China Files A Million Patents In A Year, As Government Plans To Increase Patentability Of Software

from the those-who-cannot-remember-the-past-are-condemned-to-repeat-it dept

Techdirt has been following for some years China's embrace of patents, loudly applauded by Western companies who believe this will give them more power there. The country has just passed a notable milestone in this area:

China is driving Asian-led growth in innovation worldwide, becoming the first country to file 1 million patent applications in a single year, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said on Wednesday.

Chinese innovators filed most of their 2015 applications in electrical engineering, which includes telecoms, followed by computer technology and semiconductors, and measurement instruments, including medical technology, the U.N. agency said.
Reuters gives its story the headline "China top innovator with one million patent requests in year: U.N." But as Techdirt has pointed out again and again and again, more patents do not lead to more innovation, just to more patents. And it seems that is precisely what China wants. A report on Bloomberg notes that China is planning to make it even easier to get patents for both software and business methods:
[Proposed patent examination guidelines] seek to address concerns that some examiners have been too cautious in treating all references to business models or computers as red flags that signal unpatentability. A sentence in the draft explains that claims relating to a business method are not excluded from patentability if they contain sufficient technical features.

Meanwhile, another change clarifies that apparatus claims relating to software can contain both hardware and "program" components. And the draft changed language that some examiners have interpreted as barring nearly all computer program references. The guidelines clarify that inventions relating to "computer programs per se" are not patentable because those are rules and methods for mental activities.
China's move to embrace software patents and business methods comes at a time when both have become less patentable in the US thanks to the Alice decision, which is well on the way to killing software patents in the US. Of course, patent maximalists are drawing exactly the wrong conclusion here:
Critics in the U.S. have long argued that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International has made many genuine software-related inventions unpatentable. At the same time, they say an improving environment in China means that patent holders should consider going there to enforce and monetize their IP.
Good luck with that. As the book "Patent Failure: How Judges, Bureaucrats, and Lawyers Put Innovators at Risk" by James Bessen and Michael J. Meurer chronicles, software patents and their associated lawsuits have imposed a huge net cost on the US technology ecosystem. It's mostly patent trolls and lawyers who have benefited from the thicket of intellectual monopolies that has threatened to strangle innovation. The same is likely to happen in China as it foolishly follows the US down the path of allowing patents on everything under the sun.

That may be good news for the West in the long term, as the Chinese tech industry descends into an orgy of patent infringement suits that saps its resources and energy. But in the short term, many of the Western companies that are operating in China are likely to get caught up in this expensive, pointless mess too.

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  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 1 Dec 2016 @ 9:42am

    Gonna need a bigger court house in East Texas. =/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2016 @ 9:44am

    Folly of the Globalists

    As witnessed by Brexit and Trump wins US election, there could be significant blow-back by forsaking your sovereignty to deals like TTIP and the TPP.

    At the end of the day, China is more than making it clear they intend to use every process and rule we build to crush us without a single ounce of remorse.

    Additionally, another revelation that it is actually NOT a global community like so many "tool-aid" drinkers claim.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2016 @ 3:47pm

      Re: Folly of the Globalists

      So the globalists fiddle while the us burns?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2016 @ 11:37pm

        Re: Re: Folly of the Globalists

        Well duh... China doesn't really hate the US as much as it hates that it isn't in the US's position.
        Anyway, no matter how this goes it'll be interesting to watch.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 2 Dec 2016 @ 1:18am

      Folly of the Mercantilists

      Nothing here is about globalism. It's about mercantilism.

      Patents are a tax, with the purpose of keeping others out of the market.

      And a lot of the other ideas propagated by so-called "free trade" agreements are nothing else than thinly veiled mercantilism either.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    zman58 (profile), 1 Dec 2016 @ 10:30am

    Patents should be abolished completely

    Patents do nothing to advance innovation. Patents drive up costs of goods a services and encumber advances in science and arts, and innovation. They enrich corporations at the broad expense of the public.

    Patents effectively work to help create a servitude society. They do exactly the opposite of what they were intended to do. They should be completely abolished. All of them!

    Patents and for-profit insurance entities are the primary causes of rampantly rising healthcare costs of goods and services.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2016 @ 10:40am

      Re: Patents should be abolished completely

      Some should not be abolished. All should be shortened, but only patents on biological subjects should be abolished.

      Patents on the machines themselves should be okay to go even if they deal in biology.

      But no patents on how to discover a gene, or how to splice, or how to any fucking thing!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Seegras (profile), 2 Dec 2016 @ 1:26am

        Re: Re: Patents should be abolished completely

        > Patents on the machines themselves should be okay

        And what's your reasoning for this?

        Because, actually, patents on machines don't work either: The legal fees are (on the whole) bigger than whatever is earned by licensing; so basically, it's a tax which only serves lawyers.

        And I don't see any use for something that is only a money-making scheme for lawyers, and whose main use is to kill off competition.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2016 @ 9:43am

          Re: Re: Re: Patents should be abolished completely

          Because, actually, patents on machines don't work either: The legal fees are (on the whole) bigger than whatever is earned by licensing; so basically, it's a tax which only serves lawyers.

          That's not a useful argument either way. The appropriate question is whether they promote the progress of useful arts. Patent-holders can significantly restrict the progress of specific people, so there should have to be a large net gain to justify them. We'd have to be learning about new techniques that would otherwise not have been figured out (invented or reverse-engineered) for decades otherwise.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2016 @ 1:19pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Patents should be abolished completely

            > We'd have to be learning about new techniques that would otherwise not have been figured out (invented or reverse-engineered) for decades otherwise.

            In most cases the "techniques" would have been reinvented or reverse-engineered by others long before the patents expired. Patents actually hinder "the progress of useful arts."

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Tejat, 1 Dec 2016 @ 1:03pm

      Re: Patents should be abolished completely

      Patents and copyright should both be abolished, period.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2016 @ 10:30am

    I greatly miss the China of 10 or 20 years ago, when the country was a giant open-air piracy bazaar.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 5 Dec 2016 @ 2:38am

      Re:

      If China and India get into an IPR war and America opts out, they'll hobble each other while America leaps ahead. Again. Was this the plan all along? If it was, well played, Uncle Sam.

      It'll be a while before the fallout begins but when it does it's popcorn time. I like mine lightly salted.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 1 Dec 2016 @ 11:12am

    [Grabs popcorn]
    This will be an interesting experiment to watch. If what we all expect will happen, it will be proof positive that patents hinder innovation. Let's see how they are in 5 years?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whutevah, 1 Dec 2016 @ 12:59pm

    I love China more and more each day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2016 @ 1:19pm

    Good to know there is still a superpower in the world, and that they will crush the capitalist pigs with their own rules. Two new Dollar Stores, coming to the community where you live.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2016 @ 6:10pm

    I doubt this will benefit the West. As is mostly the case with passing new laws, selective enforcement is sure to happen. If it's the government itself pushing for the change, you can be sure they'll want to use it to impose even stricter protectionism of their local markets against western companies.

    I've seen sentiments echoed along the lines of "if all electronics from the US and China are equipped with bugs/backdoors by both governments, I'd rather the Chinese spy on me than the US government." The Chinese government must be thinking of the same thing. If we can just curb those pesky western electronics, we'll have less impediment to surv... umm... keeping our citizens safe!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 2 Dec 2016 @ 1:16pm

    Overtake and surpass America...

    For fifty years, Soviet planners dreamed of overtaking and surpassing America in steel production. They finally achieved their aim around 1970, but nobody cared.

    Similarly, patent quantity was a rough indicator of inventiveness a century ago, but not in this age of trolling.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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