In 2011 China surpassed the US in patent application filings, according to data compiled by the World Intellectual Property Organization and reported in the Economist.
The State Intellectual Property Office of the People's Republic of China (SIPO) received 526,412 applications in 2011, compared to slightly more than 500,000 at the USPTO and approximately 340,000 at the Japan Patent Office.
In related news, the European Patent Office and SIPO recently announced that Chinese to English machine translation is now available in its Patent Translate service, which is integrated with Espacenet. An additional four million Chinese patent documents are now available in Espacenet.
I'm the librarian for research services in the Engineering and Science Library at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. I've been working with patent information since 1991, including seven years at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I believe that the dissemination of patent information is a public good and should be promoted, especially in the education of science and engineering students.