China received more patent applications in 2016 than the combined total applications of the US, Japan, South Korea and the European Patent Office, according to the World Intellectual Property Office’s annual report. Worldwide filings in general surged for the year, increasing by 8.3%, the seventh consecutive annual increase. 

China accounted for an eye-popping 98% of total growth. China’s State Intellectual Property Office received a record total of 1.3 million patents for the year, followed by the US Patent and Trademark Office at 605,571, the Japan Patent Office at 318,381, the South Korean Intellectual Property Office at 208,830 and the European Patent Office at 159,358.


In addition, trademark applications rose by 16.4% to about 7 million, and worldwide industrial design applications grew by 10.4% to close to 1 million; both categories were also driven by growth in China. China’s office had the highest volume of trademark filing activity with a class count of around 3.7 million, followed by the US at 545,587, Japan at 451,320, the EU at 369,970 and India at 313,623.

China’s office received applications for global industrial design filing activity containing 650,344 designs in 2016, or 52% of the world total. The EU followed with 104,522, then South Korea (69,120); Germany (56,188) and Turkey (46,305).

As China becomes the world capital of patent applications, a look at the protections the country offers patent holders is timely. It has been steadily improving its intellectual property (IP) regime over the years, partly due to its trade activity and other international initiatives. Its free trade agreement with Switzerland in 2013, for example, included some important improvements. 

In 2014, China launched multiple circuit courts for IP-related cases, which turned out to be very favourably disposed to foreigners. By 2015, foreign companies were posting a 70% win rate in these cases, although critics maintain the size of the damages are insufficient and enforcement is lax. 

Nonetheless, by 2016 the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Centre was praising China’s IP protection for having made “great progress”.