WIPO: China becomes top filer of international patents in 2019

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) press release on 7 April announced that China, for the first time ever, was the top filer of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) in 2019:
With 58,990 applications filed in 2019 via WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) System, China ended the U.S. (57,840 applications in 2019) reign as the biggest user of the PCT System that helps incentivize and spread innovation – a position previously held by the U.S. each year since the PCT began operations in 1978.*

Key attachments 

- WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, in a video broadcast on the results of WIPO in 2019, programme highlights and challenges for 2020, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

- The WIPO press release also provides a well-designed page of interactive charts that illustrates key international IP data (also in relation to patents, utility models, trademarks and industrial designs).

A video here (or see below) shows the dynamic changes in the amount of international patent applications filed by the top ten countries between 2005 and 2019.

PCT highlights 2019

- The top five PCT filers were: China (58,990), the US (57,840), Japan (52,660), Germany (19,353), and the Republic of Korea (19,085).

- Applicants based in Asia accounted for 52.4% of all PCT applications filed in 2019, while Europe (23.2%) and North America (22.8%) accounted for less than a quarter each.

- With 4,411 published PCT applications, Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei Technologies remained the top filer of PCT international applications in 2019 for the third consecutive year.

- Of the top ten filers: four are from China, two are from the Republic of Korea, and six filed their applications mainly in the field of digital communication.

- The top five fields of technologies are: computer technology (21,449 published applications, both here and below), digital communication (19,090), electrical machinery, apparatus, energy (17,223), medical technology (16,954), and measurement (11,471).

- Among the top ten technologies, semiconductors (+12%) and computer technology (+11.9%) were the fields with the highest rates of growth in 2019.

- Among the top ten educational institution filers, the University of California maintained its top rank. Four of the ten top filers are from China. Notably, educational institutions from China never made any of the top ten before 2018.

Brief comment

Over the past few decades, China has made remarkable progress in increasing its number of patent applications, both domestically and abroad. As WIPO Director General Francis Gurry noted:
In 1999, WIPO received 276 applications from China. By 2019, that number rose to 58,990— a 200-fold increase in only twenty years.
China’s rapid growth to become the top filer of international patent applications via WIPO underlines a long-term shift in the locus of innovation towards the East, with Asia-based applicants now accounting for more than half of all PCT applications.*
Figures do matter and can tell a lot. China’s figures have shown, fundamentally, a growing awareness of the global layouts of intellectual property. Together with growing R&D expenditure, the improvement of innovation capability and strong policy supports, the number of patent applications inevitably increased.

Although patents are used as one of the technology innovation indicators, it would not be correct to equate the mere large number of patent applications with strong innovation ability. According to the 2019 Global Innovation Index, China’s innovation performance ranks 14th among nearly 130 economies from around the world.

In China, the discussion over patents and innovation has gradually touched upon the deeper issues regarding, inter alia, patent inflation and patent quality. A sustainable patent system should place as much importance on the quality of patents as the quantity of patents, and does require multi-dimensional efforts from legal, technical and economic perspectives alike. Otherwise, the large number of low-quality patents in the patent system may eventually hinder economic development and technological innovation. 

The improvement of patent quality will be a long-term systematic project. At the same time, what is equally important to remember is that innovation is not all about competition, as Mr Gurry said:
IP is increasingly at the heart of global competition. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that innovation is not a zero-sum game—that a net increase in global innovation means new drugs, communications technologies, solutions for global challenges that benefit everyone, wherever they live. I am pleased that WIPO’s IP services are successfully helping foster innovation and spread it worldwide.*

*All quotes are referenced from the WIPO press release mentioned at the beginning of this blogpost. 

Photo courtesy: Jin’s mum 🐈

WIPO: China becomes top filer of international patents in 2019 WIPO: China becomes top filer of international patents in 2019 Reviewed by Tian Lu on Sunday, April 12, 2020 Rating: 5

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