WIPO Report Shows Economic Resilience During Pandemic, Buoyed by Massive Numbers of Chinese Patent, Trademark Filings

“China received the most trademark application filings during 2020, at 9.35 million, an increase of 19.3% over 2019’s totals…. Much of the global increase in 2020’s patent filings was spurred by China, which received nearly 1.5 million patent applications last year, an increase of 6.9% over 2019’s filing totals.”


WIPO offices

On November 8, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) released its World Intellectual Property Indicators 2021 report, the latest WIPO annual report to detail global IP filings across patents, trademarks and other forms of IP. As the key findings from the World IP Indicators report show, intellectual property filing activities, especially those related to trademarks, grew during 2020, showcasing a resilient global economy during the COVID-19 pandemic relative to other economic downturns in recent world history. Much of that activity is driven by domestic IP filings within China, which continues to dominate the world in sheer filing numbers across most forms of intellectual property.

Global Trademark Filings Surge 13.7% Despite Economic Shutdowns

Global trademark filings, which provide a strong reflection of worldwide economic conditions because of use requirements enforced by many countries granting trademark rights, increased by 13.7% during 2020 up to nearly 17.2 million trademark application filings worldwide. China received the most trademark application filings during 2020 at 9.35 million filings, an increase of 19.3% over 2019’s totals and well ahead of second-place United States, which saw just over 870,000 trademark filings. Although there are national differences in trademark filing rules, WIPO’s World IP Indicators report harmonizes trademark application numbers by counting the number of classes within each trademark application, so the actual number of trademark filings is likely less within the U.S. and other countries allowing applicants to claim multiple classes within a single application.

The strength of national economies around the world despite the COVID-19 pandemic is underscored by the fact that, of the top 10 nations receiving trademark applications, class counts in application filings rose by double digits in nine of those countries. The only jurisdiction where filings didn’t increase by double digits was at the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), which saw a 7.6% increase in filings up to 438,511 class counts. That puts the EUIPO in fourth place for 2020 just behind the Islamic Republic of Iran, which saw a 19.1% increase to 541,750 filings during 2020.

Domestic industries have been supporting the vast majority of increased trademark filings around the world through the COVID-19 pandemic. The WIPO World IP Indicators report found a 16% increase to the number of resident application filings by class count during 2020, while non-resident class counts only increased by 1.2% from 2019’s totals. The effects of resident filings were most pronounced in China, where only 2.5% of filings were submitted by non-residents, and Iran, where 2.8% of filings came from non-residents. Conversely, the most foreign trademark applications have been coming from Germany, which is the country of origin for 2.4 million class counts filed abroad. Germany has been the top country for trademark applications filed abroad since 2006. Following Germany is China, where applicants filed 1.8 million class counts abroad, and the United States, the country of origin for 1.3 million filings by class count.

China Lead in Global Patent Filings Driven Almost Exclusively by Domestic Applications

Although global patent filings only increased by 1.6% during 2020, the previous year had seen the first drop in worldwide patent filing activity in 10 years. Much of the global increase in 2020’s patent filings was spurred by China, which received nearly 1.5 million patent applications last year, an increase of 6.9% over 2019’s filing totals. Highlighting China’s dominance in patent filing activity is the sizable lead that country has over the United States, in second place with 597,172 patent filings, and Japan, in third place with 288,472 patent filings. The U.S. and Japan also saw decreases in patent application filings by 3.9% and 6.3%, respectively. Overall, only seven of the top 20 countries for patent filings saw increases in filing activities during 2020.

While this contrast in filing trends among the top three nations by patent filing activity makes China look like a dominant jurisdiction for parties seeking patent rights, the overwhelming majority of China’s patent filings are from residents; less than 200,000 patent applications filed in China during 2020 came from non-resident entities. However, the WIPO World IP Indicators report makes China’s outsized impact on worldwide patent filing activity very clear as 2019’s overall decrease in global patent filings was driven in large part by a 9.2% drop in Chinese filings that year, and the modest increase in this year’s numbers is largely attributable to the uptick in Chinese filings.

One area of patent filing activity where the United States still maintains a sizable lead over China is in terms of patent applicants filing equivalent applications in foreign countries. During 2020, U.S.-based applicants filed a total of 226,297 patent applications abroad, the largest total number of foreign applications that year among any country of origin for patent applicants. This was more than twice the total number of foreign patent filings from Chinese applicants, which totaled 96,268 patent applications abroad during 2020 and ranked fourth behind Japan (195,906 foreign patent applications) and Germany (99,791 foreign patent applications. However, China’s total number of foreign patent filings increased by 13.9% over 2019’s totals whereas the top three countries of origin for patent applicants each saw reductions in foreign patent filings. So while overall trends in global patent filings may be overly impacted by Chinese domestic patent applications, China continues to make slow but steady gains in foreign filing activities as the nation tries to win the global race on technological dominance during the 21st century.

China Also Dominates Industrial Designs and Plant Varieties, Ranks #2 in GIs in Force

WIPO’s World IP Indicators report shows that China also dominated the rest of the world in terms of other forms of IP that aren’t as important under U.S. IP law, including industrial designs and plant varieties. Of the 1.4 million industrial designs filed across the world during 2020, China received applications containing 770,362 of those industrial designs, representing 55.5% of the worldwide total. China’s IP office also received 8,960 plant variety applications last year, which was 39.8% of the worldwide total of 22,520 plant variety applications filed last year under the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV Convention).

Finally, the WIPO World IP Indicators report shows that Germany was home to the largest number of geographical indications (GIs) in force with 14,394 active GIs, which protect distinctive names or signs that reference a region of origin for certain high-quality goods. Germany holds a significant lead over second-place China (8,476 GIs in force), which is closely followed by Hungary (7,566 GIs in force) and the Czech Republic (6,180 GIs in force). By far, GIs are currently most popular in the wine and spirit industry, which accounts for 56.1% of the GIs in force across the globe today.


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