Patent Practice in China Enters into an Electronic Era

"Innovate for a Green Future”

Following the announcement of WIPO’s theme, "Innovate for a Green Future” for World Intellectual Property Day 2020, China’s IP Office (CNIPA, formerly named SIPO) recently announced that paper patent filing receipts (from February 17th) and paper patent certificates (from March 3rd) will no longer be provided to patent applicants and patent owners. Digital information exchange will become the dominant way of communication in China’s IP industry as it enters into an electronic era.

Carbon Emission Reduction

The CNIPA received the highest number of patent applications in 2018 with 1.54 million applications received. This translates to 46.4% of the total number of patent applications received worldwide (WIPO Intellectual Property Indicators 2019), along with a 28% patent granting rate. CNIPA began to promote electronic patent filing in 2004, while the current e-filing system launched in 2010. Due to the increasing number of patent filings, CNIPA’s new approach will not only save a high volume of paper and printing materials, but also save human resources related to delivery activities.

According to CLIPMATE™, a software developed by Rouse which calculates carbon emissions incurred in registering IPRs, it takes approximately 60 kilograms of CO2 to register a patent electronically versus 250 kilograms of CO2 to register a patent using paper and physical transportation. It is evident that this new practice will reduce three times the amount of carbon emission for each patent filed, which positively reinforces the State’s policy of “green development” in the IP industry.

Time Efficiency

Under the current practice, CNIPA issues patent certificates and delivers hard copies to patent agencies who then pass them on to patent owners. The process usually takes several weeks, from the issuance of the patent certificate to the patent owners receiving the hard copy. To note, the process may also be prolonged for those located outside of China. Official documents issued in an electronic format, in comparison to the traditional format, will ultimately facilitate the speed of information exchanged and will no doubt expedite communication between the CNIPA, patent agencies and patent owners during the process of patent prosecution from filing to grant.

Cost Efficiency

In addition to the above, this new practice will bring more benefits to practitioners and patent owners in the industry. CNIPA currently only issues one hard copy patent certificate, in which some owners may request agencies to make a notarized copy to avoid the risk of the hard copy being lost in the delivery process. In order to save shipping costs, some multiple patent owners may also request their China agent to periodically courier original certificates in bulk. The digitalization of patent certificates will solve these nuances and make it possible for patent owners to not only receive the documents immediately, but also reserve the right to make as many copies as needed. The cost spent on document delivery and storage will also be reduced greatly, especially for corporations and agencies dealing with a high volume of patent filings on an annual basis. Furthermore, due to public accessibility of the digital patent database, we can expect the enforcement process of proving a patent right’s existence to be simplified in court hearings. This will need to be further observed in practice. 

Finally, bearing in mind a transition period, CNIPA will still offer the option to patent owners to request hard copy patent certificates.

Conclusion

China’s central government has made “green development” a foundation to the economic growth policy by implementing it across all industries and initiatives, including the realm of IP. We expect more reforms to be made in legislation and practice, whether it be from IP right establishment to enforcement, or to the overall contribution of building a green IP community across the world.