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R&D input '2nd-highest in the world'

But China's soaring patent numbers don't always align with breakthroughs

China has been the world leader in patent applications on inventions for seven consecutive years, said Wan Gang, president of the China Association for Science and Technology.

The Chinese mainland issued about 1.36 million patents on inventions by the end of last year, working out to about 9.8 patents per 10,000 people, according to the State Intellectual Property Office.

"China's input on research and development rose to the second-highest in the world in 2017," said Wan, adding that the number of full-time R&D personnel in China is the high-est in the world.

"For years, China has been investing in major S&T (science and technology) fields, such as infrastructure, high-speed rail, aerospace and biological technology. It is time to reap the fruit," said Zhang Ping, a Peking University professor who specializes in intellectual property.

"China has aimed at science and technology innovation and added R&D investment for years, which aligns with S&T breakthroughs. However, there is no direct link between R&D investment and the increasing number of patent applications. China's great input-such as in aerospace and military industry-is hardly apparent in the patent numbers," Zhang said.

The patents are closely associated with fields such as information technology and communication, which require continuous product updates, she said.

The soaring number patent applications links with preferential government policies, such as rewarding scientists for successful patents and cutting taxes for enterprises that foster them. The policy encourages enterprises to raise investment in patents. Some enterprises bought a few hundred and even a thousand patents in a year or two, Zhang said.

"We need to step up protection of intellectual property rights to promote innovation and improve the business environment," said Shen Changyu, director of the State Intellectual Property Office.

Shen said China should improve the production of intellectual property to raise the quality of technological service.

China has a number of domestically developed core technologies in telecommunications, aviation and space, high-speed railways and nuclear energy. Over the years, the quality of the patents filed in these fields has notably improved, Hu Wenhui, spokesman for the State Intellectual Property Office, said in January.

Professor Zhang also called for improving the quality of patents.

"We must face the reality that China has a great number of patents, but high-quality ones are still in short supply," Zhang said.

"High-quality patents can benefit enterprises, such as when trade conflict occurs. Low-quality patents waste money and obstruct innovation."

"It is money-, energy-and time-consuming to maintain a patent. It is also costly to nullify useless patents," she said.

By market adjustment, enterprises will realize filing for patents is not only for show but for benefits over time. The government should consider rewarding high-quality and competitive patents, and not only focus on the number, Zhang said.

"Patents are not a panacea. Useful patents are powerful and should be valued. Their opposite should not," she said.