Joff Wild

UBM TechInsights has produced a detailed study of the patenting activities of what it identifies as China’s 30 leading semiconductor companies. It also explores what the current IP landscape tells us about their overall business strategies. And what is clear is that even though up to now Chinese businesses have not made a major mark on the $300 billion plus a year global semiconductor market, that is most definitely going to change.

If you are involved in the sector, the chances are that over the coming years you are going to be seeing a lot more Chinese competition, not only in China itself, but also internationally. IP Landscape and Analysis of 30 Chinese Semiconductor Companies will tell you who the biggest players are likely to be and what you should be looking out for. Among the findings are:

• The top three Chinese patent holders among the semiconductor firms surveyed are Beijing Vimicro Co (2,445 patents), SpreadTrum Communications (908 patents), and Shenzhen Zhongxing Microelectronics (ZTE) (588 patents).

• By technology domain, the largest two groupings of companies are found in the analogue/mixed signal and smart card/RFID/security sectors:  28 of the 30 companies profiled in the study have products that served these markets.

• China instituted a country-wide (and industry agnostic) programme called Project 909 in the late 1990s to encourage increased investment in patenting and IP. Though patent filings did not start to really grow until the early-2000s, by the mid-2000s the pace of patent filings in the Chinese patent office had increased rapidly and actually exceeded the total of filings in the USPTO. 

• In the Chinese semiconductor sector, an initial peak in patenting was reached in 2007, since which time local applications have declined somewhat.  Despite this modest downturn in domestic patenting activity, applications by Chinese companies in the US have continued to increase (although they still represent a small portion of the overall US total).

• The leading Chinese semiconductor firms still file approximately 90% of their patent applications in China. This is attributed to the relative immaturity of the companies, their focus on the domestic Chinese market, and the nascent intellectual property strategies still prevalent in the region.

For those in the semiconductor industry, and their advisers, the really meaty stuff is provided in the company by company analysis. This covers a range of issues, including: key technologies produced;  key markets/industries; key partners  and clients (where the information is available); patent awards in the US, Europe and China, as well as filing trends; key patent families, and litigation activity.