Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.


Government targets, end-of-year patenting rush and innovative performance in China

A study of the seasonality and overall quantity and quality of Chinese patenting, including international comparisons, suggests that government planning and annual targets encouraged gaming of the system, which increased patent counts but negatively affected patent quality.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Turbulence in patent filings by Chinese inventors around 2000.
Fig. 2: End-of-year peaks in the number of patent applications at SIPO.
Fig. 3: End-of-year troughs in grant rate of patent applications, by filing dates at SIPO.
Fig. 4: End-of-year troughs in forward citations to granted patents, by filing dates at SIPO.


  1. Steinmueller, W.A. in Handbook of the Economics of Innovation Vol. 2 (Hall, B.H. and Rosenberg, N., eds.) pp. 1181–1218 (North-Holland, 2010).

  2. Dimitrov, M. Piracy and the State: The Politics of Intellectual Property Rights in China (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009).

  3. Suthersanen, U. Utility models and innovation in developing countries. International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (2006).

  4. Moga, T.T. China’s utility model patent system: innovation driver or deterrent. US Chamber of Commerce (2006).

  5. Anonymous. Patents, yes; ideas, maybe. The Economist (16 October 2010).

  6. US Patent and Trademark Office. Trademarks and patents in China: the impact of non-market factors on filing trends and IP systems. (2021).

  7. Wei, S. J., Xie, Z. & Zhang, X. J. Econ. Perspect. 31, 49–70 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. McGregor, J. China’s drive for indigenous innovation: a web of industrial policies. US Chamber of Commerce (2010).

  9. Prud’homme, D. & Song, H. (eds.). Economic Impacts of Intellectual Property -Conditioned Government Incentives (Springer, 2016).

  10. The US-China Business Council. China’s High and New-Technology Enterprise (HNTE) program. (2013).

  11. Trajtenberg, M. RAND J. Econ. 21, 172–187 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Li, X. Res. Policy 41, 236–249 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Dang, J. & Motohashi, K. China Econ. Rev. 35, 137–155 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. De Rassenfosse, G. & Raiteri, E. SSRN J. (2016).

  15. Bacchiocchi, E. & Montobbio, F. Scand. J. Econ. 112, 441–470 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Eaton, J. & Kortum, S. Int. Econ. Rev. 40, 537–570 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Putnam J., Luu, H. & Ngo, N. SSRN J. (2020).

  18. Kawamoto, D. CNET (24 February 2003).

  19. Anonymous. CNIPA released notice on further strictly regulating patent application behavior. China IP (28 January 2021).

  20. Cohen, M. CNIPA does a statistical switcheroo. China IPR (16 February 2021).

  21. Cao, C. & Suttmeier, R. P. Science 355, 1019–1021 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was partly funded by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The opinions expressed in the paper are the authors’ own. The authors are grateful to Stuart Graham of the Georgia Institute of Technology, formerly chief economist of the USPTO, for his support and comments.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Zhen Lei.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Data 1–11 with tables and figures

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sun, Z., Lei, Z., Wright, B.D. et al. Government targets, end-of-year patenting rush and innovative performance in China. Nat Biotechnol 39, 1068–1075 (2021).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing