The company that filed the most international patent applications in 2008 was not from Japan or the U.S. It was China's Huawei Technologies, a telecommunications equipment maker based in Shenzhen. Huawei filed 1,737 patent applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty of the World Intellectual Property Organization, nudging Japan's Panasonic Corp. (1,729 applications) into second place. It was the first time for a Chinese company to top the list. Huawei had ranked second after Panasonic in the previous year, but it had trailed by only 44 applications.
China is emerging as a global patent powerhouse, cleaning up its image as "the world's factory" relying on a huge pool of cheap labor or a hub for fake goods without original expertise. China's patent filings have risen dramatically on the back of innovative research and development efforts, putting the country on track to overtake the U.S. and Japan in the worldwide patent race.
According to the WIPO, Chinese companies filed 203,257 patent applications in 2008, up 14-fold from a decade ago. The country now ranks among the top three after Japan (500,000 applications) and the U.S. (390,000). The number of applications filed by China surged 17.7 percent between 2008 and 2009, while the number filed by Western countries fell for the first time in 10 years due to reduced R&D spending amid the global financial crisis.
China's rise is the result of strong government support. Beijing has promoted corporate research and development by building technology clusters nationwide and even granting monetary incentives to help private companies pay expenses for filing patent applications.
In a recent report that looked at growth rates of PCT patent applications over the past five years, Thompson Reuters Scientific predicted that China could surpass Japan next year and the U.S. in 2012 to take the No.1 spot. Chinese patent applications have soared particularly in such strategic future industries as biotechnology and renewable energy. It has already overtaken Japan, the U.S. and European countries in applications involving environmental technologies.
The country's strive for technological primacy is also reflected in its growth in research. According to Japan's National Institute of Science and Technology Policy, China had 104,157 scientific articles published in the world's leading scientific journals in 2008, second only to the U.S.