Of 15 top recipients, the Besturn B70 car by First Automotive Works (FAW) Group was the only design patent to win a gold medal at the 11th China Patent Awards in Beijing on Feburary 8.
China's highest government-sponsored patent award, the event aims to boost the nation's intellectual property strategy and accelerate creation of proprietary intellectual property.
The recent awards were the first after a new national intellectual property strategy was announced in 2008. Participating projects were significantly better than those in the previous sessions, according to organizers.
The car design fused traditional Chinese culture with international design trends, creating an image both fashionable and powerful, industry insiders said.
Its front headlight array "broke the old design model and perfectly complemented the whole", the awards appraisal said.
"Car design has a key position in industrial design," said Zhu Xi, general director of China Industrial Design Association.
Chinese industrial design began in the 1980s and is still in an early stage of development, lagging far behind many developed nations in numbers, scale, comprehensive strength and revenues.
Designers in developed markets are recognized as crucial to industry, so much so that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said the country could do without a prime minister but not designers.
The US federal government has a design department that in 1992 released the slogan "Design America".
It is a common belief that China's rapid economic growth, abundance of goods and diverse consumers now require better designs.
In the face of the worldwide economic weakness "industrial designs are a catalyst that can help Chinese companies get out of trouble", Zhu said. "Only with the concepts in design can our manufacturing industry have a soul."
The 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) explicitly encourages industrial design as one of the six key modern service sectors that will receive priority support from the central government. Related supporting policies are expected to be announced soon.
In addition to domestic efforts, increasing numbers of foreign designers are looking to cooperate with their Chinese peers and explore the potential of the emerging design market.
As China begins to attract wide attention from abroad, Chinese designers face both challenges and opportunities. As long as they bravely take on the challenge, the nation's native industrial design is expected to thrive, insiders said.