Foreign companies file record number of patent applications in China

  • Beijing says 9.1 per cent rise in applications for 2018 shows improving climate for investors
  • Figures released as US continues push for improved intellectual property protections in ongoing trade talks
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 6:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2019, 12:36pm

Foreign companies filed a record number of patent applicants in China last year, which the government said reflected an improving business environment for overseas investment.

A total of 148,000 patent applications were filed by foreign companies in 2018, according to figures from the National Intellectual Property Administration released on Thursday. This was 9.1 per cent higher than the previous year’s total.

Foreign companies also lodged 244,000 trademark applications last year, about 16.5 per cent more than in the previous year.

In addition, intellectual property royalties, the fee paid for using IP rights, reached US$35 billion.

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“Usually the number of patent applications filed by foreigners is widely seen as an indicator or barometer of business environment for foreign investment,” Bi Nan, the administration’s director for planning and development, told a press conference in Beijing.

“The numbers mean that China’s business environment is improving, and we are expecting growth to continue in the medium and long term,” he said.

The latest figures by the administration were published hours after trade negotiators from China and the US wrapped up their three-day talks in Beijing as part of efforts to strike a deal to end an all-out trade war.

Intellectual property protection along with forced technology transfers was one of the main “needed structural changes” that the US has been pushing for in the talks.

Beijing has repeatedly said that it had made great efforts on protecting intellectual property since it joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001.

Last month, Beijing announced that a draft of a revised intellectual property law, which includes stiffer punishments for infringements of IP, had passed its first review by the country’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, and was open for public comment until February 3.

Poor protection for intellectual property rights has long been a major concern for foreign investors in China, and the Trump administration has accused China of infringing US firms’ intellectual property rights through theft and forced technology transfers, an allegation Beijing has denied.

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China has spent billions of dollars over the past year in funding local companies to obtain intellectual property in China and overseas as part of a long-term effort to upgrade the country’s manufacturing capability with cutting-edge technology.

Last year, Chinese inventors filed more than 1.5 million applications on the mainland and 432,000 patents have been granted, the administration said.

Huawei Technologies, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment vendor, was granted over 3,300 patents last year, more than any other Chinese company.

Inventors working for Chinese companies were granted a record 12,589 US patents in 2018, up 12 per cent from the previous year, according to the US Patent and Trademark Office.