Global patent filing: China is a front-runner
Based on the latest data released by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), global patent filings have seen their fastest growth in the past 18 years, with a 9.2 % increase in the total number of filings to bring the total to 2.35 million applications filed worldwide in 2012. This increase is especially striking given the hit that innovation took in 2009 in the midst of the global financial crisis, which resulted in a 3.9% decrease in patent filings.
Worldwide, Asian countries continue to show strong growth in terms of the number of patent filings. For the first time in 2012, China boasted both the highest number of patents filed worldwide by its residents as well as the highest number of patent application received by any single office. China, Japan and Korea are all among the top five patent offices in the world in terms of filings, and together their offices (SIPO, JPO and KIPO, respectively) accounted for about half of all patent filings in 2012. The other offices comprising the top 5 in 2012 were the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office.
The WIPO has played an important role in making the process of applying and obtaining patent protection in multiple countries easier to navigate and more efficient. The Patent Cooperation Treaty system allows businesses to first file a single international patent application with the WIPO, which will then be evaluated for patentability. Currently, 148 countries are signatories to the treaty, with Iran and Saudi Arabia the most recent additions to the treaty.
Users of the PCT system still have to later file patent requests with the individual countries in which they want protection, but the PCT system allows filers the chance to receive an evaluation of the viability of their patent request before filing with multiple agencies, plus it provides a standardized format for such filings – if the form of the application adheres to the standards set out by the PCT, then it cannot be rejected by any PCT Contracting State on technical grounds. This process also buys would-be patent applicants extra time to decide on a strategy as to which foreign markets to focus on first and how to proceed with those applications.
There has been steady growth in the number of applications filed through the PCT since the economic crisis in 2009. The total number of filings increased 11% in 2011 and 7.1% in 2012, for a total of more than 195,000 PCT system applications. Of the top 5 companies filing the most PCT applications, two are from China (ZTE Corporation and Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd.), two are from Japan (Panasonic Corporation and Sharp Kabushiki Kaisha), and one is from Germany (Robert Bosch Corporation).
As part of the PCT system, some countries have established bilateral agreements with other nations under the auspices of the Patent Prosecution Highway Pilot (PCT-PPH) to allow national patent offices to make use of the findings of other international offices (e.g., International Searching Authority that evaluates patents filed under the PCT) to expedite the overall patent process. Germany, for example, has bilateral agreements with seven other countries' patent offices, including China and the U.S.
Another similar system, the Global Patent Prosecution Highway System Pilot (GPPH), launched just this year, on January 6. Currently, there are 17 member offices, including the USPTO (United States), the UKIPO (United Kingdom), the KIPO (Korea) and the JPO (Japan). This pilot system allows for patent applicants to request an accelerated examination of their patent application if their patent application has already been accepted by one of the other members of the group. While the PCT-PPH requires the negotiation of individual, bilateral agreements between countries, any country that joins the GPPH automatically has an established agreement with all other members of the group.
Based on these continued developments and efforts to make the process of achieving intellectual property protection across a variety of international markets, it seems likely that we will see even more progress made in this area in the coming years and that more and more businesses will seek intellectual property protection in multiple countries