Global Patent Filings See Fastest Growth in 18 Years

Geneva, Switzerland – A new World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”) report  shows that in 2012 global patent filings increased at their strongest rate in nearly two decades as industrial-design registration notched its best-ever rate of growth. Intellectual untitled.jpgproperty (“IP”) filings have sharply rebounded since a 2009 decline at the height of the financial crisis.

The report shows patent filings grew by 9.2% (2.35 million applications filed) in 2012. Utility model (“UM”) filings increased by 23.4%, industrial design filings by 17%, and trademark filings by 6.0%.

The 2013 edition of the World Intellectual Property Indicators also shows that, for the first time, China tops the ranking for both the source (filings by China) and the destination (filed in China) for the four types of IP (patents, utility models, trademarks and industrial designs). Of the top five IP offices worldwide, the State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China (“SIPO”) was alone in recording double-digit growth for each of the four types of IP. Continued rapid filing growth in China is the main driver of global IP growth.

“Following the 2009 financial crisis, global intellectual property filings and global economic output have followed diverging paths,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. He added, “while economic recovery since the 2009 crisis has been uneven and has failed to bring down unacceptably high levels of unemployment, IP filings have increased at a faster rate than before the crisis.”

Patents and Utility Models

Patent filings worldwide grew by 9.2% in 2012, representing the fastest growth recorded in the past 18 years. Following a 3.9% decrease in 2009, patent filings worldwide have now rebounded strongly, with accelerating growth rates – 7.6% in 2010, 8.1% in 2011 and 9.2% in 2012. This was mainly due to strong growth in filings at SIPO. The estimated 2.35 million patent filings worldwide in 2012 consisted of 1.51 million filed by residents and 830,000 by non-residents.

Among the top 20 IP offices, SIPO (+24%) saw the fastest growth in filings in 2012, followed by the offices of New Zealand (+14.3%), Mexico (+9%), the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO,” +7.8%), and the Russian Federation (+6.8%). Several offices of middle-income countries, such as Brazil (+5.1%), India (+3.9%) and South Africa (+2.7%), also reported growth in filings.

Filing behavior in Europe showed mixed trends. For example, the European Patent Office (“EPO,” +4%), the offices of Germany (+3.2%) and the United Kingdom (UK, +4.4%) witnessed growth. In contrast, the offices of France (-0.7%) and Italy (-4.2%) received fewer applications in 2012 than in 2011.

In 2012, for the first time, residents of China (560,681) accounted for the largest number of patents filed throughout the world. In addition, SIPO (652,777) accounted for the largest number of applications received by any single IP office – a position it first assumed in 2011.

Patent filings by field of technology differ across origins. Residents of Israel and the U.S. filed a high share of their applications in the computer and medical technologies fields. Applications filed by residents of Belgium, India and Switzerland were more concentrated in the organic fine chemistry field. Resident of Brazil filed a high share of applications in basic materials chemistry, while China and the Russian Federation focused their filings on material metallurgy technologies. In contrast, a higher share of applications filed by residents of Japan, Singapore and the Republic of Korea fell within the field of semiconductors. Residents of European countries such as France, Germany and Sweden focused their filings on transport-related technologies.

Patent filings for energy-related technologies grew by 5.3% in 2012. Applications filed by residents of China Hong Kong (“SAR”), Israel and Switzerland were highly concentrated in solar energy, while those of Finland, Japan and the UK had higher shares dedicated to fuel-cell technology.

In 2012, for the first time, the total number of patent grants worldwide exceeded the one million mark, with 694,200 issued to residents and 439,600 to non-residents. The 13.7% growth in 2012 – the highest rate since 2006 – was mainly due to growth in grants issued by the JPO, SIPO and the USPTO.

An estimated 8.66 million patents were in force worldwide in 2012. This figure is based on data provided by 82 IP offices. The USPTO (2.24 million) continues to be the IP office with the largest number of patents in force, followed by the JPO (1.7 million) and SIPO (0.9 million). In 2012, non-resident holders accounted for a large share of patents in force at SIPO (45.9%) and the USPTO (48.4%). In contrast, only 13.6% of all patents in force at the JPO are owned by non-residents.

In 2012, the number of pending applications (i.e., unprocessed applications at any stage of the application process) fell at three of the top four IP offices. The JPO and the USPTO saw year-on-year decreases over the 2008-2012 period, while the Korean Intellectual Property Office (“KIPO”) reported an annual decrease only from 2011 to 2012. The EPO has witnessed continuous growth since 2004.

