In an extensive campaign significant for the global economy, China is targeting
an astounding 2 million domestic patent applications annually by 2015, and
wants to be one of the top two patent owning countries by 2020.
The patents hunting master plan, titled "National Patent Development Strategy
(2011 - 2020)" follows the "Outline of the National Intellectual Property
Strategy", which the Chinese government released in 2008.
Remarkable in its planning and scope of targets for patents, the latest
strategy document from China's State Intellectual Property
Office of China (SIPO) is part of a first-of-its-kind intellectual property
mission from any government.
The SIPO document follows other recent blueprints in China's great new focus on
patents and intellectual property (IP). In 2009, China released an "Action Plan
for Implementing National IP Strategy". It had 250 specific measures for
various governmental departments.
Another "Action Plan on Intellectual Property Rights Protection" in 2009 listed
170 steps in areas of legislation, enforcement, trials, institutional building,
publicity, training and education, international exchanges and cooperation,
corporate IP protection and services to right holders.
By 2020, China aims to quadruple both patent applications in foreign countries
and domestic patent applications for every one million people. The annual
patents transaction financial target is to reach 100 billion yuan (US$15
billion) by 2015.
"Mind-blowing numbers," David J Kappos, director of the United States Patent
and Trademark Office was quoted in the New York Times as saying on China's
patent strategy for the decade. The US Patent Office gave a translated 15-page
copy of the document to the newspaper, which made it available as a link in a
related online report on January 1.
To boost domestic patents, China will offer incentives of cash rewards, houses
and tax breaks to scientists and innovators. The patent master plan promises
infrastructure for quicker filing, examining and granting of patents, funding
patent holders, and integrating new patents into the economy.
The rest of the world could hope the new Chinese patent hunger shows greater
respect for intellectual property rights in the country, which a US Commerce
Ministry advisory has described as having "the most serious counterfeiting
problem in world history".
In 2007, the US complained to the World Trade Organization that China lacked
legal infrastructure to enforce copyright and trademark protection, following
cheap Chinese counterfeit goods flooding US markets.
Any anxiety from China's new patents ambition would be on whether an
intellectual property "pirates paradise" can morph into being one the world's
biggest patents owners.
Significantly, China's patent proliferation plan conspicuously does not address
enhancing patent dispute settling mechanisms, a necessity for a country
targeting millions of patents a year.
More nervousness could arise from the China Patent Office strategy document
promising to "encourage enterprises to acquire patent rights through innovation
on the basis of digesting and absorbing imported patent technology".
China's new patent policy documents assure improving its global intellectual
property rights image. Two "Special Campaigns" that China plans to enforce
would particularly interest foreign stakeholders: "Campaign Thunderstorm" to
fight against patent infringement and counterfeiting and "Campaign Skynet"
against patent fraud.
But a pertinent question would be how well China protects non-Chinese patent
holders, and how efficiently it prevents hijacking another country's know-how,
in the stiff stretch for two million domestic patent applications a year.
Neighboring India, for example, has an unpleasant reason or two to watch
closely the Chinese patent drive. In 2010, India foiled a bio-piracy attempt by
Chinese pharmaceutical giant Livzon. Livzon was trying to patent "pudina", or
the commonly available mint plant, and "kalamegha" (andrographis), as treatment
for bird flu or H5N1 avian influenza.
India's Traditional Knowledge Digital Library and the Council of Scientific and
Industrial Research stepped in to prove that "pudina" and "kalamegha" have been
widely used in India for millennia for treating influenza, epidemic fevers and
other ailments. The European Patent Office cancelled its patent to Livzon last
While Chinese companies patent the properties of plants in other countries,
China's domestic law forbids it. Article 5 and Article 25 of the China Patent
Law says "methods for the diagnosis or for the treatment of diseases" and
"animal and plant varieties" are "unpatentable".
Inconsistencies and contradictions apart, China describes the patent hunt as
urgent part of enhancing its "core competitiveness". Economists have mixed
opinions about how much increase in patents registration translates to more
jobs and growth from innovation.
However, the word "innovation" buzzes in the vocabulary of the world's fastest
growing economies such as India and China. Addressing the 98th Indian Science
Congress in Chennai on January 3, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked
his country's scientists to "unleash a decade of innovation".
"Think out of the box," Manmohan Singh urged over 7,000 participating
scientists. "Think ahead of the times."
China is doing just that. Its patent proliferation plan includes establishing,
by 2015, a national patent data center, five regional and 47 local patent
A Chinese patents museum is also proposed, perhaps imitating the National
Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum in the atrium of the US Patent and Trademark
Office building in Alexandria, Virginia.
China seems convinced about the importance of patents. "As a fundamental system
to encourage and protect innovation, the patent system is playing an
increasingly important role in economic, technological and social development
of a country," says the State Intellectual Property Office document that calls
the patent drive an “inexorable requirement to deal with fierce international
While growing rapidly in registering patents in foreign countries, China still
has considerable catching up to do with US and Japan, the two largest
patent-owning nations. The US Patent Office says that out of 167,349 patents
for inventions granted in 2009, China owns 1,655 compared with 82,382 US-origin
patents and Japan's 35,501.
Out of the total patents the US government issued to foreign nationals and
entities from January to December 2009 - for utility, design, plant and
re-issue patents - China bagged 2,270, compared with Japan's 38,066, Germany's
10,353, South Korea's 9,566, Taiwan's 7,781 and India's 720. Even so, China had
more than quadrupled its patent count, from 402 patents registered with the US
Patent Office in 2005.
The Beijing-based State Intellectual Property Office gives far more staggering
statistics. It says China received 1,060,632 patent applications from January
to November 2010, out of which 957,897 were domestic applicants, with 743,779
patents successfully registered. China plans to double this annual tally of
patents in the next five years.