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Authors

Mark Liang

Abstract

In an effort to improve its economic and technological prowess, China in recent years has promulgated measures that encourage patenting activity. These measures have had their intended effect. Over a million patent applications were filed at China’s State Intellectual Property Office ("SIPO") in 2010, making it the busiest patent office in the world—by comparison, a mere 600,000 were filed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, placing it a distant second. The disparity and trend is expected to grow in the coming years. But looking behind the headline numbers raises doubts about the quality of China’s patents and the degree to which the surge reflects true innovation. For example, the vast majority of Chinese patents do not relate to actual inventions, but instead to designs and minor improvements. The SIPO also suffers from problems of understaffing and its average pendency period for the patent review process is suspiciously brief. Surveys, anecdotal evidence, and studies also present reasons to doubt the quality of Chinese patents. To improve patent quality, China should reform SIPO procedures and replace short-term rewards for applying for patents with incentives that reward valuable patents. China should more generally reorient its "innovation agenda" away from intellectual property procurement.

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