“The data show continued and sustained growth in IP filings, driven largely by increases from Asia, with other regions also trending mostly upward.” – Daren Tang, WIPO
Worldwide IP filings increased by 3.6% in 2021, according to a report published November 21 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The increase came during a turbulent time for the world economy, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a global economic downturn.
The biggest increase in patent filings was in Asia, where 67.6% of worldwide patent applications were filed. The United States saw a 1.2% decrease in filings and a 1% increase in trademark filings.
Trademark applications grew at a much faster rate than patent applications, with a 5.5% in trademark filing activity. Industrial design filing activity also rose by 9.2% with the largest uptick again in Asia.
China saw high rates of growth and is a global leader in sheer numbers across all indicators.
“IP filing strength during the pandemic showed that people across the world continued to innovate and create despite the economic and social disruptions caused by the pandemic,” said WIPO Director General Daren Tang in a statement.
Global Patent Growth Fueled by Asia
WIPO identified three patent offices as the main drivers of patent filing growth: China, the Republic of Korea, and the European Patent Office. The worldwide total of 3.4 million patent filings surpassed the previous highest total of 3.3 million in 2018.
“The latest [World Intellectual Property Indicators] WIPI data show continued and sustained growth in IP filings, driven largely by increases from Asia, with other regions also trending mostly upward,” said Tang.
China’s IP office received nearly half of all global patent applications, with 1.59 million filings. Asia as a region has seen a huge growth in patent applications over the last decade, increasing from 54.6% of the world’s patent applications in 2011 to 67.6% in 2021. WIPO attributes the growth largely to long-term economic growth in China.
In recent years, the Chinese government has put an increased emphasis on improving the country’s domestic patent market. In October, the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) released a draft of new measures that would downgrade the ratings of Chinese patent agencies that approve abnormal or fraudulent patents.
The Chinese patent market has experienced a boom in recent years in part due to government subsidies that incentivize patent applications and innovation. However, the Chinese patent market does not enjoy the best reputation globally, and the Chinese government has been attempting to intervene to increase the value of the Chinese patent market.
Also of note, this year China surpassed the United States to become the world leader of patents in force. China has 3.6 million patents in force followed by the United States with 3.3 million and Japan with 2 million.
Remarkable Trademark Growth
WIPO characterized the 5.5% growth in trademark applications as “remarkable.” 2021 marks the 12th year in a row that global trademark filings have increased, and activity increased in 18 of the top 20 offices.
Trademark offices that saw big increases can be grouped into two categories: those that saw big increases in domestic filings and countries that received an influx of foreign applications.
High-income countries, such as the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Canada were more likely to see an increase in foreign trademark applications. For example, the United Kingdom saw the biggest increase in applications at 61.8% with about half of the applications made by non-residents.
In contrast, Brazil, India, and Turkey’s large increase in applications was mostly attributable to domestic filings.
Similar to patents, Asia has seen massive growth in trademark applications in the last decade. Trademark offices in Asia account for 69.7% of all applications in 2021 compared to 44.7% in 2011. China’s IP office received just shy of 9.5 million applications, which dwarfs the next country, the United States, which received around 900,000 filings.
In combination with growth in patent and trademark applications, China also is the world leader in industrial design and plant variety applications.
In 2021, worldwide industrial design applications increased by 9.2% with China accounting for 53.2% of the global total. China has the most industrial design registrations in force at 2.6 million, with the United States in third behind South Korea.
The United Kingdom had the highest rate of growth of industrial design applications at 128.5% with the majority of applications filed by non-residents.
Plant variety applications also increased by 12% globally, with China receiving 44.2% of the world’s applications.
Overall, WIPO was optimistic about the IP market and its future growth. However, the organization’s director also noted that the market is still susceptible to potential economic disruptions on the horizon.
Tang said, “another economic downturn is looming and geopolitical tensions have increased,” likely referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and economic tensions between the United States and China.
He continued, “however, the challenges facing us right now such as climate change and the achievement of the UN [Sustainable Development Goals] SDGs means that we have to continue supporting innovators and creators to use the IP system to bring their ideas to reality, and create the impact that will change our lives for the better.”