Utility model (“UM”) applications worldwide grew by double-digit rates for each year between 2008 and 2012. The 23.4% growth in 2012 was lower than the 34.7% growth observed in 2011, but was similar to the 2010 growth rate (+24.7%). SIPO saw a 26.4% increase in UM applications in 2012. In addition to SIPO, several other IP offices exhibited strong growth in filings – notably, Turkey (+15.5%), the Czech Republic (+13.2%), Italy (+11.7%) and Thailand (+10.7%).


The total number of classes specified in trademark applications (i.e., class counts) filed worldwide grew by 6% in 2012; this was lower than the growth rates recorded in 2010 (9%) and in 2011 (9.5%). In 2012, a total of 6.58 million classes were specified in applications, which comprised 4.84 million resident application class counts and 1.74 million non-resident class counts.

The majority of the top 20 IP offices saw growth in class counts in 2012. Among the top 20 offices, the IP offices of two middle-income countries, namely Turkey (+24.1%) and China (+16.5%), reported the fastest growth. Mexico (+5.5%) and the Russian Federation (+7.9%) also exhibited strong growth in class counts for 2012. In contrast, the IP offices of European Union (EU) countries recorded fewer application class counts in 2012 than in 2011. For example, Italy reported an 8.3% decrease, while Germany and Spain reported decreases of 6.4% and 5.6%, respectively.

In 2012, residents of China filed, worldwide, applications with approximately 1.58 million class counts; this was significantly higher than the figures for the U.S. (599,896), Germany (387,503) and France (384,665). In many countries, the majority of trademarks were filed by residents with their respective domestic IP offices. However, there were some notable exceptions; a high proportion of total filings originating in Austria (49.5%), Switzerland (76.9%) and the U.S. (45%) were filed abroad.

Industrial Designs

Following a slowdown in both 2008 and 2009, the numbers of industrial designs contained in applications (i.e., design counts) rebounded strongly, with double-digit growth recorded in each of the three subsequent years (2010, 2011 and 2012). The 2012 growth of 17% was the highest since design count records became available in 2004. In 2012, applications containing an estimated 1.22 million designs were filed worldwide, comprised of 1.04 million resident filings and 0.17 million non-resident filings.

Among the top 20 IP offices, the IP office of the Russian Federation – with 29.5% growth – recorded the fastest growth in design counts in 2012. SIPO (+26.1%), Turkey (+12.4%), the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM,+12%) and KIPO (+11.8%) experienced double-digit growth from 2011 to 2012. Filings at the IP offices of larger middle-income countries showed mixed trends. Morocco (-14.8%), Brazil (-4%) and Mexico (-0.3%) saw decreases, while India (+4%) and Ukraine (+3.3%) reported growth in design counts over the same period.

Residents of China filed, worldwide, applications containing almost 650,000 industrial designs in 2012. They were followed by residents of Germany (76,369), the Republic of Korea (68,737) and the U.S. (45,245).

Plant Varieties

The total number of plant variety applications reached a new record in 2012 (14,319), but the growth rate of 1.8% in 2012 was modest compared to 2011 (+7.5%). The smaller growth in 2012 was mainly due to a decrease in applications at the European Union’s Community Plant Variety Office (“CPVO”).

The EU’s CPVO received the highest number of applications in 2012 (2,868), followed by the offices of China (1,583) and Ukraine (1,281). Even though applications fell at CPVO by 9.9%, this office received almost twice as many as the office of China.

In 2012, the largest number of plant variety applications originated in the Netherlands (2,560), followed by the U.S. (1,829) and China (1,465). Residents of France, Germany and Japan had similar numbers of applications (approximately 1,000 each). However, twelve of the top 20 origins, including the top two origins, filed fewer applications in 2012 than in 2011.

Practice Tip # 1: Trademark filing data refer to the number of classes specified in trademark applications, while industrial design filings refer to the number of designs contained in applications.

Practice Tip # 2: Like patents, UMs protect inventions for a limited period of time. However, the terms and conditions for granting UMs are different from those for “traditional” patents. In certain countries, UMs are known as “petty patents,” “short-term patents” or “innovation patents.”

Practice Tip # 3: Class counts are the total number of classes specified in trademark applications. Some IP offices have a single-class filing system, which requires applicants to file a separate application for each class in which the goods or services to which the mark is applied are classified. Other offices follow a multi-class filing system, which enables applicants to file a single application in which goods or services belonging to a number of classes can be specified. In order to make better international comparisons between numbers of applications received, it is important to compare class counts across IP offices.

Practice Tip # 4: Design counts are the total number of designs contained in industrial design applications. Some IP offices allow applications to contain more than one design, while other IP offices allow only one design per application. Design counts data take institutional differences across IP offices into consideration.


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