Graphene Patents and China’s Strategy

As the world’s largest patent filer in the sphere of , China is forecast to enjoy brisk growth in the industry over the next five to 10 years, according to industrial insiders.

An industrial report recently released by the Jiangnan Graphene Institute in Jiangsu province showed that the number of patent applications in the sector surpassed 50,000 worldwide by September 2016. China contributed nearly half of them, more than any other country. The United States took second place, followed by South Korea and Japan.

Despite the large number of patent applications, Chinese filers have yet to improve the quality of their , Zhang Zhaohui, president of the institute, told China Intellectual Property News.

Utility models, a type of patent with less stringent requirements than invention patents, accounted for approximately 29 percent of domestic graphene patents in 2016, while the same proportion in overseas patents was 5.2 percent, Zhang said.

The majority of the Chinese filers focused on the domestic market, with far fewer applications filed abroad than their peers in the US, South Korea and Japan, which could hinder their future global expansion, he said. The report found that China has been a target market with enormous potential since 2009, with major graphene researchers and from foreign countries frequently filing patent applications with the State Intellectual Property Office.

Through the Made in China 2025 initiative, a 10-year plan issued by the State Council in May 2015 to promote advanced manufacturing, the country’s graphene sector is projected to generate 10 billion yuan ($1.45 billion) in annual industrial output value in 2020 and 100 billion yuan in 2025.

Known as a “wonder material” for its unusual properties, graphene is reportedly less than 0.34 nanometer thick, about one millionth of a piece of paper, yet is over 100 times stronger than the strongest steel. The substance is efficiently conductive, flexible and almost transparent.

Since Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, scientists at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, were awarded the 2010 Nobel prize in physics for their “groundbreaking experiments” on graphene, the two-dimensional material saw a massive influx of investments into its research.

Graphene can be used in modern machinery and equipment manufacturing, such as in the and aviation industries, as well as integrated circuits and daily necessities, Liu Zhongfan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Chinese media.

The number of graphene manufacturers in China increased to more than 400 in 2016 from some 300 in 2015. The sector generated around 3 billion yuan in total sales last year, China Intellectual Property News reported.

National standards regarding graphene materials’ terms, definitions and codes are still pending the administrative approval. After they roll out, the national standards will help the industry to grow more healthily, the newspaper quoted Chen Ya, a patent engineer at 2D Carbon (Changzhou) Tech Inc Ltd, as saying.

“The shortage of unified industrial standards makes it hard to tell the technical properties of related products, which left the industry in sort of chaos,” Chen said.

“Many of the businesses are floundering through their research and development, as it is hard to find a mature technological development trend to follow in the emerging industry.”

Academician Liu told The Paper, a news portal headquartered in Shanghai, that the industry needs more government support and larger corporations’ participation, as the graphene industry is still in its infancy and thus requires huge investment, which small businesses cannot afford.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) for New Materials in 2012 and included graphene in a list of sectors that would receive priority support from government. In 2014, graphene was again listed as one of 20 key new materials that the country decided to promote.

Zhang suggested the government coordinate innovation resources all along the industrial chain and foster and regulate the strategic industry through model projects. “As a new material, graphene still has a long way to go from research to massive commercialization,” he said.

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