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[BEIJING] China has made moves to bring its patent law in line with international standards and increase the filing of patents by Chinese innovators in foreign countries.

The amendment to the patent law, passed by China's legislature — the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress — last month (27 December), is the third change to the law since it was created in 1984.

Two previous revisions, in 1992 and 2000, aimed to enable China to absorb foreign technologies and abide by World Trade Organization rules. But this new effort is focused on improving innovation, said Chen Guangjun, director of the Standing Committee's science and technology office, at a press conference for the law revision.

The new law requires a patent application to meet an "absolute standard for novelty" — by being totally new worldwide — rather than the previously stipulated "relative novelty" requirement that a technology is new in China.

Absolute novelty is used in many major developed countries, such as the United States and those in Europe.

The law also encourages Chinese innovators to obtain foreign patents, by deleting the previous stipulation that Chinese citizens must first apply for Chinese patents before filing for foreign patents.

The United States currently grants eight times as many South Korean patent applications as Chinese ones, according to the leading Chinese financial magazine Caijing.

The newspaper China Daily said that one goal of the changes is to encourage Chinese inventors to file for patent rights. Currently the revenue from up to 40 per cent of patents for core domestic technologies in China goes to foreign patent holders, it said.

A patent reviewer at the State Intellectual Property Office, who declined to be identified, said that the higher benchmark — the worldwide standard of absolute novelty — for patent applications might not improve standards as reviewers have difficulty finding out whether a similar invention has been authorised in other countries.

He is echoed by Lin Xiaodong, director of the patent management office at the Peking University Health Science Center, who added that high costs often prevent Chinese innovators from applying for patents in foreign countries.

The revised patent law will take effect on 1 October this year. Besides the above revisions, it also includes stipulations on mandatory patent licensing — such as on HIV/AIDS drugs in time of the public health crisis.

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