March 19 – 26, 2018 Updates

1. China Now Number 2 PCT Filer.  China has overtaken Japan to claim second place as a source of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications  in 2017. In 2017, U.S.-based applicants numbered 56,624 PCT, followed by China (48,882) and Japan (48,208). Huawei Technologies (4,024 published PCT applications) and ZTE Corporation (2,965) – occupied the top two spots for PCT applications. They were followed by Intel (2,637), Mitsubishi Electric (2,521) and Qualcomm  (2,163).   Historically Chinese PCT applications have been concentrated in a few companies.

Chinese academic institutions are still minor users of the PCT.   Among the top 25 educational institution filers, there were only three Chinese academic institutions – Shenzhen University (no. 11), China University of Mining and Technology (no. 15) and Tsinghua (no. 19).

Computer technology (8.6% of the total) overtook digital communication (8.2%) to become the field of technology with the largest share of published PCT applications. These two fields were followed by electrical machinery (6.8%) and medical technology (6.7%)

2. China’s premier pledges market opening in bid to avert trade war On the heels of the Section 301 Report, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated pledges to ease access for American businesses, at the news conference following the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC). Li also said at a conference that included global chief executives that China would treat foreign and domestic firms equally, would not force foreign firms to transfer technology and would strengthen intellectual property rights. Another Vice Premier, Han Zheng,  made similar remarks at the China Development Forum.  Han said that China needs to “open even wider to the outside world,” and would do so via its Belt and Road Initiative.

According to Wall Street Journal citing unidentified source, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer listed steps they want China to take in a letter to Liu He, a newly appointed vice premier who oversees China’s economy. The United States asked China to cut a tariff on U.S. autos, buy more U.S.-made semiconductors and give U.S. firms greater access to the Chinese financial sector. The article also reported that China and the U.S. have quietly started negotiating to improve U.S. access to Chinese markets.

 

Prison Inventions and Patent Subsidies

The South China Morning Post reported recently on jail house inventors, a topic that you may have first read about here. According to the SCMP and Beijing Youth Daily, various provinces have different commutation schemes for inmates that file patents, which are based on provisions in the criminal law permitting commutation based on meritorious service (Criminal Law, Art. 78).

As with their policy “cousin”, patent subsidy and innovation tax incentive programs, not all inventions are treated equally for purposes of obtaining government benefits. For example, according to 2005 Provisional Opinions on Specific Questions on Commutation of Sentences in Jiangsu,《关于审理减刑案件若干问题的意见(试行)》 one invention patent is equal to one utility model patent or three design patents.

Similar to patent subsidy programs, there are also any number of patent agents pursuing this type of business. However, the best practice for would-be inventors is likely if the convict or his/her representative finds a patent agent familiar with the practice of the local prisons as practices may vary.

Why the increased interest in jail house inventors? Probably the press has picked up on this issue with the December 9, 2014 decision of the Beijing Second Intermediate People’s Court which reportedly granted one year’s commutation of the sentence of the former Chinese Football Association Vice President Nan Yong.  Nan Yong was granted 4 patents in 2012 and 2013 for: a soccer practice device, a portable goal, assembly of mobile terminal supporting frames, and a desktop computer monitor.

Considering the large size of the US prison population (about 600,000 more than China), is this an untapped resource for encouraging innovation in the US :)?

Action Plan for Further Implementation of the National IP Strategy (2014-2020) Approved

According to a Chinese Government website, on  December 29, the State Council reviewed and approved the Action Plan for Further Implementation of the National IP Strategy (2014-2020) (Action Plan). The Outline of the National IP Strategy (NIPS) had been implemented for 6 years.  Premier Li Keqiang, and SIPO Commissioner Shen are quoted in the this brief summary.

Chinese authorities have pointed to three key aspects of the NIPS Action Plan:

A.  First, to “Strive to Build A Strong IPR Country”  (努力建设知识产权强国).

B.  To improve IP utilization and protection (知识产权运用和保护).

C.  Practical new steps are to be announced, including plans to promote the development of IP intensive industries (知识产权密集型产业发展).  This  includes greater coordination amongst various branches of national and local government.  Interestingly, and perhaps of greater concern, it also includes “strengthening patent pilot projects,  joint utilization of patents and collective management of patents… to strengthen the competitive advantages of industries.” (强化专利导航、专利协同运用、专利集群管理等工作…增强产业竞争优势).

Here is how I read the tea leaves on this announcement:

First, the references to China becoming an IP “strong country” , and not merely an IP “big country” is a new concept in the NIPS, and likely reflects the observations and approaches of former Commissioner Tian Lipu.  In fact, many observers believe that too much patenting, particularly patenting of a low quality, can be harmful to innovation. I have often noted in this blog that patent quality is a continuing negative side effect of China’s metric-driven approaches to innovation.  In addition, innovation is largely a local phenomenon – China’s efforts to become a strong innovative country this time will also include programs to make strong IP provinces and cities in China.

