BOFIT Viikkokatsaus / BOFIT Weekly 2017/12

The number of Chinese patent applications in 2016 increased by 45 % y-o-y, totalling 43,170 filings. Patent application filings globally under the international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) amounted to 233,000, an increase of 7 % y-o-y. Almost all of last year's increase in patent application filings reflects the increase in Chinese activity. The US remained the top filer of the applications but its number of applications fell slightly to 56,600. Some 1,530 PCT filings last year came from India (up 8 % from 2015), 1,520 from Finland (down 4 %), and 850 from Russia (down 3 %). Russian patent applications have fallen significantly from their peak in 2013, when nearly 1,200 applications were filed.

Shenzhen-based telecom company ZTE was most active in filing patent applications (4,120 filings), with second place going to its neighbour telecom giant Huawei (3,690). Third place in PCT filings went to San Diego-based Qualcomm (2,470).

In terms of numbers, the explosion of patent activity in China would seem to imply an impressive boom in innovation. However, the quality and relevance of Chinese patent filings are often quite modest relative to those of advanced economies. The OECD reports that the growth in the number of patent applications has largely been driven by state subsidy rules, which favour large state-owned enterprises and high-tech firms. The benefits of Chinese patents are usually rather low, and the share of genuine inventions represents only a miniscule share of patent applications and thus have little impact on productivity in China.

PCT patent applications in leading patent countries

Source: World Intellectual Property Organization.