6 April 2018
Intellectual Property Services Industry in Hong Kong
- Table: Patent applications in Hong Kong
- Table: Top five origins of non-resident applications for patent
- Table: Trademark applications in Hong Kong
- Table: Top five origins of non-resident applications for trademark
- Table: Design applications in Hong Kong
- Table: Top five origins of non-resident applications for industrial design
- As a key marketplace for a variety of IP services, Hong Kong plays an important role in IP value-chain activities. Hong Kong IP services industry consists of professionals who offer a range of IP supporting services, including IP portfolio management, IP brokerage, valuation and due diligence. These services are vital in facilitating a myriad of licensing and acquisition deals for IP trading.
- IP trading activities create demand for specialised support services, including legal, financial and consulting services. The availability of professional services in Hong Kong reinforces its role as the preferred regional hub for IP-related business. Hong Kong’s role as Chinese mainland’s most prominent offshore RMB centre is particularly favourable for conducting IP transactions involving mainland enterprises.
- As IP infringement is one of the major concerns across IP industry players, IP litigation, along with alternative dispute settlement services, such as arbitration and mediation, is essential for IP industry players. Hong Kong is home to many of the region’s top IP attorneys. They provide a wide range of IP-related legal services, including IP registration, enforcement and consultancy for international and regional IP transactions, technology licensing and franchising.
Intellectual property (IP) comprises of a group of legal intangible assets, including patents, trademarks, designs and copyright. In general, IP trading refers to the buying, selling and transferring or licensing of IP rights through an agreement which allows IP acquirer to use an IP under mutually agreed conditions. As a regional commercial hub and sourcing platform, Hong Kong has long been a marketplace for different types of IP. Given its legal system and financial resources, robust IP protection, and presence of a pool of IP specialists providing comprehensive services to IP related industries, the city plays an important role in IP value-chain activities and in facilitating IP trading across the region.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Hong Kong ranks among the world’s top 20 IP application centres for patents. Most of the patent applications in Hong Kong are of overseas’ origin, with non-resident patent applications  accounting for 98% of the total in 2016 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). This is far higher than Asia’s average of 17% and the world average of 29%. The major sources of non-resident patent filings in Hong Kong are the US, Japan and Switzerland. With the strong overseas interest in filing in the city, Hong Kong is positioned as a key trading platform for patents.
The industry players involved in IP value-chain activities can be generally classified into two groups – 1) IP creators, owners and users, and 2) IP intermediaries. In Hong Kong, IP creators, owners and users mainly involve the creative industries (e.g. films, television programmes, music and book publishing), technology sectors, industrial design services sector, as well as knowledge transfer offices of universities and R&D centres. On the other hand, IP intermediaries in Hong Kong provide IP related intermediary support services, including IP registration, IP matching services, consultancy, IP brokerage, IP valuation, due diligence, financing, as well as legal and accounting.
IP Trading and Support Services in Hong Kong
IP trading activities creates demand for specialised supporting services, including legal, financial and consulting services. Hong Kong has a strong cluster of professional services providers including patent attorneys, venture capitalists, consultants and other advisers to facilitate IP trading activities.
IP litigation, along with alternative dispute settlement services, such as arbitration services, is essential for IP industry as IP infringement is a major concern among industry players. Such services also constitute an important income stream for IP-related legal services providers. Hong Kong has a reliable and transparent legal system with a strong cluster of experienced legal services providers. This, along with a robust IP regime with strong IP enforcement, provides a safe legal environment for IP-related business. As such, Hong Kong is home to many of the region’s top IP attorneys, such as Deacons and Jones Day. They provide a wide range of IP-related legal services, including IP registration, enforcement and consultancy for international and regional IP transactions, technology licensing and franchising.
