In order to attract a better pool of applicants, the State Intellectual Property Office gave prospective patent agents an additional week to sign up for the national qualification exam this year.

The office began accepting applications on May 28, one week earlier than it had during previous sessions, and it closed enrollment on June 17.

After the online application period, applicants must submit their credentials in person at a selected site named by local IP authorities between June 3 and 24.

The exam is scheduled to begin concurrently in 20 cities across China on Nov 2, with Hangzhou and Chongqing added to the testing sites this year.

Eligible people from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan can choose to sit the exam in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Fuzhou.

SIPO has organized the exam 14 times over the past few years, and the number who have taken it continues to rise rapidly.

In 2009, the number of examinees surpassed the benchmark of 10,000, and in 2012, it increased 21.2 percent from a year earlier to 16,780.

Currently, more than 17,700 people across the country have become qualified patent agents. Among them, some 8,200 have been granted a license to practice by SIPO.

The number of patent applications received by SIPO has grown at an average annual rate of more than 20 percent in recent years.

In 2012 alone, the number of applications exceeded 2 million, and roughly 70 percent of them were processed by agencies.

Industry insiders say there is a shortage of patent agents, leaving agencies unable to cope with the growing market demand for professional services.

"Each of us files nearly 100 patent applications on an annual basis. For an invention patent, documentation requires even more time," said Cai Shiwei, assistant manager of Fuzhou Yuanchuang Patent Agency Ltd, in an interview with China Intellectual Property News.

Lack of professionals has become a bottleneck in the patent agency industry, Cai noted.

The problem is more extreme in some regions than in others.

An official at the Gansu provincial IP administration said that the number of locally filed patent applications has surpassed 8,000, but the entire province only has three patent agencies, with a total of 23 agents among them.

To address the issue and ease the stress, SIPO lowered the score required to qualify for the exam for designated regions in 2012.

Once examinees from the regions meet the lower requirements, they will be given a limited license, enabling local practice.

In Gansu, one of the provinces covered by the preferential policies, patent applications surged to more than 8,200 last year, up 56.3 percent compared to 2011. Most of them were handled by local agents.

Authorities will continue the policies to nurture local patent agents, ease the conflict between the service supply and demand, and promote the healthy growth of the agency industry, SIPO officials said.

They may also adjust and reform the policies in accordance with the latest development of the industry, they added.

(Source: China Daily)