Tencent: To Make Patent Application and Protection Effectively

By Doris Li, China IP,[Patent]

  In this age of technology, there are few people unfamiliar with “Tencent”. For most office workers, logging on to Tencent’s QQ, is their first daily order of business. It has become the most frequently used communication tool in China. According to the latest financial data from the Shenzhen Tencent Computer Systems Company Limited (Tencent), the number of registered QQ accounts has reached 1.057 billion; the number of active accounts has topped 484.9 million, and peak concurrent users (PCUs) is around 95.51 million - this is about to create a new landmark for the World Wide Web - 100 million PCUs.
  Many senior netizens are also no stranger to Tencent’s one-stop online life service. Supported by strong R&D, its network platforms such as QQ, Qzone, QQ.com, QQ Game, and Paipai.com have become the largest online communities in China. Tencent has always maintaineded a low profile in the industry, and seldom becomes the focus of media. However in 2009, it became involved in an input method cross action with two Sogou companies (Sogou Information and Sogou Technology) under Sohu, and struck the latter a hard blow. It was an unfair competition case involving a QQ Pinyin input method of Sogou Information and Sogou Technology vs. Tencent. The two Sogou companies filed a claim against Tencent, seeking 20 million Yuan in damages and requested the latter to bear 511,000 Yuan in legal costs. However, just three days prior to the first court session, Tencent also took the two Sogou companies to court for unfair competition, and demanded 20 million Yuan in compensation. This case claims to be China’s “first case of input method”.
  This journalist interviewed Ms. Qiu Xue, head of the Patent Department of Tencent, and learned that Sohu was earlier than Tencent in releasing the Pinyin input method, but was simply two days earlier than Tencent in filing the first patent application. Since the number of patent applications from a certain perspective reflects the company’s input in R&D, the tiny time difference of the two companies in filing the first patent application for the similar product indicates that both companies are well-matched in R&D relative to this product. At the time this article went to press, this “first case” was still in trial.
  To make patent application and protection effectively
  Since its birth on February 10, 1999, QQ has gradually changed the way Chinese people communicate. Now QQ is 11 years old, and has grown into a main tool for network communications. It provides users a giant and convenient communication platform, and serves various functions in the lives of people, social service, and business applications. Besides QQ, Tencent’s several other products are also changing our way of life at an unprecedented speed, and is bringing Internet application into a wider development space.
  Tencent hopes that its products can be as indispensable as water and electricity in people’s lives. In China where science and technology develops so rapidly, network service has to rely on innovation for survival and development. But network service innovation is not only being embodied in the development of product functions, improvement of user experience and such outward representations, but also in the advancement of applied technology. Tencent’s technological advancements are usually protected by intellectual properties, usually by patent.
  Through the development over the past decade, Tencent has filed more than 2,500 patent applications, of which more than 500 applications were presented in 2009, and most patent applications were focused on computer software.
  Tencent’s national and international patent applications can both be traced back to 2001. Since 2005, domestic patent applications saw a drastic increase, while international patent applications grew at a respectable pace after 2007. Among the total more than 2,500 applications, the number of overseas applications exceeds 600. “Different from domestic applications, we have to cross two thresholds to file patent applications in foreign countries: the high cost (about ten times of the domestic application fee) and the different IP environment and application processes. Currently, more patent offices in China have become qualified to handle overseas applications for Chinese enterprises. The focus of Tencent’s IP team, regarding overseas applications is to determine which patents are filed in foreign countries, to file patents in the appropriate countries, and to file what amount and what types of patents. Their target is to improve the quality of patents through evaluation, and to effectively make patent applications and protection.” Ms Qiu said.
  Tencent has basically completed their initial “five-year patent plan”, and is entering into the third stage. It has been learned that Tencent’s first stage target was an accumulating strategic application, and its second stage goal was the accumulation of patent authorizations. By the end of 2009, Tencent had filed more than 2,500 patent applications and obtained more than 500 patents. Simply by these two figures, Tencent stands in the world’s top three Internet companies, both in patent applications and patent authorization. In 2010, the company will create new endeavors based on previous achievements, including the exploration into some frontier IP issues existing in the field of Internet, and giving full play of its advantages to promote the healthy development of Internet-related patent applications.
