For a foreign applicant, two routes are available for filing a patent application in China: one route is through the Paris Convention; the other is through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (i.e., going through the formalities of national phase entry of a PCT application in China within 30 months from the international filing date (or the earliest priority date where applicable)).

The case with a PCT route application is applicable to a patent application for invention or utility model, but not applicable to a patent application for design.

With the economic development and opening up of China in the past years, the number of patent applications filed by foreign applicants in China is swelling. In 2008 the number of patent applications for invention filed by foreign applicants in China reached 95,259, and in 2009 it is still maintained at 85,477 despite the critical influence of the global financial crisis. On the other hand, the number of applications filed by domestic applicants in China is much larger and also growing at a steady pace.

An annual increase is also seen in the number and ratio of applications filed in China through the PCT route. Among all the patent applications for invention and utility model by foreign applicants handled by China Sinda in 2006, the percentage of those through the PCT route is 54%, and it increased to 64% in 2009. It is foreseeable that this ratio will further increase since PCT applications have great advantages. One main advantage is that applicants will have much more buffer time (i.e., 30 months) to evaluate whether to enter a national phase, and the applicant can further use a grace period of two months if the 30 months is not enough.

Meanwhile, the number of applications filed by the Chinese applicants in foreign countries is also growing rapidly, especially via the route of PCT international applications.

In 2009 China ranked the 5th, a great leap from a near bottom ranking in 2000.

In terms of technical fields, the PCT international applications filed by Chinese applicants are largely clustered around certain areas. According to the statistics, the top five technical fields having the largest application volumes are: electric communication technique (h04); medical or veterinary science, hygiene (a61); organic chemistry (c07); biochemistry, beer, spirits, wine; microbiology; enzymology; mutation or genetic engineering (c12); and computing, calculating, counting (g06). The aggregate amount of these five numbers accounts for 78.69% of the total PCT applications.

Besides, the Chinese Ministry of Finance and the State Intellectual Property Office jointly adopted a preferential policy in 2009, which encourages Chinese companies and organisations to file patent applications abroad through the PCT route. It is believed that under the guidance of this policy, the volume of PCT applications field by Chinese applicants will expand to a greater extent.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.