Shanghai Belling's electricity meters show patenting innovation

Published on 06/22 2017  Source: China Daily


Electricity is indispensable for every family. To measure the electricity, there must be an electricity meter. And the little meter is a treasure trove of patents.

Starting in 1992, Shanghai Belling, a State-owned enterprise, took the first steps on its journey to developing the core chips for electronic electricity meters.

In the 1990s, most families were still using mechanical electricity meters. Their accuracy would slowly reduce because of its internal mechanism becoming worn-out.

Electronic electricity meters are better at calculating power and improving accuracy. In 1997, the Chinese government carried out a power grid upgrade project and advocated the use of electronic electricity meters.

It was then that Belling upgraded its products and established its patent pool.

From 1998 to 2000, Belling's chips in electronic electricity meters played a major role in the national power grid transformation program, with annual production of up to 10 million pieces, accounting for 90 percent of the market share at that time.

In 2004, Belling developed a series of new chips that functioned based on digital signals. In the following three years, the largest yield of those chips exceeded 30 million pieces per year.

From 2009 onwards, China has continued to upgrade the power grid by using smarter calculating systems. Belling has expanded its business from focusing on measuring chips to providing the whole electronic electricity meter.

At present, 100 percent of the components and parts can be produced by China independently. Belling is one of the manufacturers that can provide most of the products needed for the electricity network.

The company has been sued several times by international competitors for claimed plagiarism in chip design. However, its operations have been little influenced thanks to its well-established map of patents and integrated circuit designs.

"Core patent protection is the trump card that determines the survival of a company," said Zhou Chengjie, deputy general manager of Belling. "Applying for patents is just like saving against a rainy day."

In an enterprise's general layout and development process, patents' market value cannot be determined only by economic factors, according to a report from a high-value patent forum hosted by the State Intellectual Property Office in April.

Zhou said many others would be able to repeat his company's experience. Through analysis of its rivals' patents, the company found that their instability has become an Achilles heel.

Enterprises should stay calm when facing patent lawsuits, he said. But the most significant step is to build up a core patent pool early on and focus on technological innovation, Zhou added.

In 2007, Belling was recognized as a Shanghai Municipal Intellectual Property Demonstration Enterprise. It has also won national patent awards three times.

By the end of 2016, the company had applied for 564 patents; 361 of them were granted, including 165 patents for invention. The company also owned 220 registered integrated circuit designs at that time.