The China patent bandwagon rolls on.
It is now the world’s fastest-growing source of patent applications and has overtaken Korea to become the fourth biggest, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The volume of Chinese patent applications grew 56% last year, accounting for nearly 60% of the net growth in filings under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), WIPO’s 2010 figures show.
By comparison, total US and UK filings declined for the third year in a row.
The raw numbers disguise the much thinner quality of Chinese technologies. Most of the filings are under the utility model, which offers a lower patent threshold and is for a shorter term – typically seven to ten years, compared with 20 years for a full patent.
The utility model is available in China, Japan and Germany, though not in the US or the UK.
China accounted for most UM activity worldwide in 2009, with applications up 38% (2010 figures are not yet available).
For anxious Americans fretting over the mounting number of Sputnik moments, this may be lukewarm comfort.
Thomson Reuters last October predicted that China would overtake the US and Japan for the largest number of (domestic) patent applications in 2011. While most of these would be UM filings, China is expected to reach the milestone this year, a year ahead of the original 2008 forecast.
Americans may also be alarmed that last year, for the first time, the US Patent and Trademark Office granted most patents to non-residents that residents.
The WIPO list once more puts Japan’s Panasonic Corp. at the top of its corporate rankings, with 2,154 applications last year, followed by Chinese telecom vendor ZTE (1,863), Qualcomm third (1,677) and ZTE rival Huawei in fourth place (1,528).