According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), China is the first country to file 1 million patent applications in a single year. Many of the filings were for innovations in telecoms, computing, semiconductors and med-tech.

Most of the 1,101,864 applications at the State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China had the goal to get domestic protection in patents, trademarks, and industrial design.

WIPO director-general Francis Gurry said that there is a slow and gradual increase in China’s applications for international patents: “They are in the process of making innovation a central point of their economic strategy.” In 2015 the amount of patents filed abroad were 42,154. Huawei, and ZTE, two smartphone and telecoms equipment makers, led the way with patents filed abroad. But the number of patents filed abroad is still quite small. By comparison, US-based inventors sought more than five times that figure (237,961), which is a 6 percent increase compared to 2014. And Japan, Germany, and France also outnumbered the Asian giant.

Gurry furthermore said:

“Once again we see an increasing dominance by Asia as the origin of filing activity for intellectual property. If you look at the figures, you see 62 percent of global filing activity for patents is located in Asia, 55 percent of global activity in trademarks is located in Asia, and 68 percent of design applications are in Asia.”

“While China continues to drive global increases, IP usage grew in most countries in 2015, reflecting its increasing importance in a globalized knowledge economy.”

In the entire world, there were about 2.9 million patent applications in 2015, which is a 7.8 percent increase over 2014. About 66 percent of the patents are in the end approved.

After China, the United States was the runner-up in the ranking last year. The US filed 526,296 patent applications, followed by Japan at 454,285 and South Korea with 238,015. In this ranking, the US is clearly the biggest filer of applications externally (abroad). This suggests that the US has crucial stakes in intellectual property and trade. The top five regional offices accounted for 82.5% of total applications.

A partial reason for the explosive growth in patent applications in China is because the central government in Beijing had urged companies to boost the number of such applications. This target was set five years ago; their initial goal was to receive two million filings by 2015, so they are still 1 million short. The government supported the initiative with various subsidies and other incentives.

Although the numbers did indeed increase, this does not necessarily mean that the country is actually more inventive because most patent filings are done locally. One invention is often cut into several patents in China, to reach quota. Whereas in Europe much more broader covering patents are commonly filed. The concept of ‘novelty’ also have different interpretations. In many patent jurisdictions, it is not enough to just create a new look for a manufactured object to qualify it for a patent, while in China a new design – based on an object’s shape, pattern and/or color can be sufficient.