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International Patent Filings Dip Amid Global Downturn

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

11 February 2010

International patent filings under the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO's) Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) fell by 4.5% in 2009 with sharper than average declines experienced by some industrialized countries amid tougher economic conditions, although there was growth in filings in a number of East Asian countries.

Provisional data from WIPO indicates that 155,900 international patent applications were filed in 2009 as compared to the nearly 164,000 applications filed in 2008.

"The decline in PCT filings is not as sharp as originally anticipated – last year's results bring us back to just under 2007 levels, when 159,886 international applications were filed," said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. "Interestingly, the rate of decline in international filings is lower than that experienced in some national contexts. This is an indication of a broad recognition that it makes good business sense, whatever the economic conditions, to continue to protect commercially valuable technologies internationally."

International patent filings in a number of East Asian countries continued to enjoy positive growth in spite of the challenging global economic conditions. Japan, the second largest user of the PCT, experienced a 3.6% rate of growth with 29,827 applications; South Korea was ranked as the fourth largest user of the system, experiencing 2.1% growth with 8,066 applications; and China became the fifth largest PCT user with a strong growth rate of 29.7%, representing some 7,946 international applications.

In contrast, the filing rate dropped by 11.4% in the United States and by 11.2% in Germany in 2009. Declines were also experienced in the United Kingdom (-3.5%), Switzerland (-1.6%), Sweden (-11.3%), Italy (-5.8%), Canada (-11.7%), Finland (-2.2%), Australia (-7.5%) and Israel (-17.2%).

The United States maintained its top ranking, filing just under a third of all international applications in 2009 (45,790), followed by Japan (+3.6%, 29,827 applications), Germany (-11.2% or 16,736 applications), South Korea (+2.1%, 8,066 applications), China (+29.7%, 7,946 applications), France (+1.6%, 7166 applications), the United Kingdom (-3.5% or 5,320 applications), the Netherlands (+3.0% or 4,471 applications), Switzerland (-1.6% or 3,688 applications) and Sweden (-11.3% or 3,667 applications).

Japan's Panasonic Corporation returned to the top spot in the list of PCT applicants, nudging China's Huawei Technologies, Co., Ltd. into second place. Panasonic had 1,891 PCT applications published in 2009, Huawei Technologies had 1,847, followed by Germany's Robert Bosch (1586 applications), the Netherlands's Koninklijke Philips Electronics (1,295 applications) and the US's Qualcomm Incorporated (1,280 applications). Four Japanese companies, Panasonic, NEC Corporation (ranked 8th), Toyota Jidosha Kabushiki Kaisha (ranked 9th) and Sharp Kabushiki Kaisha (ranked 10th) featured in the list of top 10 largest filers.

The University of California accounted for the largest number of applications published in the category of educational institutions. Most top-filing universities, however, experienced declines in the number of international patent filings in 2009.

The largest number of international applications received from developing countries in 2009 came from South Korea (8,066) and China (7,946) followed by India (761), Singapore (594), Brazil (480), South Africa (389), Turkey (371), Malaysia, (218), Mexico (185) and Barbados (96).

Developing countries make up over 78% of the membership of the PCT, representing 112 of the 142 countries that have signed up to the treaty and accounted for 14% of the total number of filings (with China and South Korea accounting for 10%).

Declines and advances in PCT filings varied by technology area, according to WIPO. The greatest declines related to computer technology (12,560 applications, down 10.6% on 2008); pharmaceuticals (12,200 applications, down 8.0% on 2008) and medical technology (12,091 applications, down 5.9% on 2008). The largest growth rates were experienced in micro-structural and nano-technology (+10.2%), semiconductors (+10%) and thermal processes and apparatus (+ 7.2%).

The PCT system, first launched in 1978, is designed to promote effective information sharing among patent offices, to avoid duplication of work and to facilitate access to patent information. By filing one "international" patent application under the PCT, protection of an invention can be sought simultaneously in each of a large number of countries. Both applicants and patent offices of PCT member states benefit from the uniform formality requirements, the international search and preliminary examination reports, and the centralized international publication provided by the PCT system.

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