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China as number one? Evidence from China's most recent patenting surge


  • Hu, Albert G.Z.
  • Zhang, Peng
  • Zhao, Lijing


China overtook the U.S. in 2011 to become the country filing the largest number of patent applications. Has China's patenting ascendancy been propelled by Chinese firms’ increasing technological sophistication or their much greater propensity to seek patents? Using a unique and never before used data set, where the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) patent records have been matched to their applicant firms by SIPO, we differentiate the two potential explanations by estimating a patent production function and by relating a firm's patents in force to its labor productivity. Our main findings are: 1) while the patenting surge has been an across-the-board phenomenon, most of the growth has come from the extensive margin of growth – firms that were not actively applying for patents in the past; 2) the correlation between patents and R&D and that between patents and labor productivity have become weaker, particularly for utility models and for the extensive margin of growth. These results suggest that non-innovation related motives for acquiring patents may have played an important role in the patenting surge.

Suggested Citation

  • Hu, Albert G.Z. & Zhang, Peng & Zhao, Lijing, 2017. "China as number one? Evidence from China's most recent patenting surge," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 107-119.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:deveco:v:124:y:2017:i:c:p:107-119
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jdeveco.2016.09.004

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Xiangchao Hao & Qingbin Meng & Kaijuan Gao & Kam C. Chan, 2020. "The impact of initial public offerings on innovations: Short‐termism or initial governance force exit?," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 41(6), pages 924-942, September.
    2. Jinyang Cai & Weiqiong Chen & Jikun Huang & Ruifa Hu & Carl E. Pray, 2020. "The Evolving Structure of Chinese R&D Funding and its Implications for the Productivity of Agricultural Biotechnology Research," Journal of Agricultural Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 71(2), pages 287-304, June.
    3. Fujii, Hidemichi & Managi, Shunsuke, 2019. "Decomposition analysis of sustainable green technology inventions in China," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 10-16.
    4. Sun, Xiuli & Li, Haizheng & Ghosal, Vivek, 2020. "Firm-level human capital and innovation: Evidence from China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 59(C).
    5. Fujii, Hidemichi & Managi, Shunsuke, 2018. "Trends and priority shifts in artificial intelligence technology invention: A global patent analysis," Economic Analysis and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 60-69.
    6. Shao, Yuchen & Xiao, Chengrui, 2019. "Corporate tax policy and heterogeneous firm innovation: Evidence from a developing country," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(2), pages 470-486.
    7. Deyun Yin & Kazuyuki Motohashi & Jianwei Dang, 2020. "Large-scale name disambiguation of Chinese patent inventors (1985–2016)," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 122(2), pages 765-790, February.
    8. Hu, Jiangfeng & Pan, Xinxin & Huang, Qinghua, 2020. "Quantity or quality? The impacts of environmental regulation on firms’ innovation–Quasi-natural experiment based on China's carbon emissions trading pilot," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 158(C).
    9. Rong, Zhao & Wu, Xiaokai & Boeing, Philipp, 2017. "The effect of institutional ownership on firm innovation: Evidence from Chinese listed firms," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(9), pages 1533-1551.
    10. Anna Potekhina & Knut Blind, 2020. "What motivates the engineers to patent? A study at the Chinese R&D laboratories of a European MNC," The Journal of Technology Transfer, Springer, vol. 45(2), pages 461-480, April.
    11. Clément Bonnet & Samuel Carcanague & Emmanuel Hache & Gondia Sokhna Seck & Marine Simoën, 2018. "The nexus between climate negotiations and low-carbon innovation: a geopolitics of renewable energy patents," EconomiX Working Papers 2018-45, University of Paris Nanterre, EconomiX.
    12. Boeing, Philipp & Mueller, Elisabeth, 2019. "Measuring China's patent quality: Development and validation of ISR indices," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 57(C).
    13. Cui, Jingbo & Liu, Xi & Sun, Yongping & Yu, Haishan, 2020. "Can CDM projects trigger host countries’ innovation in renewable energy? Evidence of firm-level dataset from China," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 139(C).
    14. Rong, Zhao & Wu, Binzhen, 2020. "Scientific personnel reallocation and firm innovation: Evidence from China’s college expansion," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 709-728.
    15. Christodoulou, Demetris & Lev, Baruch & Ma, Le, 2018. "The productivity of Chinese patents: The role of business area and ownership type," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 199(C), pages 107-124.

    More about this item


    Patents; Technology innovation; Intellectual property rights; Economic development; China;

    JEL classification:

    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • O34 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Intellectual Property and Intellectual Capital
    • O38 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Government Policy


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