China surpasses US, Japan in number of patents filed

World's second-largest economy overtakes other nations in number of patents filed in 2011, according to Thomson Reuters research, but lawyer says volume growth doesn't necessarily guarantee quality.

For the first time, China has emerged the top patent filing nation overtaking the United States and Japan,  and the number of patents filed in the country is expected to grow faster than others.

Citing research by Thomson Reuters, news wire Reuters reported on Wednesday that China had surpassed the United States and Japan as the nation with the the highest number of patents filed in 2011, but no details were provided for the year. Domestic patent applications in China grew to nearly 73 percent of total applications in 2010, growing from less than 52 percent in 2006. This indicated that Chinese companies were overtaking overseas companies in patent applications, said the report.

Published applications from China's patent office grew at an average 16.7 percent yearly from 171,000 in 2006 to about 314,000 in 2010, said Reuters, quoting figures from the Thomson Reuters Derwent World Patents Index. The report noted that during this period, Japan filed the most patent applications, followed by the United States, China, Korea and Europe.

Thomson Reuters projected that China in 2015 would clock almost 500,000 patent applications, while the United States would file about 400,000 patent applications followed by Japan with almost 300,000. "The striking difference among these regions is China [which] is experiencing the most rapid growth, and is poised to lead the pack in the very near future," the report noted.

China has been trying to shed its market from a "Made in China" to "Designed in China" image, with the government focusing on driving innovation in industries such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals and technology. Citing legal experts, the Reuters article said Chinese government had been providing "attractive incentives" to Chinese companies to file patent applications, regardless of whether the patent would be eventually granted.

Subsidizing patent is a "blunt instrument" as the move will produce a high number of patent filings, but does not guarantee the quality of the patents, Elliot Papageorgiou, partner and executive at law firm Rouse Legal China told Reuters. "The return, or the percentage of grants, of the patents is still not as high in China as, say, in the U.S., Japan or some places in Europe."

In February this year, Asia became the biggest patent-filing region but market observers told ZDNet Asia that businesses would benefit more if they better understood patent filing system.