WIPO: ‘Explosive Growth’ In Patent Filings Strains IP System10/08/2007 by Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Much of our best content is available only to IP Watch subscribers. We are a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now.By Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen The shape of the intellectual property map is changing, with Northeast Asia moving into the top of the list of number of patent filings in 2005, says a new report from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).There was a 4.7 percent average annual increase in patent filings worldwide from 1995 to 2005, fuelled by what WIPO Deputy Director General Francis Gurry, called “explosive growth” in Northeast Asia. Growth is viewed by many as positive but Gurry said it is also putting the system under “considerable stress”. Gurry spoke at a press conference.In 2005, patent grantings rose 3.6 percent average over 2004, WIPO said. As of 2005, there were some 5.6 million patents in force worldwide, the report said.Among the top offices for filings in 2005 – which is the latest year for which complete worldwide statistics are available – Japan topped the list, followed by the United States, China and Korea, the 2007 WIPO Patent Report said.Together with the European Patent Office, these offices represent 74 percent of all patents granted in general, and 77 percent of all patents granted in 2005, WIPO said.Of the top four, China seems to be in the lead for the race to the top in terms of increase, with a 33 percent increase in patent filings in 2005 compared with the year before. It has moved one place up on the filing list from 2004. Korea has improved its ranking by two places, with a 15 percent increase in filings in 2005, the report said.In terms of patent filings, China’s statistics have increased by 834 percent over the past 10 years (1995 to 2005) and Korea by 101 percent, Gurry said.China was also the winner in terms of the largest number of patents filed both by its nationals as well as foreigners, with 42.1 percent and 23.6 percent growth respectively in 2005 over 2004. Americans, Japanese and Germans topped the list of patent applications abroad, while China, India, Mexico, Korea and Russia saw significant increases in foreign filings, the report said. Gurry said increases in filings by foreigners are often mirrored by growth in national filings as well.The growth in patent filings also comes at a time when concern has been raised over poor quality patents being granted without representing a real innovation. This may have been the case, for example, in a recent US Supreme Court ruling (IPW, US Policy, 15 May 2007).Rethinking the System?The strong growth in patent filings and grants are not only caused by the internationalisation of the system and new users such as China and India, but also because the “old” users are increasingly using the system, and this has caused bottlenecks.The United States Patent and Trademark Office, for example, has an “enormous” backlog of one million patents, Gurry said. It would require the office 2.5 years to finish them all, he said, and in the meantime another one million patent applications would have been received.Japan is also experiencing a backlog of some 800,000 applications but that is more of a temporary nature and is due to a change in the system, Gurry said. Of patents in force worldwide, 49 percent are owned by applicants in the United States (28 percent) or Japan (21 percent).Talking about “demand management,” Gurry said that the WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), under which one can file an international patent application, is “supposed to ease this,” but there is still a lot of overlapping work. The “system cannot continue without rationalising,” Gurry said.A new multilingual search engine is expected to be available at the end of the year, he said.Patent Harmonisation Debate Could ReturnThe backlogs have been among the arguments for harmonising the worldwide patent system, but the discussions have been on ice this year after WIPO members could not agree on how to move forward (IPW, WIPO, 29 November 2006).The division on this issue was mainly along developing versus developed countries, as developing countries feared that a worldwide harmonisation of the patent system would not reflect countries’ development stages, and that the developed country laws were still under revision.Talking about the report, Gurry said that there is a fairly large concentration in the use of the patent system. He said this could partly explain why there is a “political controversy” about the patent system.Patent harmonisation, which has been discussed in the WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP), may not be altogether dead. WIPO appears to be on track to undertaking a new study on patents, which could address harmonisation, for which an indicative draft outline was sent out for reactions with a mid-July deadline (IPW, Subscriber, 22 June 2007).Gurry said that a paper which slightly revised the outline based on the hearing would be published on WIPO’s website “very, very soon” in time for the September General Assembly.He said WIPO expects to get the green light for this study by the General Assembly and “will be [going] full steam” to finish the study by March next year.Tove Gerhardsen may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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