Why do Chinese academics file so many patents?

A few weeks ago this Kat published her first report from the Global Forum on Intellectual Property. This
report included a summary of Professor Williamson's (University of Oxford) presentation which showed a variety of pie charts, one of which that indicated that as much as 23% of patents applied for were from academic institutions in China, compared with only 7% in the US. This Kat, now fervently watching the academic patent debate with the Stanford v Roche patent battle now before the Supreme Court (reports here and here), asked whether readers could explain why there was such a higher per cent of academics filing patents in China. The IPKat called and her lovely readers answered in the form of Michael Lin of Marks & Clerk (Hong Kong). Writing from his personal opinion and not in his professional capacity, Michael says this:

"The reasons why you are seeing such a large increase in Chinese Patents filed by Academics is that for them 1) it's free and 2) they get academic credit for it. Filing patents is encouraged by the Chinese Government and Academia. The Chinese Government has given Universities (as well as local companies) funds for filing patents in order to spur innovation - one measure of which is the number of patents filed by China, as a country. Also, the Chinese Universities are ranked against each other according to how many patents they've filed. As a result, Chinese Universities have adjusted their tenure requirements and expectations such that professors who want to advance are virtually required to file patents as well as to publish papers. In one specific University I know of, filing a patent is "worth" 3 published papers. This practice has been around for at least 2.5 years. Thus you are seeing (proportionally) a very large number of Chinese Academics filing patent applications in China.

Notice all of this relates to filing patent applications - there is no discussion above about actually getting them granted, or any other such matters.

This is also a major factor as to why there is such an amazing increase in Chinese Patent filings (in the Chinese Patent Office) in 2008-10, while filings everywhere else in the world were dropping."
The reason for these incentives could be tri-fold. Economically the programs of incentives are part of China's 50-year technology plan which is confirmed by the National Patent Development Strategy released a few weeks ago (click here to see the English translation). Politically, being able to show an increasing number of patent filings to the rest of the world can be seen to legitimize China's dedication to IP and IP protection - an area which they are oft-criticized. The third reason is that socially, the Chinese Government realizes that it is essential to shift from a manufacturing economy to a research & development economy, which may help pacify rising dissent in the countryside. By increasing, or at least showing, an increasing level of innovation this may also instil in the Chinese public a sense of pride and nationalism (see, the Beijing Olympics).

What is missing from the data, and as the IPKat identified during Professor Williamson's speech is how many of these filings result in grants? Further, how many of those grants enter countries via the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)? Do such numbers exist?

And what do UK and US academics think about a system where their academic standing can be judged by how many patents one files?

The IPKat would like to thank Michael for his e-mails and invaluable insight into an area that many of us on this side of the world seldom have an opportunity to explore.
Why do Chinese academics file so many patents? Why do Chinese academics file so many patents? Reviewed by Annsley Merelle Ward on Tuesday, February 01, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. All that sounds like a horribly perverse incentive. A patent application (including, I guess, "utility model patents" and "design patents", as they're called in China) worth three peer-reviewed papers? I know which route I'd take. No wonder the number of Chinese patent applications is skyrocketing. I must wonder how SIPO (in my experience quite professional) deals with such a tsunami of (mostly junk) applications.

  2. SIPO should ask the JPO. Japanese companies used to (don't know whether they still do) place a premium on the filing of a large number of patent applications, with pressure being applied to scientists and engineers accordingly.

  3. Anyone interested in PCT statistics will find lots of information of this kind here (for 2009)
    Interesting to note that in 2009 US universities had the largest share of academic PCT applications ... (1 Regents of the University of California, 2 MIT .. see page 21 of the report)
    For various stats relating to national phase entries, see page 26ff of the report

  4. Wondering how many of those "patent applications" are innovation patent applications. I think utility models make a bulk of "patent" filings.

  5. I was in China 3 months ago, and I met a man, who had 2 granted Patents that protected "innovations" on a belt (leather belt) buckle that incorporated an mp3 player. In China, that is Innovation. Now realistically I wonder how many of us here would wear a belt, together with our work trousers / suits, if such a one so happened to have an mp3 player, phone or whatever-else it is you have a particular fancy for, embedded into it. Even if it was one made by Apple Inc, RIM or Samsung I seriously doubt half of us here, if we saw one in Next or House of Fraser would even consider buying one.

  6. I fully support what Michael has said in his analysis. It is worth noting (as commentators have questioned) that the majority of these applications are for utility model patents - ie unexamined rights, so that an academic paper put forward for the reasons explained by Michael is likely to be granted as a utility model patent. This may mean that many of these have no value. One must not dismiss utility models out of hand, however, as Schneider did in China. That cost it $45 million - see http://www.finnegan.com/resources/articles/articlesdetail.aspx?news=5baf9931-12cd-4d65-8f27-4644b9010b98 . What is also happening is that Chinese academics are now becoming familiar with the patent system. Put that together with the primary school to secondary school teaching of IP to all children and students and you see a country that is putting IP at the front of its economic agenda - little understood by many observers, to our future cost.

  7. The Chinese law relating to inventor employees is very beneficial to the inventors with regard to compensation for the employer transferring the right to the invention from the inventor. When I was in China about 2 years ago I was told many companies complied with the law by offering a lump sum which was quite generous compared to a typical Chinese salary and therefore a massive incentive for employees to invent.

    In fact the law was so successful that the company I visited was swamped with inventions.

  8. The person filing the patent is paid for filing the patent as pointed out in the article. What's missing is that in China, the patent clerk is paid more for patents approved than rejected.

    The overall plan is still Stalinesque, Quantity brings its own quality. China will create a flood of paptents and will hope that some extra ordinary ones will pay off. A large part of the remainder are junk patents, however a portion will also be toxic. These patents will by stretching impinge on a valid, good patent. In other words expect a lot of chaos.

    This will cause China to either tighten its IP laws which will delight International Firms or leave things as they are. The government will try to do both and in the end it will still come down to how much "justice" you can buy.


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