My long-term concerns about the implications of the rapid spike in Chinese patent filings at the end of the calendar year have finally matured into an article published in the September 2021 issue of Nature Biotechnology. The article, “Government targets, end-of-year patenting rush and innovative performance in China,” was coauthored by Zhen Sun (Tsinghua), Zhen Lei (Penn State), Brian Wright (Berkeley), Mark Cohen (Berkeley), and Taoxiong Liu (Tsinghua) (the “Article”).
The Article analyses Chinese patent filings in China and the USPTO. It concludes that “top-down directives and goals for patenting induced Chinese applicants to game the system, introducing distortions and inefficiency.” The Article analyzes before-and-after CY 2000 changes in Chinese policies that have incorporated patenting into state planning. It concludes that “government planning and targets, while boosting overall quantity, negatively impacted overall quality.” Importantly, “the quality gap [at year’s end] relative to those filed in other months widened after 2000.” Quality concerns were manifested by a “clear end-of-year trough in forward citations of patents filed near year’s end.” The Chinese government, it notes also, “has implicitly recognized the problems with planned targets for patenting” with its decision to stop subsidizing patent applications on January 27, 2021.
Patent subsidies, their impact on innovation and patent quality, as well as their potential to lead to misunderstandings about the nature of Chinese innovation, have long been of concern to me. My first blog on this was topic on January 24, 2012, based on my observations of 2009-2011 data. A guest blog by Prof. Zhen Lei discussing the 2012 filing data appeared in a February 16, 2013 posting. Professors Zhen Lei and Brian Wright also wrote about the seasonality of patent filings in a report of 2013, which was later cited in a USPTO report of January 2021. Prof. Dan Prud’homme has also written on this topic, including a book co-authored with Prof. Hefa Song.
I was glad to be able to work with economists that have long studied Chinese IP issues. I was also heartened that Chinese colleagues have joined in this research over the years, and that this type of research may have helped the Chinese government to carefully reconsider its policies.