Although sector-by-sector figures were unavailable, the European Patent Office (EPO) noted that its Chinese counterpart had gone past it in patent approvals and would soon surpass Japan and the US to become the globe's busiest intellectual property rights (IPR) bureau. The Chinese State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) processed about 200,000 applications in the past year. European companies lodged 23,988 patent applications with SIPO in 2006.EPO noted that China's increasing importance to the global economy presented IPR issues such as alignment with established international patenting standards that needed to be discussed in an international forum. EPO is working with SIPO to achieve this kind of alignment. While the two organisations have had a working relationship since 1985 when they signed a Treaty of Cooperation, the relationship firmed last year with the signing of an Agreement on Strategic Partnership to address "specific current challenges". Initiatives included SIPO opening its 32 000-entry Traditional Chinese Medicine database to EPO and all European Union member states. "When cooperation first started in 1984, the SIPO was just getting started; now it is bigger than the EPO in terms of its staff, and will play a major role in the future of global IP policy," said EPO principal director of European and international affairs, Gérard Giroud. "This is why last year we formed a strategic partnership as equal partners. Relations with China have progressed from what was basic, initial support more than 20 years ago to what is now a strategic partnership among equal partners since the Agreement was signed last year." Patent support EPO cooperates with many patent offices around the world and is supportive of IP protection agencies in many countries. In the case of French-speaking African nations it had allied with the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI) and the English-speaking African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO). Partnerships with agencies in Brazil and Mexico had borne fruit as had "a strong history of partnerships in the Asian region, especially Thailand and the Philippines for which we have implemented two EU-sponsored programs on IP so far." A relationship with the Indian patent board had been formed in 2007. Euro-Sino alliance Since 1985, EPO and SIPO have coordinated a number of key initiatives including:
EPO training more than 2000 SIPO patent examiners and 60 a year at its various European offices.
Adopting the EPOQUE system, an international search database for patents.
Sharing patent databases with synchronisation at weekly intervals.
Free translation between English and Chinese had been agreed in November last year.
An automatic translation tool for Mandarin Chinese was in development. "Access to Chinese patent documentation is an important political breakthrough and the translation tool will also be available for use free of charge by patent offices around Europe and the general public," said Giroud. The European Commission is establishing an Intellectual Property Rights Help Desk specifically tailored towards Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) facing rights violations in China.