18 November 2014
It comes as a surprise to some that the relationship between the EPO and the Patent Office of China (SIPO) started decades ago. Ever since Deng Xiaoping began to open up China and its economy at the end of the 1970s, numerous initiatives have been taken by the Chinese authorities. One of them was to explore the different existing intellectual property systems in the world. A mission of Chinese experts was welcomed by the EPO to Munich as early as 1979, only a few months after our Office started its operations. One year later China became a member of WIPO. From this period the contacts intensified at political and working levels and our joint cooperation activities started officially from 1985 onwards. These developed in several important aspects (legal framework, training of examiners, IT tools). In 2007 SIPO and EPO signed a strategic partnership, reinforced in 2011.
The number of filings of patent applications increased steadily during the first two decades but stayed at a modest level. The accession of China to the WTO in 2000 and its increasing involvement in the globalised economy in the following years has radically changed this situation. The SIPO is a member of the IP5 created in 2006 and receives almost one million patent applications annually, thereby ranking first in the world by volume. At the EPO too a strong increase in filings from China was been seen over the last five years: from 8,280 in 2009 to 22,292 in 2013 – which represented a share of 8.8% of our total filings in 2013. Two Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE, are now among the top 50 filers to the EPO and are dominant players in the digital communication and computing fields.
The raw numbers illustrate the dynamism of China’s ecomomy as well as the growth of innovative Chinese enterprises and their adoption of the patent system. But there is more to China than just quantity. The SIPO is committed to improving quality. Nearly 4000 new patent examiners should be hired in the coming two years, bringing their workforce to 12000. As their vital technical tool the SIPO examiners have long used the EPO’s EPOQUE search engine. The SIPO took the very important decision in 2013 to adopt the most refined classification system, the CPC. Indeed, combined with Patent Translate, it will greatly facilitate access to Chinese prior art for other patent offices and users in general.
When I met with SIPO Commissioner Shen in Brussels last week, on the occasion of our 8th bilateral Heads level meeting, I was particularly pleased to discuss with him the planned celebrations for the 30th year of our co-operation. The celebrations will comprise two parallel public events, one in Europe and one in China, in the autumn of 2015, organised in close cooperation with representatives of industry and IP practitioners from both regions. You will be most welcome to join us.