One way to measure China’s rise as a space power: Patent applications

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New data from Govini suggests China is creating an economic climate to attract space investments and entrepreneurs.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Air Force leaders call China a “pacing threat” because of the speed at which is it modernizing.

If patent applications are a measure of innovation, it is notable that space-related technology filings are increasing in China, says a new report by the data analytics firm Govini.

“The number of patent applications filed within countries can provide insights into the dynamics of each country’s market,” says Govini’s Space Platforms & Hypersonic Technologies Taxonomy.

“Global stakeholders are filing more space platforms and hypersonic technologies patent applications to protect their intellectual property in China, which suggests the country’s markets are growing in importance,” says the report. This also shows that China is creating an economic climate to attract space investments and entrepreneurs.

Govini analyzed over 270,000 space-related technology patent records from 40 countries from fiscal years 2011 through 2016. “The growing number of patents filed in China contrasted with a recent downward trend in the total number of filings within other countries,” the report says.

The number of space-related technology patent applications filed in China over the five-year period grew by 13.3 percent.

Govini analysts caution that this is not necessarily evidence of new Chinese space-based intellectual property generation, as filings between countries are not mutually exclusive. “It can indicate the emerging importance of global competitors securing their intellectual property within China,” says the report. “This trend suggests that patent holders are increasingly comfortable with the country’s patent regime or see value in filing for patents to generate revenue.” Either way, the growth leads analysts to conclude that China is “becoming a more important economy for space-related technologies.”

The rise in the number of patent application filings within China contrasts with a recent decline in worldwide patent filings, Govini says. The total number global space-related technology patent filings declined from a six-year peak in fiscal year 2013 in each year through 2016. “This could be a macro level indication that the public space-related technology market is becoming more mature, or that more international stakeholders are shifting toward keeping patentable ideas top secret.”