Patent Data in a Pandemic

CNIPA’s 10-month patent data may be an early indication of how a complex patent regime responds to the pandemic, including the role of China’s utility models in providing an alternative means of patenting with less expense.

Domestic filings of utility model patents (UMPs) increased for the first 10 months at a dramatic 33.6% compared to the same period in 2019.  China’s domestic UMP filings were also more than double its domestic invention patent filings (2,386,837/1,105,860).  By comparison, invention patent filings increased by 12.8%, and design patents increased by 7.4%.   

In contrast to those increases, foreigners applications declined by 4% across all categories between the first 10 minths of 2019 and 2020, after having mostly increased between 2018 and 2019. Foreigners constituted a scant 0.3% of the total UMP applications in China and about 5.1% of invention patents in 2020. At the same time, Chinese applications continue to increase in all areas, thereby further expanding the dominance of Chinese domestic filings in China.

USPTO data for FY 2020 makes for an interesting comparison.  According to a recent report from the Patent Public Advisory Committee, FY 2019 saw a slowdown in the growth of filings relative to FY 2019 to 0.7%, compared to 4.9% for FY 2019. Provisional filings showed an increase to 2.9% from the 2019 baseline of 0.6%  Design filings increased by 4.1% compared to 0.8% in FY 2019.  

Might the increase in provisional filings at the USPTO be analogous to the increase in utility model patents?  Provisionals and UMP’s demand relatively less of the applicant and the examiner.  They are low-cost and they establish a priority date.  A key difference is that a UMP is a valuable patent in its own right, with a 10-year duration, compared to a one year USPTO provisional.  Considering the high absolute number of Chinese UMP applications and their annual increase in the middle of a pandemic, UMP’s may be an efficient mechanism to insure flexibility in patent prosecution strategies and priority of rights. Of course, there is always the possibility that the Chinese filing numbers may have been affected by domestic subsidies or other incentives. Nonetheless the lesson for foreigners seems clear: if foreigners more actively used the UMP system in China, they might also be benefit from more diverse patent options.

There is typically an increase in domestic patenting activity that occurs at year end in China.  Let’s see what the final data shows before reaching any final conclusions.

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