The Chinese National Patent Development Strategy unveiled in 2010 boosted domestic and international patent applications from local innovators. Despite all the concerns about the incrementality of the inventions, China has been the leader with respect to the volume of filings over the last few years. For example, according to the WIPO report, the country accounted for 43% of the world’s total patent applications in 2019.
Unsurprisingly, the number of filings prosecuted by the local IP law firms has been on the surge. Between 2017 and 2018, there was a considerable 32% growth in the applications handled by Chinese representatives. The average increase in the five years time-frame was about 15%.
Between 2016 and 2020, Patent-Pilot identified 992 Chinese representatives. Together they prosecuted 9,973,170 filings. To compare, within the same time frame, 861 Japanese agents handled 1,424,483 applications and 857 American agents – 2,141,960.
Overall, the Top 15 IP law firms preprosecuted 17% of all the filings, implying a somewhat high to moderate concentration of work at the hands of the most prominent agents, especially considering the total number of active representatives in the country. Over the last five years, UNITALEN ATTORNEYS AT LAW and BEIJING KEYI INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY FIRM stably were among the largest 3 IP law firms.
Given the Chinese government’s approach to the patent system and the subsequent high demand for prosecution services, some rapidly growing IP law firms were competing for the position in the list of the most prominent representatives. For example, BEIJING SHENGFANZHIRONG INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AGENCY CO. LTD. experienced unprecedented 3,448% average growth over the five years and jumped from 1,205th to 2nd position in 2020. CHOFN IP (37%) and JIAQUAN IP LAW FIRM (33%) were the other fast-growing agents in the Top 15.
Domestic clients were the primary source of work for IP law firms. In general, 92% (9,231,451) of filings prosecuted by Chinese agents originated from local applicants. The Top 15 were the most prominent representatives of the domestic inventors and took over 34% of relevant filings. The share is rather high given that, in total, 990 representatives from the country did the work for Chinese clients.
BEIJING HUA ZHONG LONG TENG PATENT AGENCY (GENERAL PARTNERSHIP), BEIJING SHENGFANZHIRONG INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AGENCY CO. LTD., and BEIJING KEYI INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY FIRM handled about 99% of applications for domestic versus foreign applicants between 2016 and 2020. For all the other top agents, the share exceeded 90%.
The two IP law firms from the top 15, namely, SANYOU IP GROUP and CHINA PATENT AGENT (H.K.) LTD. were not among the largest representatives of domestic clients. This is because they mostly focused on international applicants and the respective shares of foreign filings accounted for 49% and 87% respectively.
In contrast to domestic filings, the share of foreign applications accounted only for 8% (762,984), and the largest 15 Chinese firms worked on almost 22% (170,596) of those applications.
CHINA PATENT AGENT (H.K.) LTD., UNITALEN ATTORNEYS AT LAW, and SANYOU IP GROUP prosecuted 85% (145,316) of the foreign filings handled by the leading 15 representatives and 19% of the total number. Bosh, General Electrics, Siemens, LG, Mitsubishi were among their main international clients.
The share of PCT-based filings was diverse, ranging from 91% to less than 1%. In general, for the upper 15 IP law firms, the percentage of applications filed at PCT was under 15%. The few exceptions were, unsurprisingly, CHINA PATENT AGENT (H.K.) LTD.– 62% and SANYOU IP GROUP – 32%. Given the top agents’ focus on local applicants, it is possible to assume that the share of Chinese inventors targeted towards the international market was relatively low. It is in line with the widely accepted assumption that the national IP strategy triggered the increase in the number of incremental innovations and design tweaks that might not cross the borders to attain international protection.
Overall, Chinese IP law firms prosecuted an unprecedented number of patent filings. Due to the government’s initiatives to accelerate the innovation process by effectively using IP, more than 90% of those filings were of local origins. Unsurprisingly, the IP law firms’ focus on domestic clients was prominent. The Top 15 Chinese representatives prosecuted 34% of the domestic applications, which is substantial given that 992 agents were active in the country. At the same time, only a minor share of those patent filings was PCT-based, making it possible to assume that the share of Chinese inventors targeted towards the international market was relatively low. Despite this fact, China made it to the first position concerning the number of PCT-based applications. It implies that the subsidy-based and quantity-oriented IP-related policy was somewhat successful in turning China into an IP powerhouse.