China increases U.S. patent holdings

BloombergWASHINGTON (Bloomberg) — Chinese inventors received a record number of U.S. patents in 2018 and are on pace to overtake Germany in the No. 4 position of top recipients, according to an analysis of filings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Inventors working for Chinese companies were issued 12,589 U.S. patents in 2018, a 12 percent jump on the year and a 10-fold increase over the 1,223 they received a decade ago.

The United States still dominates the field, with 46 percent of the 308,853 U.S. utility patents issued last year, followed by companies based in Japan, South Korea and Germany.

IBM Corp. alone received 9,100 patents, retaining its spot as the top recipient and extending IBM’s streak to 26 years, according to the analysis by Fairview Research’s IFI Claims Patent Services.

Overall, the number of patents issued by the patent office declined 3.5 percent for the year, with every major country except China receiving fewer patents than the year before.

“The continuing push by China is very interesting,” said Larry Cady, senior analyst with IFI Claims. “China’s going to overtake Germany shortly — maybe not next year, but the year after.”

The world’s number two economy has spent billions of dollars to fund research in key technology fields like artificial intelligence, quantum computing and biotechnology.

It’s sparked a global technology arms race that’s at the heart of U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war, as the Trump administration contends that China is stealing American know-how.

The steady rise in patent filings suggests Chinese companies are developing their own technology as well. The U.S. patent office has a process to challenge patents filed based on stolen ideas, although few such proceedings have been filed against anyone.

The decline in the total topline number of issued patents reflects fewer applications lodged in the past couple of years, though there was a slight uptick last year, Cady said.

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