  With more than 60% of their employees being R&D specialists, Tencent has an open sesame for its market expansion: R&D Power. In the company, IP protection for its different products is in the hands of specialized people, and the corresponding technology is jointly discussed by specialized technologists. Instant Messenger (IM), for example, is a basic product of Tencent, and the company requires that every new feature is protected. Regarding games, it formulates and creates comprehensive protection with an overview of the existing copyright and patent applications in the industry.
  Ms Qiu said: “Tencent has multiple varieties of products. Every product is given a specific context, and is in the unique stage for IP Protection. Therefore, we will make specific protective measures upon every product based on its specific stage.”
  Tencent has also never been soft on software piracy, especially on plug-ins. Besides using legal means, the company keeps improving the safety of products to technically keep out plug-ins. But for the abuse of the QQ image on some material objects, Ms Qiu said that in a country flooded with infringements, if they crack down on every infringement, including some tiny ones, they could hardly recover the cost. She gave further illustrations: “From the creation of the QQ image, we have applied for the design patent, copyright and trademark protection upon it. We have also applied for the design patent of the QQ camera. However, we still see counterfeiting QQ cameras in some small-scale electronic markets. In some inland cities, unauthorized QQ images are everywhere from ham sausages to toys and clothes. We don’t even know who to indict. Anti-piracy fights consume too much time and energy, and we have to pick out some typical cases and try to win them, as a warning against infringers.”
  To learn from others and to make innovations
  Tencent has a large product scope, basically covering all network service products. Pressure from competitors makes Tencent pay great attention to user evaluations of its products. Ms Qiu said: “We always check our products’ ranking among similar products and initiate user satisfaction surveys. We also learn from some advanced foreign Internet companies. Most importantly, we lay special stress on developing products with Tencent’s characteristics based on what we have learned from the market, from users and from other Internet companies.”
  Tencent has created many new products and applications. The invention of the QQ Group not only brings great changes to the Internet life of the Chinese people, but also has leverage with the world Internet. With the popularization of the QQ group, MSN, AOL and Yahoo has followed suit, making this oriental-type communication mode spread throughout the world. But Tencent is also learning from others. “For some products, we are not the first company marketing them, but we are still marketing them and have numerous loyal customers. This is because our products have both the functions of other products and the specific features of their own, and thus have great vitality and sustainable development potentiality”, said Ms. Qiu said.
  In 2007, Tencent invested over 100 million Yuan and set up in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen the first Internet research institute of China - Tencent Research, is dedicated to the independent research and development of core basic Internet technology. From business development, operation to sales and service, independent innovation has penetrated into every job process of Tencent.
  To be the most respected Internet company
  “To be the most respected Internet company” is the long-range vision of Tencent. To this end, the company is actively involved in public welfare establishments, shoulders social responsibilities and tries to be a promoter of network civilization.
  According to Ms. Qiu, Tencent formerly set its vision and motto as “happily living and happily working”, and targeted “entrepreneurial culture and innovation”. After the company reached the set achievements and with the aim to be “century-old”, it began to shift more attention on its responsibilities for the shareholders, staff, and society. Therefore, Tencent changed its vision to “to be the most respected Internet company”. This vision also tells Tencent that they must look at the long run, and never do anything that would harm public interest.
  On November 12, 1998, Ma Huateng and his college classmate Zhang Zhidong registered the “Shenzhen Tencent Computer Systems Company Limited”, specializing in the development of wireless network paging systems. At the end of 2009, the number of registered QQ accounts reached 1.057 billion. In 11 years, Tencent has changed the way Chinese people communicate, and created a myth of its own.
  (Translated by Hu Xiaoying)

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