Joff Wild

A significant milestone has been reached in the history of patents in China. For the first time invention patent grants made to domestic entities are outstripping those made to foreign concerns. According to SIPO statistics, in the first six months of 2009 Chinese applicants received 18,634 patents, while applicants from overseas took 17,737; that's 51.2% and 48.8% respectively. In 2008, Chinese applicants were awarded 49.7% of the 93,706 invention patents granted by SIPO.

Although SIPO received well over 800,000 patent applications last year, the vast majority of these were for utility and design patents. The only applications to receive substantive examination are for invention patents, which tend to account for around 25% to 30% of the overall total. Up to now, foreign concerns have always received more grants than local ones - reflecting their greater experience of dealing with patents, no doubt. But now that has changed it is unlikely that we will see the trend reversed - especially as it has been estimated that as recently as 2007 just 1% of Chinese companies had made any kind of patent application. Can you imagine the numbers involved when, say, 10% of them are making use of the patent system?

Clearly, all of this has major implications for granting authorities, in-house patent departments and private practice firms across the world. What a great time it is to be a fluent Chinese speaking and reading patent attorney, for example. And moving forward, can any patent office or patent attorney firm anywhere do its job properly without access to high-level Chinese expertise? Quite frankly, I don't see how. You also have to consider the impact of increased Chinese use of the international system. We already have huge backlogs in most patent offices, but as companies from China move into foreign markets their already increasing use of the PCT and direct filings in offices such as the USPTO, EPO and JPO is only bound to accelerate. It is a frightening thought.