China Blockchain Patent Panorama: Annual growth of applications exceeds 41%, and the pattern of “Guangbei, Zhejiang, Suzhou and Shanghai” may continue this year

From the overall situation, the total number of blockchain patent applications counted by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2020 was 11,880, with an annual growth of over 41% and an authorization rate of about 10%.

On June 7, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Central Network Information Office issued the “Guidance on Accelerating the Application and Industrial Development of Blockchain Technology” (hereinafter referred to as “Guidance”), proposing that by 2025, the comprehensive strength of blockchain industry will reach the world’s advanced level and the industry will take shape; blockchain applications will penetrate into many fields of economy and society, cultivate a number of well-known products in such fields as product traceability, data circulation and supply chain management, and form scenario-based demonstration applications.

Blockchain technology has been applied in several scenarios, such as finance, logistics, digital content, medical health, etc. So what is the current development status of blockchain technology in China? The data of blockchain patents may be able to explain some situations. Therefore, PAData combed through the application data of a total of 13,261 blockchain patents from 2020 to June 17 this year and found that

  1. From the overall situation, the total number of blockchain patent applications counted by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2020 was 11,880, with an annual growth of over 41% and an authorization rate of about 10%. And since this year, the number of blockchain patent applications has been 1,381, and the authorization rate is about 7%.
  2. From the perspective of geographical distribution, Guangdong accounts for about 35.56%, ranking first. The location of Internet and technology companies may be the concentration of blockchain patent applications. Since this year, the pattern of “Guangbei, Zhejiang, Suzhou and Shanghai” in the number of blockchain patent applications is still continuing.
  3. From the distribution of technical fields, the patents applied for in 2020 are mainly concentrated in the two categories of “data processing” and “business methods”. In addition, the number of patent applications in the medical field has increased by 123% annually, which is worthy of attention. 2020 new blockchain patent research directions include sound, image and Internet communication, etc.
  4. In terms of applicants, Ping An Technology applied for the most; Alipay applied for the highest patent authorization rate; postal and telecommunications institutions ranked high in the number of blockchain patent applications; the authorization rate of banking industry was less than 1%, which was much lower than the total authorization rate.

The number of blockchain patent applications increased by more than 41% in 2020, and the patent authorization rate is only about 10%
According to the statistics of the State Intellectual Property Office, from the overall situation, the total number of patent applications with the keyword “blockchain” in 2020 is 11,880, which is equivalent to an average of 33 blockchain-related patent applications per day, an increase of 41.80% compared with 2019, a significant increase. The total number of blockchain patent applications from this year to the date of the statistics is 1,381, which is only about one-third of the same period in 2020. Although the second half of the year tends to be the peak period for blockchain patent applications according to PAData’s observation in previous years, if the second half of the year does not reach the rate of 44 patent applications per day, the number of patent applications will decline year-on-year this year.

In terms of the number of grants, only about 1,200 of all blockchain patent applications filed in 2020 will be granted, with a grant rate of about 10%. And so far in 2021, less than 100 applications are granted out of 1381 applications, with an authorization rate of about 7%. This may be partly because the process from patent application to authorization is more complicated and long, and partly because the State Intellectual Property Office is still cautious about the authorization of blockchain patents.

Guangdong will become a major filing province in 2020, and the pattern of “Guangbei, Zhejiang, Suzhou and Shanghai” will continue in 2021.
In terms of regional distribution, among 32 provinces and cities, Guangdong is the largest province in blockchain patent applications, with a total of 4,255 applications in 2020, accounting for 35.56% of the country, and ranking first among all provinces and cities, except for patents filed in foreign countries, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Beijing and Zhejiang ranked the second and third, with the number of applications accounting for about 15.51% and 12.33% respectively. The first echelon of the three provinces and cities of Guangzhou, North and Zhejiang in 2020 combined accounted for about 63.40% of the applications, while the number of applications since this year also accounted for about 62.06%. This may be related to the industrial layout of the provinces and cities, as the Internet and technology companies are currently the main force of blockchain patent applications, and these companies are basically concentrated in these three provinces and cities.

Jiangsu and Shanghai are second only to Guangbei and Zhejiang in terms of the number of applications, with 946 and 666 respectively, forming the second echelon. In addition, there are 18 provinces and cities with more than 100 applications.

