China is a big contender in the innovation world. According to the WIPO, China was closely on the heels of the United States in 2017 for the most international patent applications. The United States filed 56,624 PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) applications, while China filed 48,882 PCT applications. In 2016, China received more overall patent applications than any other country with more than 1.3 million applications. In comparison, the United States paled with a little more than 605,000 patent applications.
Given the sheer size of China and the number of patent filings, China will remain a big contender in innovation for years to come. While competing with the volume of innovation coming from China is cumbersome, the United States also faces billions of dollars in IP theft from China. The exact number is not known, but estimates range from $225 billion to $600 billion annually. Furthermore, inconsistent protection of foreign patents and various rules make it challenging to solve IP infringement cases fairly. In addition, China typically offers damages awards at the low end of the spectrum, making litigation exceptionally expensive due to the time, effort, and loss in sales during the process.
In order for the United States and other foreign parties to feel that they are getting a fair shake, the treatment of IP via China must conform to higher standards. Fortunately, albeit slowly, China is showing signs of improvement resulting in fairer outcomes. For instance, in late 2017, China awarded New Balance $1.5 million in damages for trademark infringement. This was a significant win for New Balance as it previously had little luck winning counterfeit arguments in China prior to this point. Also in 2017, the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) won a copyright infringement case against a large online Chinese video company, indicating China’s effort to crack down on piracy. Furthermore, according to a 2016 study, foreign companies won more than 70% of patent infringement cases in China.
While China is showing marked improvements in its treatment of IP, the standards do not rival those of the United States. Treatment of IP in China will likely be challenging for years to come as the country works to define its standards and policies. However, the good news is that the country is working on the issue. Therefore, a positive outlook for fair treatment of IP may strengthen U.S. and China business relationships.