China’s declassification of defence patents

Novel, but not (yet) a game changer

By Meia Nouwens; Helena Legarda

During the 19th Party Congress in October 2017, China’s President Xi Jinping outlined a bold set of reforms designed to mould the People’s Liberation Army into a ‘world-class’ force by 2050. In line with this vision, Beijing has emphasised the importance of promoting innovation, and that civil–military integration (CMI) should be an integral part of this drive. The release of thousands of national defence patents in early 2017 should, therefore, be seen in the context of this effort to engage China’s civil-commercial sector in its national defence technological and industrial base (DTIB). The patents in question relate mainly to Chinese air, space and missile technologies, with some dating from the late 1980s and others registered as recently as 2016.

In a new research paper, Meia Nouwens and Helena Legarda examine the effectiveness of this round of patent releases for the integration of civilian companies into the Chinese DTIB. Exploring patterns in the dataset – relating to the ownership of the patents, their age, processing time and legal validity, as well as the general technological areas on which they are focused – the authors assess whether this release can realistically bring China closer to achieving its strategic goals. This is the first in a series of reports to be produced by the China Security Project. Based on an innovative collaboration with the Mercator Institute for China Studies, this project explores China’s defence and security policy and initiatives to determine how and why China’s role in the international security arena is evolving.

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