Quality, not quantity, of patents key to innovation

By Sun Xiaobo Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/27 22:08:40

The Chinese really like to file patents. Last year there were 1.382 million invention patent applications, topping other countries for seven consecutive years. But is China therefore an innovation power like the US?

Not yet.

In China there are three categories of patents: invention, design and utility model. Bloomberg reported Thursday that despite the huge number of filings, most patents are discarded by their fifth year due to escalating maintenance fees.

Over a five-year period, more than 91 percent of Chinese design patents granted in 2013 had been discarded and similarly 61 percent of utility models lapsed by last year, with a disposal rate of 37 percent for invention patents. By sharp contrast, 85.6 percent of US patents were maintained during the same period. In other words, most patents filed in China are worthless.

There has indeed been remarkable progress in innovation in various aspects of China's development, but the patent boom does not show where Chinese technology truly stands. It largely results from robust government subsidies and administrative incentives as well as a lax process of approval, indicating a relentless pursuit of patent quantity rather than quality.

There is a similar situation in other fields such as higher education. China now has the world's largest output of scientific papers and ranks second in paper citations, but the average citations per paper are still below the global mean, suggesting a low quality of papers.

The Bloomberg figures may not be completely accurate, but they do unveil a long-existing problem worthy of intensified attention. China's support for patents has indeed bolstered its advancement in sectors like artificial intelligence, as the Bloomberg report said, but that's not the bigger picture. Excessive emphasis on the volume of patents not only wastes social and human resources, but also dampens global recognition of Chinese patents and eventually hinders China's technological development.

Amid the heightening trade war and dramatically changing international situation, China has to be more technologically self-dependent to promote innovation quality, not just quantity.

In impetuous times, people are more prone to making quick money in all possible ways. This can be a barrier to the innovation-driven development strategy that China is adopting. China must lessen the inappropriately high emphasis on patents, work out more targeted incentives and straighten out the approval process and so boost true innovation.

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