The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) released its 2007 report this week, summarizing the state of patent filings around the world. Overall, there was a 4.7 percent average annual increase in patent filings worldwide from 1995 to 2005, mostly due to the “explosive growth” of patent filings in Northeast Asia.
"Explosive growth" indeed: China launched itself into third place, leaving it behind only the United States and Japan, and closely followed by Korea. Between 1995 and 2005, China’s patent filings have increased by 834% percent, and Korea's filings have increased by 101%.
Between 2004 and 2005, the biggest increases in patent filings occurred in China (+32.9%), Thailand (+18%), Korea (+14.8%), Hong Kong (+14.6%), and the U.S. (+9.5%). Interestingly, the UK and France were the few countries that experienced a drop in patent filings of 6.5% and 2.1%, respectively.
This year's report features a new statistic that follows patent filings by technical fields. The biggest gainers for 2004-05 were:
Medical technology (+32.2%)The technical fields experiencing the biggest drops were:
Audio-visual technology (+28.3%)
Information technology (+27.7%)
Materials processing, textiles, paper (-11.2%)Of course, the continued increase in patent filings is straining the capabilities of patent offices worldwide. The report states that
Macromolecular chemistry, polymers (-9.5%)
Chemical and petrol industry, basic material chemistry (-8.8%)
Chemical engineering (-7.2%)
Machine tools (-5.2%)
These changes do not come without a cost. The workload at certain patent offices has increased faster than the capacity to examine patent applications. The United States of America had more than 900,000 patents pending in 2005. The Japanese Patent Office also had more than 800,000 patents pending in 2005, although it must be noted that this is largely due to changes in the time limit for request for examination, which has created a temporary increase in the examination workload in Japan.It is likely that this report will be part of the effort to rekindle patent harmonization discussions among WIPO members. WIPO has already prepared a new study on patent harmonization, for which an indicative draft outline was sent out for reactions last July. It appears that WIPO is becoming more focused on reducing duplicative efforts among the different national offices:
Among the questions raised by this increase in workload is the extent of duplication of effort within the system. Worldwide, 38% of patent applications are by non-resident applicants. These applications are usually preceded by prior applications in the country of residence of the applicant and, often, by parallel applications in other countries. Each of these applications may be subject to a separate search and examination in each patent office.Download the WIPO report here (HTML, PDF)