A Chinese manufacturer filed a patent infringement suit against U.S. retailer giants, marking a rare case that a Chinese firm seeks to enforce patent rights in a U.S. court.

Changzhou Asian Endergonic Electronic Technology Co., based in Changzhou, China, filed a lawsuit against numerous U.S. retailers, including Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target and Staples, alleging infringement on its patented design for dashboard mounts displaying GPS units.

Changzhou claims that the retailers are selling products made by a competitor that violate its intellectual property rights. The company is also suing the Chinese manufacturer of the product that the U.S. retailers are stocking.

Long recognized and the world's most important up-and-coming player, China has still been seen only as a limited force in business: offering incredibly cheap manufacturing and a burgeoning consumer class to sell to but little else.

However, this case, the first of its kind where a Chinese company has filed a suit in U.S. court over a patent developed in China, may mark a watershed moment for China's place on the international economic stage.

China's applications for industrial patents rose 22.5% to more than 110,000 last year, according to Lou Qinjian, China's vice-minister of Industry and Information Technology.

Chinese mainland residents filed 5,129 US patent applications in fiscal 2008, according to preliminary patent office figures.

That makes it eighth in the number of filings by residents of foreign countries, behind Japan, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, the United Kingdom and France.

The Chinese government is taking steps to assist companies in enforcing their patent rights both inside China and elsewhere, Changzhou Aisa's lawyer Nydegger of Workman Nydegger in Salt Lake City, was quoted in Bloomberg.

Apparently the firm has already learned the basics of the American patent system as it's suing in Texarkana of Texas, where patent owners have won 77% of trials in the district's court compared with a 59% win rate nationwide in US.

This suit may turn attention to the innovation happening in China while also spurring more of it.

The Chinese are becoming sophisticated enough to take advantage of the patent system in the U.S., Bloomberg said, citing Brian Nester, a lawyer with Fish & Richardson in Washington, who often represents South Korean companies in U.S. patent fights. You will see more Chinese companies filing suit in the U.S.

My client's view is China is starting to emerge as a first-world country. There's been a significant influx of technology, and they are starting to make improvements. They are becoming innovators, not just copiers, Nydegger said.