China plans a massive increase in innovation patents while last month in
Europe, the European Commission agreed to push ahead with a decade-long goal to
develop a common patent filing system, despite the objections of Italy and
The New York Times said in
an article on New Year's Day that China’s goal for annual patent filings by 2015
is two million. That number includes
“utility-model patents,” which typically cover
items like engineering features in a product and
are less ambitious than “invention patents.” In
the American system, there are no utility
In 2009, about 300,000 applications for
utility patents were filed in China, roughly
equal to its total of invention patents, which
have been growing slightly faster than utility
filings in recent years. But even if just half
of China’s total filings in 2015 are for
invention patents, the national plan calls for a
huge leap, to one million, by 2015. By contrast,
patent filings in the United States totaled
slightly more than 480,000 in the 12 months
ended in September 2010, according to the patent
China also plans to double its number of
patent examiners, to 9,000, by 2015. (The United
States has 6,300 examiners.)
Vivek Wadhwa who is a visiting scholar at University of California-Berkeley,
senior research associate at Harvard Law School, and director of research at the
Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University,
an article in Bloomberg's Business Week magazine on Monday this week, that many in the tech industry, himself included, consider most US
patents commercially frivolous and irrelevant. But as The
has reported, this problem is far worse in China, where
patent examiners are paid more if they approve more patents.
They routinely approve even the most dubious filings. And
Chinese academics, companies, and individuals have strong
incentives to patent worthless ideas: With more patent filings,
professors gain tenure, workers and students gain residence
permits to live in a desirable cities, corporate income tax is
reduced from 25% to 15%, and companies win lucrative government
contracts. The reward doesn't come from innovation, but from the
act of filing a patent application.
Wadhwa warns that patents in Silicon Valley are used to stop
other companies from innovating. Startup entrepreneurs live in
constant fear that behemoths or patent trolls will bankrupt them
with frivolous lawsuits. In relation to China, he says that
because of language problems and the sheer volume of patent
filings, there is no easy way for foreign companies entering the
Chinese market to determine whether patents that cover their
technologies already exist.
He concludes: "China may do
with intellectual property what it did with capitalism: adapt
our system and beat us at our own game."
In mid-December, the European Commission pushed ahead with the development of
a common European patent system, despite opposition from Spain and Italy
because they wished to have their own languages used.
Twelve countries have indicated their intention to use the ‘enhanced
co-operation' process to create a patent among themselves after ministers failed
to reach unanimity on an EU-wide system.
published its plan
(pdf) for how to move ahead and the proposal to authorise the procedure now needs to be approved by the European Parliament and
the Council of Ministers by qualified majority.
Member states that do not sign up to the unified patent system at this stage
will be able to join at a later date, while companies registered in countries
that are not taking part will still be able to file patents under the new
The patent will be granted in English, French or German, but applicants would be
able to choose to file applications in any other official EU language. It would
then be translated into one of the three languages.
The 12 countries that have requested the move are Denmark, Estonia, Finland,
France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia,
Sweden and the UK.
"Filing for patents in Europe is a costly and complicated affair, making it
available only to those companies who have deep pockets," said Michel
Barnier, the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services. "The
unacceptable reality is that on average innovators validate and protect their
patents in only 5 of the EU's 27 Member States because of the high costs.
European inventors can afford no further delay. This is why the Commission
proposes that some Member States should be able to move ahead for a unitary
patent protection, and I hope that over time all Member States will join this
new system. In any case, companies will not be discriminated against and will be
able to apply for an EU Patent under equal conditions, no matter what their
countries of origin."
Existing situation for patents in Europe
The Commission says the current European Patent system, particularly in terms of
translation requirements, is very expensive and complex. The European Patent
Office (EPO) - - a body of the intergovernmental European Patent Organisation
comprised of 38 countries (EU 27 + 11 other European countries) -- examines
patent applications and is responsible for granting a European Patent if the
relevant conditions are met. But for the granted patent to be effective in a
member state, the inventor then has to request that it be validated at
national level in every individual country where patent protection is sought.
This process involves considerable additional translation and administrative
A European Patent validated in only 13 member states can cost up to €18,000,
of which nearly €10,000 arises from translation fees alone. This has created
a situation in which the cost of a European Patent is ten times greater than a
US patent, which costs on average €1,850. Because of the costs involved, most
inventors only patent their invention in a very limited number of member states.
On December 19th, five days after the Commission decision, the Minister for
Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Batt O’Keeffe TD, announced that he was "pressing for a European Union patent that could save Irish
firms €6m annually and protect their products across all member states."
The Government has written to the European
Commission following a Cabinet decision urging it to adopt a single EU-wide
patent for all countries in its jurisdiction.
He noted that the European Commission had received a formal request from 12
member states for enhanced cooperation on a single EU patent.
"The Government here has now written a letter of support for that move,"
he said but did not clarify why Ireland was not among those countries.
Figures from the European Patent Office showed that 145 patents were granted to
Irish applicants in 2009 - - up 19% on the year before.