Joff Wild

According to the numbers page on China’s State IP Office (SIPO) website, in 2013 the office examined 355,000 patent applications and made 208,000 grants. Apparently, it takes SIPO 22.2 months to process an invention patent application from submission to final decision, which on the face of it makes it one of the world’s more efficient issuing authorities.  That said, the numbers page also reports that in 2013 SIPO received 825,000 invention patent applications, which does make you wonder whether the current time it takes to get to grant can be maintained.

In February, SIPO apparently published a document entitled “Patenting by Companies” which covered 2013. Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate it online, but I have found one fascinating statistic that was contained within it: the 10 Chinese companies receiving the most grants from the office last year. They were:

1. Huawei Technologies  - 2,251

2. SINOPEC – 1,627

3. ZTE – 1,448

4. PetroChina – 527

5. Ocean King Lighting Science and Technology – 460

6. Semiconductor Manufacturing International – 374

7. BYD – 340

8. Huawei Device Company – 288

9. Chery Automobile Company – 276

10. China National Offshore Oil Corporation – 275

There are two things that I find noteworthy about this list: the first is the variety of industries represented in the top 10 – energy, ICT, automotive, semiconductors and lighting; and the second is the number of patents that each company was awarded. It’s the second that is particularly striking, especially when compared to the USPTO top 50 that was revealed earlier this year.

According to IFI Claims, the top 10 US recipients of US patents in 2013 were IBM (6,809), Microsoft (2,660), Qualcomm (2,103), Google (1,851), Apple (1,775), GE (1,739), GM Global Technology (1,626), Intel (1,455), HP (1,360) and AT&T (1,101). Huawei, SINOPEC and ZTE would all have made that list, but the other seven Chinese companies would not have come close to it and would not even have made the top 50 of US patent recipients. What’s more, while the US top 10 accounted for just under 7.5% of all US grants in 2013, the Chinese top 10 accounted for just 3.8% of awards made by SIPO.  

Anecdotally, you often hear that despite the surge in patent applications being filed at SIPO by Chinese companies in recent years, there is actually a two-tiered system of patent awareness in the country: at the top level there is a very small group of under 100 entities that has embraced patents and files them as a matter of course; while underneath them there is a much, much larger group comprising all other Chinese companies that may file applications to get a tax break, but essentially have absolutely no thought-through patent strategy at all. I wonder whether the figures cited above provide just a little bit of evidence that the anecdotes do reflect reality.    

You can see details on the top 10 domestic and foreign recipients of Chinese patents in 2012 here.