2016 Patent Statistics Annual Report by SIPO

By: Han-Mei Tso and Jude Yi

In September 2017, the State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO) published the 2016 Patent Statistics Annual Report. This annual publication includes comprehensive statistical data accumulated through the daily work of the SIPO, reflecting various aspects of China’s current patent landscape in the areas of patent procurement, maintenance, and administrative enforcement. The Report, which contains more than 200 pages, consists of seven parts showing respective statistics for patent applications filed, patents granted, patents in force, patent applications via agents, granted patents according to IPC, outbound applications and grants (only the statistics for 2015), and patent administrative enforcement. This article points out several outstanding and interesting aspects of the statistical data which may draw the attention of the global patent community.

SIPO’s Received Patent Applications Snowballing Gigantic

In spite of the relatively young age of the SIPO (which started operation in the early 1980s), the accumulated number of patent applications that the SIPO has received from April 1985 to December 2016 comes to 21.7 million, of which 35.4% are applications for invention patents, 37.3% for utility models, and 27.3% for design patents. Interestingly, only 8.8% of those patent applications were filed by foreign applicants. The Report also presents the yearly numbers of patent applications of both domestic and foreign origin from 2012 to 2016, as represented by the graph below. It is fair to say that the number of patent applications filed by domestic applicants has grown at a considerable rate over the past few years, while the number of inbound applications seems to have plateaued since 2015. In view of the combining factors of the growing overall volume and the expanding domestic-origin percentage, it reflects that expedited technological innovation is happening in China.

An analysis of the Distribution of Annual Foreign Applications Received for Patents shows that the top four countries of 2016 were Japan, the United States, South Korea, and Germany (although Germany overruns South Korea in the accumulated number of patent applications). Being geographically close to China (a promising market of some 1.4 billion people), Japan will probably still continue to lead the race for the near future.

Grants and In-Force

Of the 21.7 million accumulated patent applications over the past three decades (as noted above), 12.2 million patents have been granted, 9.1% of which were granted to foreign applicants. In general, the total yearly grants have grown steadily from 1.2 million patents in 2012 to 1.7 million patents in 2016, driven by the ever-rising number of applications filed. Similar to the pattern exhibited by the foreign-origin applications, as shown in the graph above, grants to foreign applicants have come to a plateau of 0.12 million. However, a strikingly-high average ratio of grant/application for foreign applicants of the  years 2015 and 2016 was about 77%, higher than the rate of 54% for domestic applicants. Without question, Japan tops the list of foreign grants issued in 2016, having approximately 4,000 patents granted. The U.S. follows immediately behind with 3,000 grants.

The number of the patents that were in force in December 2016 totaled approximately 6.3 million. Among these patents in force, 12% belonged to foreign patent owners.

Administrative Enforcement

As an alternative to the time-consuming and expensive judicial relief, patent administrative enforcement may be a preferred strategy in certain circumstances. This type of patent enforcement can be used in patent infringement disputes, patent passing-offs, as well as in disputes over the right to apply for a patent, patent ownership, patent licensing etc. The administrative enforcement is requested from and carried out by Administrative Authorities for Patent Affairs on different governmental levels under the guidance of the SIPO.

In 2016, the Administrative Authorities for Patent Affairs across the country instituted 20,351 cases and closed another 19,682 cases related to patent infringement disputes. Although the vast majority of the petitioners were domestic patentees, it is not completely unusual to see approximately 800 cases filed by foreign patent holders. Nearly two thirds of the closed patent infringement cases reached a settlement by the parties.

In summation, the 2016 Patent Statistics Annual Report demonstrates China’s unquenched impetus in its engine of patent application. The world’s second largest economic body will no doubt remain a hot-spot for patent applicants around the globe.