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International Patent Application and Prior Art Search: China

From the Peer-to-Patent System that spans across the U.S., Australia, and Japan, to Google’s new translation service agreements with Europe, global initiatives are recreating the way crowdsourcing and technology shape and sharpen intellectual property protection.


In 2010, China ranked fourth in the world in total patents filed per year, according to the Patent Cooperation Treat (PCT), an increase from 6th the year before. Increasing patent filings by 52% in the last fiscal year cemented China’s new reputation as a formidable patent giant. As of January 2011, the total number of Chinese patent applications for inventions and utility models surpassed 4.75 million, with Chinese invention patent applications reaching 390,000.


China State Intellectual Property OfficeIn the realm of electronics, PCT applications from China accounted for 1 in 5 global filings, partly thanks to large technology companies such as Huawei and ZTE. Although some argue that this exponential growth must plateau soon, many in China and around the world believe that these trends slow no signs of slowing down.  SIPO Commissioner Tian Lipu commented to CCTV Primetime News on February 12, “By the end of the 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015), invention applications received by State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) every year are expected to double over the current number. More companies will have their own patents and [intellectual property rights].” The SIPO is expected to receive over 750,000 invention patent applications per year according to this plan.


International Patent Applications - Economist 

Due to the country’s increasing prominence and presence, Chinese patent documents have been turning into a foremost source of prior art used by patent examiners around the world, even though the international search authority does not currently consider it as global prior art. The PCT has ruled against it because it does not currently meet PCT Rule 34.1 regarding “minimum documentation”.


China Patent AgentAlthough there is much debate regarding the difficulty of navigating the IP portfolio of one of the largest country’s in the world, Li Yong of China Patent Agent Ltd. remains optimistic. He believes that starting and securing new IP rules in China seems harder than it actually will be: “For a start, China’s IP legislation is mainly in alignment with international practice and fully satisfies the requirements of international treaties, such as the Trade-Related Aspects of IP Rights (TRIPs) Agreement”. He continues, “Just as importantly, the system has been supported at government level, with huge investment in IP education in recent years. The country’s ‘National Patent Development Strategy 2011-2020’, released in November 2010 by the State IP Office of China (SIPO), sets out the nation’s aim for annual patent filings to reach two million by 2015. That’s not too unrealistic a goal. According to SIPO’s latest statistics, 1.22 million applications were filed in 2010.”


Words of Wisdom


This April, Chinese Patent Attorney Esther H. Lim wrote a piece for China IP News regarding “China’s Growing Constellation in the Global IP Sky.” Accessible via Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP’s website, she discussed new measures taken by President Hu Jintao concerning IP management, “In February, President Hu Jintao called for improved social management and innovations to ‘ensure a harmonious and stable society full of vitality,’ stressing the need ‘to safeguard people’s rights and interests, promote social justice and sustain sound social order.’ It still comes as a surprise that China is a hotbed of IP litigation with over 30,000 civil IP cases filed in 2009 alone. The majority of cases relate to copyrights and trademarks, but there are also significant numbers of patent, technology contract, and unfair competition cases.”


While facing these issues, Lim advises all innovators who seek IP rights in China to:

1)      File Early

2)      Focus on Quality

3)      Avoid Infringement

4)      Prevent IP loss


Additionally, the SIPO offers information for patent candidates through its website, answering such questions as “Is there an alternative website where I can search for patents?” and “how can one challenge a granted patent in China?”


Research Resources


Taiwan Intellectual Property OfficeTo improve access to patent information, the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (TIPO) launched a service for online file inspection in March 2011 – the first Chinese online portal to do so. The service, called TIPONet, currently only operates in Chinese, but there are other ways to find this information in different languages as well.  In addition to the official homepage of the Chinese Patent Office (SIPO), there are currently three other main English resources we can recommend for searching for Chinese prior art and patent materials online:


1)  C-Pat Search

A database of Chinese patent information, including Integrated machine translations of full-text Chinese patents, Powerful search function, and Personal archives for further search.


2) Intellectual Property Library – Search CN Translations’s library lets users search in English, Japanese, Chinese and Canadian databases.



An update from Intellogist says that in December 2010, IPEXL transitioned to a paid service. While free accounts are available, searchable patent systems are limited to the U.S., China and Singapore.

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