05 December 2011
The latest yearly bilateral meeting between the Chinese Patent Office (SIPO) and the EPO, held in Chongqing (South West China) last week, was further testimony to the long and fruitful relationship our two offices have now enjoyed for many years. Since 1985, when our bilateral co-operation first started, SIPO has developed legal principles and procedures very similar to our own. This meeting provided further confirmation that SIPO made the right strategic choice in pursuing development through a strong partnership with the EPO. The clear reciprocal benefit is that when European firms operate in China they encounter a patent environment with which they are already familiar.
China’s ambitions in patents are an extension not only of its increasingly prominent role in the global economy but also of its developing national infrastructure. The Three Gorges Dam, for instance, which produces electricity equivalent to the output of 10 nuclear power stations, has given rise to a great deal of technological innovation, reflected not least in the filing of 600 patent applications. SIPO currently receives almost 400 000 patent applications each year, and expects to be getting more than 750 000 in 2015. To cope with this workload, it has launched an impressive capacity-building programme, and plans for example to double the number of patent examiners over the next five years (from 6 000 to 12 000) and to set up new branches outside Beijing.
The EPO is already feeling the impact of China’s strong growth in patenting: in 2010, Chinese companies filed 12 500 European patent applications, 53% more than in 2009 and 5% of our total filings – on a par with France and Korea and more than the UK and the Netherlands. Similarly, Chinese prior art now forms an increasingly large part of the documentation a patent office needs to know about in order to produce comprehensive search reports. The EPO’s priority on this critical issue is to facilitate access to Chinese patent data. A major role here will be played by the machine-translation service which SIPO and the EPO intend to launch next year. We have also agreed an annual co operation programme covering fields like training, data exchange, prioritisation of first actions, and harmonisation of classification schemes.
My objective in international co operation is always to make life easier for users by improving patent quality and simplifying procedures through precisely the kind of practical projects and action which have emerged from this week’s SIPO EPO meeting.