Patents are an important currency when it comes to future technology. In many areas, the USA or Japan are ahead. But when it comes to mobile communications, China is now in the fast lane.

According to an analysis by the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA), China has greatly increased its pace of innovation in digital technology.

In important fields of technology, the number of published Chinese patent applications has increased significantly in 2021, as the authority announced on Thursday in Munich. In “digital communication technology” – which includes mobile communications including the 5G standard – China overtook the USA with 4,115 (-2.4 percent) published applications with 4,308 (6.8 percent). The Patent Office published its annual report on Thursday.

This time, the DPMA did not carry out an analysis by registering company, but the most important Chinese group in mobile communications and network technology is Huawei. Patent applications are published after 18 months, so the numbers do not yet reflect the innovations of 2021. Foreign companies and researchers often register their inventions in several technologically important countries and not only in their home countries, with the DPMA correspondingly with effect for Germany.

catching up in computer technology

In computer technology, the number of patents from China even rose by a third to 2017, but in this area the USA was still far ahead with 5943 patent applications. In audiovisual technology, patent applications from China increased by 42 percent to 1,055. With 1,234 inventions and an increase of more than ten percent, US companies were still in first place in this area.

German companies and research institutes were third in computer technology with 1814 applications and fourth in audiovisual technology. “As far as Germany is concerned, there is light and shadow. In some areas the number of innovations is increasing, in others the country is falling behind or does not appear among the leading nations at all,” said DPMA President Cornelia Rudloff-Schäffer. “Chinese innovation momentum, on the other hand, has been immense in recent years.”

In one important field, China is not among the five leading nations: semiconductors or chips. Japan continues to lead the ranking in this area with 1020 applications, followed by the USA (884). South Korea (820) and Taiwan (695) are in third and fourth place, with the number of patent applications from both countries increasing by more than 45 percent. Germany (646) is in fifth place.