On August 27, 2021, the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) released a report entitled Development Status of the Patent Agency Industry (2020) (专利代理行业发展状况（2020年)). According to the report, as of the end of 2020, the number of Chinese patent practitioners has reached 53,090, among which 23,193 are practicing patent attorneys, and there are 3,253 patent agencies (excluding Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan). In contrast, the U.S. has 47,228 registered patent practitioners despite having approximately a quarter of the population of China and approximately a third of the invention patent applications filed annually in China.
As of the end of 2020, there were 3,253 patent agencies in China (excluding Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan). Figure 1 shows the changes in the number of patent agencies in China from 2011 to 2020. From 2011 to 2012, the number of patent agencies across China increased steadily, with 43 newly added that year. In 2013, the number of agencies nationwide was close to 1,000, and the number of patent agencies began to show a significant growth trend. Since 2013, more than 100 agencies have been added every year. Beginning in 2016, the number of patent agencies has entered a stage of rapid growth, with an annual growth rate of more than 20%, and the growth rate in 2019 compared with 2018 reached 22.7%. As of the end of 2020, the total number of patent agencies has reached 3,253. Compared with 2019, the number of agencies has increased by more than 500, with an annual growth rate of 20.9%; compared with 2011, it has increased by 2,387, an increase of 276%.
In terms of geographical distribution, patent agencies are mainly distributed in Beijing, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai. Generally, patent agencies are distributed throughout the east and coastal economically developed areas, and the regional distribution is basically proportional with the number of patent applications in originating from these provinces and cities.
There are more than 220 patent agencies older than 20 years and another 755 agencies older than 10 years.
Patent Attorneys (Agents)
As of the end of 2020, China had 23,193 practicing patent attorneys. This implies that each patent attorney was responsible for drafting and filing, on average, 63 inventions patent applications, another 126 utility models, and another 33 design applications based on total 2020 filings listed in CNIPA’s annual report for 2020.
Figure 3 shows the changes in the number of practicing patent attorneys and attorney qualifications from 2011 to 2020. In the past ten years, the number of people who have obtained patent attorney qualification certificates in China has shown a rapid growth trend. From 2011 to 2015, the number of people who obtained patent attorney qualification certificates increased rapidly. The average annual growth rate from 2011 to 2012 was about 13%, and from 2013 to 2015 it increased to about 23%. Among them, those who obtained patent attorney qualification certificates in 2011 numbered 12,991, and it exceeded 20,000 for the first time in 2014. After 2015, the growth rate has slowed slightly, but it still increases with a trend of more than 5,000 new people every year. As of the end of 2020, a total of 53,090 people have obtained patent attorney qualification certificates, an increase of 5,172 people, an annual growth rate of 10.7%.
Chinese Patent Bar Exam
The Patent Attorney Qualification Examination has been successfully held 22 times since 1992. In 2020, a total of 45,241 people registered for the examination, and 7,382 people passed the examination to obtain the qualification of patent agent, yielding a pass rate of about 16.1% compared to a U.S. patent bar pass rate of 48.9% in 2020.
Figure 4 shows the registration status for the Patent Attorney Qualification Examination from 2011 to 2020. The number of applicants for the Patent Attorney Qualification Examination has been increasing annually in contrast to the 51% decline in the U.S. from a peak in 2012. In 2020, the number of applicants for the Chinese Patent Attorney Qualification Examination reached yet another new high.
The number of applicants passing the National Patent Agent Qualification Examination has been increasing annually. From 2012 to 2014, the number of applicants that passed increased rapidly. Since 2015, due to the continuous increase in the number of applicants combined with the increase in the overall difficulty of the exam, the number of passing applicants has only increased slightly.
Since 2004, residents of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Macao Special Administrative Region are allowed to take the qualification examination for patent agents in China. In 2011, the examination was opened to residents of Taiwan. As of 2020, a total of 71 candidates from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, one candidate from the Macao Special Administrative Region and 525 candidates from the Taiwan region have passed the exam. Since 2021 foreigners have been allowed to take the patent bar exam and statistics on foreigners may be released in next year’s report.
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