China’s goal for annual patent filings by 2015 is two million. That number includes “utility-model patents,” which typically cover items like engineering features in a product and are less ambitious than “invention patents.” In the American system, there are no utility patents.
In 2009, about 300,000 applications for utility patents were filed in China, roughly equal to its total of invention patents, which have been growing slightly faster than utility filings in recent years. But even if just half of China’s total filings in 2015 are for invention patents, the national plan calls for a huge leap, to one million, by 2015. By contrast, patent filings in the United States totaled slightly more than 480,000 in the 12 months ended in September, according to the patent office.
China’s patent surge has been evident for years. In October, Thomson Reuters issued a research report, forecasting that China would surpass the United States in patent filings in 2011. “It’s happening even faster than we expected,” said Bob Stembridge, an intellectual-property analyst at Thomson Reuters.
Yet if the trend is not surprising, the ambition of the Chinese plan is striking. The document indicates, for example, that China intends to roughly double its number of patent examiners, to 9,000, by 2015. (The United States has 6,300 examiners.)
China also wants to double the number of patents that its residents and companies file in other countries. Recent Chinese filings in the United States, Mr. Kappos says, are mainly in fields that China has declared priorities for industrial strategy, including solar and wind energy, information technology and telecommunications, and battery and manufacturing technologies for automobiles.
To lift its patent count, China has introduced an array of incentives. They include cash bonuses, better housing for individual filers and tax breaks for companies that are prolific patent producers.
“The leadership in China knows that innovation is its future, the key to higher living standards and long-term growth,” Mr. Kappos says. “They are doing everything they can to drive innovation, and China’s patent strategy is part of that broader plan.”