One can easily find by googling that the largest number of patents produced were in China in 2020. The meaning of a patent is as follows:

A patent is the granting of a property right by a sovereign authority to an inventor. This grant provides the inventor exclusive rights to the patented process, design, or invention for a designated period in exchange for a comprehensive disclosure of the invention. They are a form of incorporeal right.

If we consider patents as the 'intellectual productivity' being done in the country, my question, what type of policy shifts has led to China being number one in it, and, further more outdo countries with established centers of technology research (eg: US, Germany etc )?

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    Patents granted by who? Recognized by who? Different countries have different thresholds for patent approval and recognition is not necessarily reciprocal. China may have lower hurdles for patent approval (including granting patents for ideas already widely accepted as belonging to someone else), but those patents may not be valid outside of China.
    – Luck
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 23:00
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    Is an explanation for why the country with the most people in the world has the most patents really necessary?
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 3:08
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    @Obie2.0 : That was my first thought too, but just looking at the various estimates by WIPO shows that population doesn't seem to matter much (otherwise India should be a clear second, but they are not anywhere close)
    – Giter
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 6:11
  • India has 1/5 the GDP per capita, which is probably reflected in institutions and resources for research. That is not an explanation for why China has the most patents (which I do not think requires one) but rather for why India has fewer.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 6:30
  • @Luck - that was very much the case in the relatively recent past, but more recently there are strong efforts to harmonize standards. Much of international work is now PCT ... and by at least some measures, this applies to the question above
    – Pete W
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 15:37

1 Answer 1


China is huge.

It spends roughly the same as the US on R&D ($600 billion in USA v. $500 billion in China) but there are far more people actively involved in research. - Each year there are more than double the number of graduates at Chinese universities than there are at American ones, and the government of China has strongly supported the science and engineering education that tends to lead to new inventions.

In this situation it isn't surprising that Chinese people will invent lots of patentable things. Countries like Germany or Japan have an established base, but are not as big as China and the USA. India has a similar population to China, but a lower GDP and much lower research spending, and this has consequences for the number of patents.

There may also be differences in what is patentable, however both China and the USA generally have traditions of allowing a wide scope of what's patentable.

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