A while ago we wrote about the effect of cultural concepts on the perception of time, the way we refer to years and dates, and how this has an impact on patent documentation.
The first example we discussed was Japan and its use of the "imperial years" calendar system.
The next calendar system we would like to shed some light on is the Taiwanese one. Being geographically close to China, the island of Taiwan is heavily influenced by Chinese culture - even more so than Japan.
The imperial years - as you might remember - have their origin in China. As the highest political and spiritual instance, Chinese emperors used to choose a motto for their reign on ascending the throne. This motto consisting of two Chinese characters is referred to when mentioning the reign of an individual emperor. For example, the year 1911 was referred to as Xuantong 4 - the fourth (and final) year of the reign of the last Chinese emperor Puyi, who chose the era name xuantong 宣統 - "proclamation of unity" - for his rule. Whenever a new emperor ascended the throne, the calendar would be reset back to year one.
The use of imperial years in its country of origin seems to have come to a sudden stop when the last emperor abdicated at the end of 1911 and the Republic of China was established on 1 January 1912.
However, this historic moment did not change the general system of counting years. Instead of a new emperor's ascension to the throne, the Chinese took the foundation of the republic as the start of a new era - with the two-character phrase minguo (translated as "republic" or "country of the people") as the new era name. Instead of a monarch, the people became the new point of reference for counting years. Thus, the year 1912 became "Minguo 1".
The Minguo years were dropped by the Communist Party after the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, but they continued to be used by the Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang) and its followers after their retreat to the island of Taiwan. The Minguo years are still in use in Chinese Taipei, the official name of the political entity on the island of Taiwan. The current Gregorian year 2022 is therefore referred to as "Minguo 111".
You may wonder why this is important to remember when searching Taiwanese patent documentation. Republican (Minguo) years are not only found in references to dates on patent documents or in search tools, including filing, publication and registration dates; they also feature in application numbers as follows:
(y)yy: two or three digits for the Republican year (Minguo)
t: one digit for the type of right (e.g. "1" for invention patent, "2" for utility model)
(n)nnnn: four or five digits for the serial number
Please note that until 2011 ("Minguo 100"), Republican years were made up of only two digits and are therefore easy to confuse with Western years, also often abbreviated to two digits:
Western 98 refers to 1998
Minguo 98 refers to 2009
While on newer patent publications (see example 1) the dates (application date, publication date, etc.) are also given in Western years, on older patent documents (see example 2), the application number and date are handwritten and indicate the Republican year. No other numbers or dates are given.
In short, always remember that different calendar systems can have an impact on your search. Make sure you are certain which system is in use in each case, even if at first glance the format seems obvious. It's easy to confuse two-digit Republican years on Taiwanese patent documents with two-digit Western Gregorian years - but those who do are in for a shock later when they find out that the document they were looking at was filed much more recently than originally suspected.