China’s State Intellectual Property Office is a frequently misapprehended agency. Here are items I gleaned from reading SIPO’s “Brief Introduction and Review of State Intellectual Property Office in China” (2014), which may not be well understood today:
First the general observations
1. SIPO is more than just the patent office. SIPO has general IP responsibilities, including a coordinating role over “IPR protection work nationwide”, “implementing the Outline of the National IP Strategy” and “drawing up the policies of foreign-related IP work.” (pp. 1-2).
2. Although SIPO has aspired to have a direct role in the State Council, it “still is a government institution directly reporting to the State Council”, i.e. not at the ministerial level (p. 1).
3. In addition to its involvement with the four other leading patent offices in the world, SIPO participates in a BRICS head of IP offices meeting. It also has patent prosecution highways (HHP) with the United States, Mexico, Spain, Portugal and Britain. In addition, it has MOUs with Canada and Ecuador. It may also provide substantive patent examination services for Hong Kong.
4. SIPO also has close industrial contacts with Chinese enterprises, the nature of which is unclear. It has a “key contact mechanism” (undefined) with a number of central enterprises, including the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Sinopec, and Datang Telecom. It also has a cooperation and consultation system (also undefined) with institutions directly under the central government such as the Ministry of Railways, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and China Association for Science and Technology.
SIPO’s Focus on Management and Human Talent
1. SIPO’s patent office has 3, 058 staff members, of which 2,010 are substantive examiners. SIPO also has seven Patent Examination Cooperation Centers: Beijing, Jiangsu, Guangdong, Henan, Hubei, Tianjin, and Sichuan, with approximately 5,500 employees. Tianjin and Sichuan appear to be the newest, with only one FTE at each of these places. In total SIPO has 12,752 employees.
2. SIPO greatly increased its examiner corps from 2001 to 2009. Since 2010, the numbers of examiners has dropped slightly. However, employment at its affiliated patent cooperation centers, where some examination work has been outsourced, has continued to grow. Overall the time periods for patent examination have dropped dramatically. In addition, the overall time period for patent examination was 53 months in 2001. It was 22.2 months in 2013 (p. 23).
A Snapshot on Patent and Administrative Enforcement Trends
1. There continued to be remarkable growth in patent applications in SIPO in 2013. The growth rate in invention patent applications for 2013 was 26%, the highest growth rate since 2005. Amongst the 1.313 million patents filed, 825,136 were invention patents.
2. Foreigners play a smaller role in SIPO than they do in the United States. During FY 2013, foreign patents applications received by USPTO constituted 51.9% of the total. In CY 2013, 14.6% of SIPO’s patent applications were foreign in origin. The United States is also responsible for one-fourth of the foreign patent filings in China.
3. In 2014, utility models and design patents appear to not have been granted as automatically or quickly as in the past. In 2013, the ratio between UMP applications and concluded cases was 11.6%, compared to 3.9% in 2012. For designs, the similar ratios were 13.2% and 9.9%, respectively. This may suggest that SIPO is beginning to perform a more substantive examination over some applications.
4. Administrative enforcement has also increased dramatically (p. 12). Administrative patent dispute cases increased in 2013 to 5,056 from 2,510 in 2012, or about double. This may have been in part to demonstrate an enhanced role for SIPO in light of proposed patent law amendments that would expand the role of administrative enforcement.