Second, the reference to IP utilization directly quotes the negotiated language of the Third Plenum and its commitment to “Strengthen the Utilization and Protection of IP” (加 强知识产权的运用和保护).  This was also something that former Commissioner Tian discussed as a positive outcome of that meeting.

Third, the reference to IP intensive industries is new to China’s strategic planning, and, as noted by Commissioner Shen, reflects the influence of the influential US government  2012 report on Intellectual Property and the US Economy.   Reference is also made by Commissioner Shen to IP intensive industries being low on resource demands and low polluting.

The legislative basis for the National IP Strategy is the China Science and Technology Promotion Law (Dec 2007).  Article 7 of that law provides that China will establish a NIPS, in order to promote innovation, encourage indigenous innovation (激励自主创新), and raise the utilization protection and management of IP.  This 2007 law was famous for codifying the concept of indigenous innovation, which elicited considerable concern at the time over potential discrimination against the foreign technology community.  This Action Plan introduces several new and useful concepts which, if implemented fairly, will benefit foreign and domestic investors alike.

 

 

Withering Problems in China’s Patent Drive? – The Latest from SIPO

SIPO’s six month report on patent filings, available on line in China shows some surprising data for the first six months of 2014.

Regionally, Jiangsu and Beijing are in the number 1 and 2 slots in terms of patent applications.  Both regions showed continued growth (slide 3).  Guangdong, however, showed a slight decline.  Anhui, Guangxi and Guizhou showed the most increase in patent applications in percentage terms (70-90%).  Interestingly, while invention patent applications increased by about 4% from domestic applicants, foreign applications were down about 11% (slide 9).  In general, increases in  Chinese-origin invention patents applications in China were not offset by decreases in utility model and design patents, with an overall decrease of 8 percent for Chinese versus a 2% overall increase for foreigners.

In terms of patent grants, amongst foreign countries, the United States showed an increase of 12% from the same period last year, while Japan and Germany (number 1 and 3, respectively amongst foreign filers), both showed declines of about 4.5%, as reflected in the following chart:

foreignpatentrates

In this chart, the orange and blue bars represent 2014 and 2013 respectively.  Japan, the USA , Germany, Korea and France are the first countries listed to the far left on the x axis.    The y axis reveals the number of granted invention patents in 2014.  The chart shows that patent grants were down for all three top foreign applicants for the first half of 2014 (by the percentages at the top of this graph). However, this could be due to drops in applications from several years prior.

The problem of low maintenance rates for Chinese-source patent applications also remains acute.  As I have previously blogged, China already shows lower patent maintenance rates than other IP-5 jurisdictions.  This report makes it clear that Chinese filers appear to be the predominant parties in China who prematurely curtail patent protection (p. 15).

patentmaintenance

The green line represents domestic patent filers; the orange line is foreign patent filers.  The x axis shows the year of the patent, through its 20th year, while the y axis shows percentage of patents filed.  The close-up image in the upper right corner is of SIPO’s own preparation.

The report also identifies Beijing as the city with the highest density of patents per capita (nearly 5,000 per million people).  Shanghai and Tianjin follow.  This further underscores that innovation is an urban phenomenon (page 17).  Guangdong also remained the main filer of PCT applications with nearly 6,000 applications — outpacing second place Beijing with about four times the number of applications (p. 25).

Some of the more dramatic changes are in utility model patents and design patents.  UMP applications from China dropped by 7.5% and design applications dropped by 28%.  The most dramatic drops were in non-service applications for UMP’s and in service inventions for designs (24.5% and 34.9% respectively).  However, foreign applications for UMP’s and designs continue to grow from a modest base (p. 29).   Non-service inventions still play a large role in China’s domestic utility model and design patent application portfolios (about 26.4% and 50.7% respectively).

 

In summary, the data shows continuing dramatic changes in China’s patent system, including shifting trends amongst domestic and foreign filers.  My guess is that the report shows the impact of an increased focus on invention patents by the government, and a decline in subsidies for utility model and design patents in key patenting regions.  The increase in service inventions for UMP’s is significant as it may show a shift to patenting in UMP’s for enterprises that actually practice the invention.   The rapid increase in regions like Anhui may be due to active government support in those regions.  The drops in patent filings for foreigners are surprising considering China’s continuing economic growth.  The report also underscores a predictable rise in China’s cities as centers of patenting activity.  Although individual PCT filers are not identified, the growth in PCT filings is probably to continued growth of companies like Huawei and ZTE from Guangdong.

