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[BEIJING] China is now the third highest-ranking country for patent applications, but experts say the country needs to do more to improve patent quality.

According to the annual 'Statistics on Worldwide Patent Activities' report, released by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) last week (10 August), patent applications were up 32.9 per cent in 2005 compared to the previous year.

Of the 170,000 patent applications submitted to China's State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) in 2005, around 93,000 were from within China.

China now ranks third — behind Japan and United States, but in front of the European Union — in terms of the total number of patent applications filed.

According to the WIPO statistics, patent applications in China have increased more than eight-fold since 1995 (see China joins top ten for international patents).

The report indicates that patent applications in China, like in other countries, increased dramatically in fields like telecommunications and electronics.

Chen Naiwei, director of the Intellectual Property Research Centre at Shanghai Jiaotong University, says rapid economic progress, a dramatic increase in China's research and development budget and government policy promoting intellectual property rights are behind the increase.

Total research and development investment in China grew by 22 per cent in 2006, totalling 300 billion yuan (US$39.6 billion) or 1.4 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.

But Chen cautions that patent applications may not accurately reflect innovation.

"In order to encourage patent applications, many local governments have provided patent fees to enterprises and science institutes, resulting in the rapid growth in application number," he told SciDev.Net.

More important than offering fees and awards, Chen says, is improving innovation by combining enterprises with research institutes.

Most patents filed in China are for new design appearance or new models, which do not require great technical innovation, he adds.