Since this year, Guangdong and Beijing are still ahead of other provinces and cities in the number of applications, both have exceeded 300. Both Zhejiang and Shanghai have more than 100 applications, and Shanghai has temporarily led Jiangsu as the fourth largest applicant province. From the available data, it is inferred that, in general, the pattern of “Guangbei, Zhejiang, Suzhou and Shanghai” in the number of blockchain patent applications will continue in 2021.

“Data processing” has become a key field, and the number of patents in the medical field has increased by 123% annually.
In terms of the distribution of technology fields, in line with PAData’s previous analysis, the patent technologies applied for in 2020 are mainly concentrated in two major categories, G06 (computing; projection; counting) and H04 (telecommunication technology). Among the top ten technology areas in terms of the number of applications, five belong to the G06 major category and three belong to the H04 major category.

In 2020, 7,364 patent applications were classified as G06F (electronic data processing) under the G06 major category, which is the subcategory with the most patent applications classified. In other words, nearly 62% of all patent applications filed fall into the “data processing” subcategory. There were 5408 classified as G06Q (business methods), i.e. 45.52% were in the “business methods” subcategory, ranking second. This subcategory had the highest number of classifications in 2019, including payment agreements, financial derivatives or currency exchange, electronic commerce, information retrieval and its database structure. And since 2021, the number of patent applications classified as G06F and G06Q have both exceeded 600.

The number of applications classified as H04L (transmission of digital information) is still high in 2020 under another major application category H04, with 3184, which mainly contains protocols, secret key distribution, transmission control, identity authentication, etc. Since 2021, the number of applications classified as sub-category H04L has exceeded 300. It can be speculated that “computing” and “communication” are likely to remain the two major categories with the largest number of blockchain patent applications in 2021.

In addition, there are 414 applications for patents classified as G16H (healthcare informatics) in 2020, an increase of over 123.78% compared to the number of applications in 2019. “Healthcare informatics”, i.e. information and communication technologies specifically designed to dispose of or process medical or health data. The key tasks in the Guidance have mentioned the need to achieve product traceability in the fields of food and medicine, key components, and equipment manufacturing, which may provide impetus for further growth in the number of applications in subcategory G16H this year. Since 2021, 55 blockchain patent applications have been classified in this category, and the epidemic since 2020 may also accelerate patent applications in this category.

Compared to 2019, four subcategories are new to the list in 2020, G06N (computer systems based on specific computational models), G06T (image data processing or generation), G10L (speech and sound processing) and G16Y (information and communication technologies applicable to the Internet), with 823, 215, 135 and 111 each.

The changes in blockchain patent technology fields show to some extent the layout of organizations or companies for blockchain technology applications. As can be seen, in addition to the mainstream technology areas, research in sound, image and Internet communication has made a breakthrough in the blockchain technology area map in 2020.

Ping An Group is the largest applicant, and Alipay has the highest application authorization rate in 2020
In terms of applicants, the pattern of major blockchain patent applicants in 2020 has changed. The applicant ranking first in terms of number of applications is Ping An Technology (Shenzhen) Company Limited, with a total of 701 applications for the year, while it only ranked fifth in 2019. Alipay and Tencent ranked second and third, with the number of applications reaching 496 and 430, respectively. The former had a single-digit application total in 2019, while the latter ranked first with more than 540 applications. In addition, the big applicants in 2019, such as Baidu and Jingdong, have also fallen behind, and their applications in 2020 are less than 70.

Since 2021, Ping An Technology continues to lead the application ranking, with 86 applications; Alipay follows with 83. Ant Blockchain is temporarily in third place. Perhaps affected by the group’s internal organizational structure adjustment, Alibaba’s patent applications have significantly declined this year, but Alipay and Ant Blockchain’s applications have grown rapidly, and in terms of total number, Alibaba Group still has the advantage in blockchain patent applications.

In terms of other group attribution, six of the top ten applicants in 2020 belong to Ping An Group, and if the number of their applications is added up, the total number of applications reaches 2,184 in total, accounting for about 18.38% of the total number of applications. And so far in 2021, two Ping An companies have been on the list, Ping An Technology and Ping An HP, with a combined total of 109 applications.