December 11 in Beijing – International Program on Utility Model Patents

On December 11, SIPO, USPTO and other patent offices (Japan, EPO, Germany and Korea)  as well as companies and their counsel will be participating in an exciting international utility model program at the Changfugong Hotel in Beijing.  The free-of-charge program will cover both the protection and enforcement of UMP’s.  China’s UMP system has been the subject of some controversy due, in part, to its exponential growth, the vast predominance of Chinese ownership of UMP’s,  and the large damages that have sometimes been awarded in favor of Chinese patentees. This program will help shed light on the use (and abuse) of UMP’s, and compare China’s systems with those in other countries.

The End of Year Hook in Administrative Patent Enforcement?

Along with Prof. Zhen Lei of Penn State, I have previously blogged about the late autumn surge in patent filings in China, in 2012, as well as in prior years.  This autumnal hook likely arises in response to subsidies, quotas or other support that must be exhausted before year end.

During a recent visit to China, I had an opportunity to talk about similar trends in patent administrative enforcement.   For the past two years, there appears to be a year-end uptake in patent enforcement:

  Infringement Disputes Other Disputes Patent Passing-off Total
2004 1414 66 1689 3169
2005 1360 132 2409 3901
2006 1227 43 966 2236
2007 986 27 713 1726
2008 986 27 713 1726
2009 937 26 578 1541
2010 1077 18 728 1823
2011 1286 27 1704 3017
2012 2225 268 6512 9005
2013 (mid-year) 1074 129 2633 3836

Here is what it looks like in graph form, with data ending at September 2013, on an annualized basis the totals would be 19,118:

Image

Why has there been such a sudden uptake in year-end administrative enforcement?  One explanation is an end of year rush to accept or resolve cases to show increased efficiency and impact.  On the converse side, the data also shows a significant drop in activity around holiday seasons, especially spring festival in January/February.    These factors may apply across the board to many forms of Chinese government activity.

Looking to policy factors, on June 28, 2011, SIPO announced a special campaign involving patent administrative patent enforcement.   However, the campaign did not immediately result in a significant uptake in administrative actions.

What may be more significant is the  August 2012 publication by SIPO of proposed patent law amendments, which provide for an expansion for administrative enforcement and greater involvement by SIPO with IPR as an instrument for “market order”.  These new policies may have precipitated a major uptake in administrative patent enforcement actions, on the assumption that “if you enforce it, they will legislate it”.  In fact, October 2012 was one period of high rapid increase – with enforcement actions increasing 112% from September 2012, followed by a drop in November 2012.

The rapid increase in patent “passing off” (counterfeit patent) cases similarly may also be timed with the patent law amendments.  The amendments contemplate an increased role for SIPO in policing “market order”. Since such cases may be initiated by self -initiated by parties other than the infringer, they may also be more responsive to policy changes by SIPO.  Local governments, such as Guangzhou, may also offer rewards for reporting these activities.  Moreover, the change in the mix of administrative enforcement actions is striking.  From 2006 to 2011 infringement cases dominated. Now patent passing off cases are approximately twice infringement cases.

There may be other factors contributing to this rapid increase, such as enhanced authority of local enforcement agencies.  In addition newly empowered agencies may now be engaged in rent-seeking behavior, such as by seeking revenue from filing fees. Indeed, Premier Li Keqiang identified excessive fee taking as a potential issue in IP administrative enforcement (http://www.gov.cn/ldhd/2013-11/20/content_2531230.htm).

One comparison that does not appear highly relevant is with overseas trends.  An influential article by Zhao Meisheng of SIPO Management Division Enforcement Administration Department  “An Analysis on the Trend and Reasons That US Government Agencies Strengthen Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement” ( 试析美国政府机构加强知识产权执法的态势与原因 – 赵梅生 (国家知识产权局管理司执法管理处)电子知识产权 (Electronics Intellectual Property) (2013, 4)  suggested that administrative patent enforcement is on the increase globally, including the United States.   Comparing “civil” or “administrative” actions in one country to another is often an “apples to oranges” type comparison, nonetheless, “Section 337” actions in the United States, which involve US administrative procedures, are only a very small fraction of Chinese patent administrative enforcement actions, and have been relatively constant over the past several years.
chart3

The growth in administrative litigation does not seem to be linked either with Chinese domestic IP litigation, which has shown steady growth over the past several years.
chart5

(The preceding was adapted from a presentation I gave at the recent Asia Pacific IP Forum sponsored by Renmin University in Suzhou.  The opinions in this blog are my own).

China IP Diplomatic Comings and Goings

It has been about one year since I last reported on the foreign IP diplomatic community in China – those individuals who are posted by their respective patent, trademark or copyright offices to China.   This year, I would like once again to introduce some of the changes in that specialized community in China. Continue reading