The Chinese patent system allows three types of patent protection: traditional “invention” patents protect technical solutions and improvements; design patents cover new designs whose novelty resides in aesthetic appeal and which are suitable for industrial application; and utility models covers shapes and structures of industrial products.

Design patents are surprisingly popular in China, accounting for more than a third of the total patent applications filed. Their popularity is linked to the fact that design applications are easy and inexpensive to prepare and file, and prosecution is rapid and not overly rigorous. Although foreign applicants have yet to embrace design patents in China (only about 10% of design patent applications are from foreign applicants), this attitude may change if and when their commercial value is established through a reliable enforcement system. In the meantime, foreign companies might want to hedge their bets by trying to cover distinctive design features of their products with design patents. More information can be found at:

http://www.shb.com/newsevents/2012/ObtainingandEnforcingDesignPatentsinChina.pdf and http://www.wipo.int/edocs/mdocs/mdocs/en/wipo_dm_sym_bue_07/wipo_dm_sym_bue_07_www_78207.pdf