Among the top ten organizations or companies in terms of the number of applications in 2020, the company with the highest number of grants is Alipay, with 208 granted patent applications out of 496, i.e. a grant rate of nearly 42%. Other companies with high authorization volume include Tencent, with an authorization rate of about 20.70%. The authorization rate of Ping An Technology, which ranks first in terms of number of applications, is only about 6.13%. If the other Ping An companies in the top 10 are counted together, their authorization rate is only 5.95%.

Where are the application giants focusing their development? A glimpse of the direction can be seen in the patent applications.

The patents of the top ten applicants in 2020 are still mainly focused on six sub-categories, namely G06F (electronic data processing), G06K (data identification and description), G06N (computer systems based on specific computational models), G06Q (business methods), G06T (image data processing or generation) and H04L (transmission of digital information). Almost all organizations or companies are involved in the G06F field. Also noteworthy is that Ping An Technology has 52 separate applications under the G06T subcategory. That is, among the top 10 applicants, only Ping An Technology has made significant progress in its research on blockchain technology for image processing. And Ping An Insurance and Ping An International Smart City are still involved in the field of G06N alone.

Patent applications from institutions are still concentrated in traditional fields, with the largest number of patent applications from Beihang University
In terms of applications from universities and research institutes nationwide, in 2020, Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications was the institution that applied for the most blockchain patents, with 45, followed by Xi’an University of Electronic Science and Technology and Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, each applying for 38 blockchain patents. Other institutions with more than 30 patent applications include Guangdong University of Technology, Beijing University of Technology, Chongqing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and University of Electronic Science and Technology. In addition, there are 21 institutions with more than 10 applications.

This year, Hunan University has 16 applications, temporarily ranking first. Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications is next, with more than 10 applications, while the rest of the institutions have not yet exceeded 6 applications.

The focus of applications by schools and research institutions may reflect to a certain extent the direction of national guidance on the development of blockchain technology. 2020, among all the patents applied for by applicants from universities and research institutions, G06F (data processing), G06Q (business methods) and H04L (communication) are still the concentration of applications in the technology field. The fields of G06K (data identification and description), G06N (computer systems), G06T (image data processing or generation), G16H (healthcare informatics) and H04W (wireless communication networks) have also seen a larger number of patents, with more than 30 patent applications categorized.

So far in 2021, G06F (data processing), G06Q (business methods) and H04L (communications) continue to be the main areas of blockchain technology patent applications for research systems. In addition to this, institutions have had one application classified under subcategory B08B this year. According to the explanation of the World Intellectual Property Organization, this category mainly includes all patents related to cleaning and pollution prevention.

Bank of China has many applications and extensive coverage in 2020, less than 1% licensing rate in the banking industry
In 2020, Bank of China and Ping An Bank both have more than 100 applications, 143 and 126 respectively. In addition, the number of applications from Shenzhen Qianhai Weizhong Bank and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China exceeded 80, while the remaining banks did not apply for more than 40. And so far in 2021, ICBC has applied for 49 patents, while the rest of the major banks are still applying in single digits.

In 2020, bank patent applications are mainly concentrated in 5 sub-categories, among which, the number of patents classified as G06Q (business methods) and G06F (data processing) are the largest, both exceeding 300 respectively. Among the 18 bank applicants, Bank of China applied in a wide range of fields, and it was involved in all five popular sub-categories, and all of them had a certain number of applications. The remaining 16 banks’ applications were mainly focused on 1 to 2 major areas.

It is worth noting that the Digital Currency Research Institute of the People’s Bank of China applied for 6 patents in 2020, all of which were filed under G06F, i.e. under the sub-category of “electronic data processing”. The main research directions are methods, devices and systems for sharing files, and methods, related devices and data integrity protection systems for determining data integrity. This is either to build and improve the infrastructure for the promotion of the central bank’s digital RMB.

In terms of the number of patents granted, the grant rate of banks is extremely low, with only 4 out of 575 patent applications from banks being granted in 2020, a grant rate of only about 0.70%, which is much lower than the total grant rate.

Data description.

  1. The data is collected according to the patent applications with the keyword “blockchain” included by the State Intellectual Property Office from January 1, 2020 to June 17, 2021. The regional scope is Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan (i.e. the application number starts with CN), and data with the same application number will be obtained by de-weighting the latest date of disclosure.
  2. One application number may correspond to multiple subcategories, so there are duplicate counts in the technical field. One application number may correspond to more than one applicant, so there is a duplicate count of applicants.

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