According to Thomson Reuters research reported last week, China surpassed the United States as the world’s top patent filer in 2011. Published applications from China’s patent office increased an average 16.7 percent annually from 171,000 in 2006 to nearly 314,000 in 2010.
Ranking as the world’s second-largest economy, China’s government has been pushing for innovation in sectors including automobiles, pharmaceuticals and technology. Chinese companies have also been innovating more as they shift away from contract manufacturers and toward regional and global brand names producing higher-end products.
Quality and safety will remain top of mind, though, for users of Chinese-made goods. Legal experts emphasized the growing country’s need to improve the quality of its patents before it can lead the world in innovation. With recalls, lead scares and poor quality not far in the rearview mirror, Chinese manufacturers are moving from a “made in China” market toward “designed in China.”
This shift was already in motion a year ago when AstraZeneca conducted it’s international “Innovation Survey.” In the report, which surveyed 6,000 respondents across six countries, the overall consensus was that China would become the most innovative country over the next decade. While the United States and Japan were seen as the most innovative, China is expected to overtake them by 2020.
A common theme throughout the AstraZeneca findings was the strong sense of optimism in and self-confidence demonstrated by the populations of China and India – a stark contrast to the views expressed by those in the West. In fact, only three in 10 American participants believed that the United States will be the most innovative country in 2020. And six in 10 think that the United States “is not as innovative as it used to be.”
Over the past year, the Chinese government provided attractive incentives for companies to file patent applications (regardless of whether a patent was eventually granted). While these incentives helped push the number of filings up, though, “it doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of the patents filed,” says legal expert Elliot Papageorgiou, partner and executive at law firm Rouse Legal (China). “Volume is one thing, quality is quite another. The return on the patents, or the percentage of grants, is still not as high in China as in the United States, Japan or some places in Europe.”
Off these regions, though, China is “experiencing the most rapid [patent application] growth and is poised to lead the pack in the very near future,” says Thomson Reuters. According to the report, patent applications from China are expected to total nearly 5000,000 in 2015, followed closely by the United States (400,000) and Japan (300,000).