Since IP creators, especially start-ups and entrepreneurs, may hardly generate income before the IP becomes marketable, they may need to rely on external financial resources, such as venture capital and private equity. The availability of financing resources and financial services in Hong Kong, with its status as the most prominent offshore RMB centre, reinforces its role as the preferred regional hub for IP-related business, particularly for transactions involving Chinese mainland enterprises. Hong Kong is the second largest private equity centre in Asia as of September 2017. Private equity firms in Hong Kong help raise funds for start-ups and entrepreneurs in technology and innovative businesses.
Local universities also play important roles in Hong Kong’s IP trading ecosystem. Knowledge transfer offices of Hong Kong’s universities specialise in the commercialisation of R&D outputs, providing various supports in transferring technology-related IPs from universities to industry.
Hong Kong as an IP Trading Platform
Hong Kong hosts a number of mega events that provide ample IP trading opportunities, including the Hong Kong International Licensing Show, the Hong Kong International Film and TV Market (FILMART), the International ICT Expo, the Hong Kong Book Fair, DesignInspire and Smartbiz Expo. These events not only showcase the latest IP-embedded creativity and technologies, but also connect IP owners with potential IP acquirers from all over the world.
The Business of IP Asia (BIP Asia) Forum, a conference dedicated to the IP industry, also serves as the ideal platform for industry players to explore business collaboration opportunities. The seventh BIP Asia Forum, held in December 2017, featured more than 80 renowned IP experts and industry leaders as speakers to share their insights about the latest developments in the IP ecosystem. To provide more networking and business opportunities for forum participants, the BIP Asia Exhibition was held alongside the BIP Asia Forum. It features more than 90 exhibitors, including the WIPO, international technology corporations, top-tier research centres, universities and IP service providers.
With an aim to facilitate the IP trade in Hong Kong and to connect global IP players, the Asia IP Exchange (Asia IPEX) was launched in 2013. Asia IPEX is a free online platform and database showcasing worldwide IPs and related services, boasting a portfolio of more than 27,000 tradeable IPs, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and registered designs.
Policy Support to Enhance Hong Kong’s Role as an IP Hub
In the 2017 Policy Address, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has committed to continue to strengthen the IP protection regime, promote the development of Hong Kong as a regional IP trading centre and encourage IP commercialisation to foster the development and diversification of creative industries. In 2013, the government announced to develop an Original Grant Patent (OGP) system in Hong Kong in parallel with the existing re-registration system, in order to enhance the development of Hong Kong into a regional innovation and technology hub, as well as a premier IP trading hub.
Signing more comprehensive Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAA) with other countries is helpful in drawing more overseas firms to conduct IP-related activities in Hong Kong. As of March 2018, Hong Kong had signed 39 comprehensive DTAA with counterparts including the Chinese Mainland, Japan, Korea, Switzerland and the UK, with negotiations in progress for another 12 jurisdictions.
To strengthen their global competitiveness, Chinese enterprises are stepping up R&D investments, while increasingly acquiring IPs including patents. The growing IP demand has bolstered IP applications and technology commercialisation on the Chinese mainland. Hong Kong licensing agents, thanks to their strong networks on the Chinese mainland, are considered by many foreign licensors the most preferred partners to tap these opportunities. Meanwhile, Hong Kong is also an ideal gateway for mainland-based enterprises to promote their technologies and trademarks overseas through Hong Kong’s extensive connections to global IP players. Under CEPA, Hong Kong service suppliers are allowed to provide patent agency and trademark agency services on the mainland . To enrich the CEPA co-operation provisions, Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland signed the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (Ecotech Agreement) in June 2017. Under the Ecotech Agreement, Hong Kong and the mainland will jointly promote IP co-operation in areas spanning creation, exploitation, protection and trading between the two jurisdictions. To support the enhancement of Hong Kong’s patent system, technical support will also be provided in various areas covering substantive examination, review, post-grant patent disputes, and automation services.
 Non-resident application refers to an application filed by a resident of a foreign state or jurisdiction from the perspective of the office receiving the application.