Chinese companies file record number of patents as they ready for Europe

By Cecily Liu in London | | Updated: 2017-03-07 23:34

Chinese companies are filing a record number of patents in Europe in preparation for their international expansion, according to figures released by the European Patent Office on Tuesday.

It said Chinese companies filed 7,150 patents with the EPO in 2016, a year-on-year increase of 24.8 percent. It was the fastest growth rate among the top 10 countries on the EPO's patent-filing league table.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei filed a notable 2,390 patents, which was the second-largest filing by a company globally, after Philips with 2,568 patents.

Other Chinese companies that filed a large number of patents included ZTE, Alibaba, Xiaomi, BYD and Haier, all of which are rapidly expanding into Europe.

Benoit Battistelli, president of the EPO, said the increase in patent filings by Chinese companies reflects both their increasing expansion into Europe and the fact that China is becoming a globally innovative knowledge-based country.

"We are also witnessing a positive progress of diversification," he said. "In the past, most Chinese companies' patent filings were concentrated in the ICT sector, but now there are increasingly patents filed in engines, turbines, sports, automotive, and biotechnology sectors."

Patents granted by the EPO do not automatically become legally valid in European Union member countries. Instead, the patent owner needs to seek each individual country's patent authorities, to validate the patent in their respective jurisdictions. In some countries, the patent owner has to file a translation of the particular patent into an official language of that country.

ZengYeqin, a lecturer in finance at the Henley Business School, said the latest statistics show Chinese companies are increasingly aware of intellectual patent laws and are more respectful to the protection of intellectual property rights.

"China has gradually turned from a technology import country to a technology export country. More and more Chinese companies have got to know how to use patent laws to protect themselves during their operations in Europe,"Zeng said.

Jean-Franck Badalian, general manager of white goods at Haier Europe, said that, because Europe is a hub for innovators from around the globe, Haier will "continue investing in new research and development opportunities to boost innovation in the region".

"By protecting our intellectual property, we can continue focusing on developing superior products for our European customers," Badalian said.

China's 2016 patent filing numbers put the country in sixth place among countries filing patents with the EPO.

The United States tops the list with 40,076 patent filings, although its 2016 filings decreased by 5.9 percent compared to 2015. Overall, the European Patent Office received almost 160,000 European patent applications in 2016.

Battistelli said one challenge for Chinese companies is to further familiarize themselves with the details of the European patent filing system, but the challenge is a minor one because both the European and Chinese systems are generally similar.

The EPO and the China Intellectual Property Office have collaborated for more than 30 years on helping companies file patents in each other's markets, and the entities meet two or three times a year to push forward the cooperation, Battistelli said.

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