K — sources below

http://e.nikkei.com/e/fr/tnks/Nni20111220D2012A14.htm
http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/business/news/20111221p2g00m0bu102000c.html

“By country, China had the second-largest number of patent applications after the United States in the year, surpassing Japan for the first time, WIPO said in its annual World Intellectual Property Indicators report.

China boosted its number by more than 24 percent to over 390,000 against about 345,000 for Japan. The United States had the largest number at about 490,000, remaining at the top since it surpassed Japan in 2006.”

Dec 21, 2011 10:14am EST  --  Report as abuse
This is not a surprise. 50% of Chinese students major in science, engineering, and technology compared to 13% in the US. With the differences in populations, China produces 17 times as many scientists as the US. Recent international tests showed that China was 1st in math and science while the US was 31st in math and 23rd in science. China launches more satellites and has a more active space program than the US. For six months, it had the world’s fastest supercomputer, and it recently built its first indigenous supercomputer. China makes more windmills and solar panels than any other country, and it is building more nuclear power plants than any other country, so it may solve the nuclear waste and safety issues that others have failed to solve. It has been working on a massive irrigation plan that will allow it to feed billions of people by 2025. At the recent Durban conference on climate change, it produced an 11 point program to cut carbon dioxide emissions at all stages of manufacturing and energy production. China has the quantity of patent applications and will gain quality over time. China is not perfect, but it sees problems and works to make improvements that will take decades while the US and NATO choose to destroy themselves in endless wars.

Dec 21, 2011 1:35pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Track China's Leaders