“The Chinese have the people, money, plan, market size, and determination to change the global IP system fundamentally in the next 5 years. Those who do not agree are living in the past!”
Currently, the massive volume of filings at the Chinese Patent Office (CNIPA) exceeds the filings of the next four most active patent offices combined. It portends a rapid shift to Chinese language prior art being the repository of technical teachings around leading edge technologies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This will happen for several reasons and much more rapidly than many believe possible. But first, a little technological history.
Chinese artisans invented papermaking during the Han dynasty, as early as 179 BCE. This highly important technical advance was essential for the civil service to document, direct, and transfer written knowledge across a large geographical region with a growing population. Paper made it possible for the government to run the country and for the accumulation of vast amounts of information that could be disseminated far and wide at relatively low cost and easy accessibility.
This paper technology was radically different from the papyrus used by the Egyptians or animal skins used in other areas around the world. Through various trade routes and conflicts, the innovation slowly diffused to Islamic regions in the Middle East and North Africa and then to Europe which aided in facilitating the Renaissance. Without paper, the modern world would not be the same today.
The Chinese are making a similar impact on prior art that is rapidly changing the global IP landscape. As discussed in prior editions of FOCUS, the Chinese government is encouraging a rapid increase in patent applications at the Chinese Patent Office using economic and other incentives (particularly for China-based inventors). Already the filings at the Chinese Patent Office on a yearly basis exceed the cumulative filings at the USPTO, EPO, JPO, and KIPO – a staggering statistic. The volume of applications filed at the CNIPA increased ten-fold in just 13 years. In the same period of time, filings at the USPTO increased by just 1.7X.
Some argue that the quality of these filings is low and that many cover what is already in the global public domain. Even assuming this is correct (which one should not blindly accept), these Chinese filings constitute a massive trove of global prior art, which by its sheer numbers will dominate the global prior art library in a few years.
This massive prior art collection is being built at the same time the Chinese are pushing rapidly forward with their Belt and Road initiative, linking China with Europe through Asia and Africa. Coupled with massive Chinese investment in infrastructure and loans to the many countries along these trade routes, the Chinese prior art collection will come to dominate decisions on patentability in these countries as a natural outgrowth of this dissemination of technological information. While this dissemination will be greatly facilitated by electronic communications instead of physical documents, the use of Chinese as the language of disclosure will further erode the importance of the prior art libraries found in the US, EU, UK, Japan, and South Korea.
China has adopted an expansive definition of what constitutes patent-eligible subject matter, which may even be broader than the definitions in the EPO, JPO, and KIPO. Of course, with the current statutory subject matter morass that exists in the US, this puts China at the forefront of encouraging patent filings on leading edge technologies. Many of these technologies are those listed in the country’s current 5-year plan. Moreover, there are credible reports that the Chinese government applies a heavy hand on non-Chinese companies forcing disclosure of the trade secrets used when operating in China. Thus, by both encouraging and coercing patent filings at the expense of trade secrets, the Chinese create an even greater incentive to expand their prior art library so that it becomes the most extensive prior art collection in the world.
Another significant development is the language barrier to non-Chinese speakers. The Chinese prior art library forces mastery of the language used to gain access to these teachings. While the USPTO, EPO, JPO, and KIPO are trying to deal with this information barrier using machine translation and human translators, the explosion of prior art makes it ever more difficult. All innovators and their IP professionals need to confront this language barrier now, or be left in the dark about the global prior art landscape.
The Chinese have the people, money, plan, market size, and determination to change the global IP system fundamentally in the next 5 years. Those who do not agree are living in the past! History teaches that technological change occurs in the locales that encourage learning and provide the resources that allow innovators to build on the disclosed knowledge of those who have come before. This is why the Chinese prior art library is so potent and why it facilitates the Belt and Road initiative among other Chinese global initiatives.
To quote Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” The Chinese prior art library may well be these shoulders in the years to come.