First-Ever Drop In Filings Under Patent Cooperation Treaty Seen In 2009

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International patent filings under the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Patent Cooperation Treaty fell for the first time in three decades in 2009, owing to a deep economic downturn, WIPO officials said today. Overall patent filings fell 4.5 percent in 2009, but industrialised nations were particularly hard-hit, and are also expected to have slower growth rates in 2010 than emerging economies.

“The impact of the [financial] crisis has been very uneven across the world,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry at a press conference on 8 February.

This is the “first decline in PCT filings in an over 30-year history,” said WIPO Chief Economist Carsten Fink, adding this “is not entirely surprising given the depth of the economic downturn,” but it is still “something unprecedented in the PCT system.”

The picture was more variegated at the national level. The biggest industrialised-country players in the international patent system saw major declines in their filings in 2009, with the US filing 11.4 percent fewer patents than in 2008, Germany losing 11.2 percent, Sweden 11.3 and Canada 11.7 percent of filings.

But China increased its patent filings 29.7 percent, enough to surpass France and become the fifth largest patent filer to the PCT, meaning that now three of the top five are Asian states. The other two Asian nations in the top five also saw increased performance, though not as dramatic as China’s: Japan’s filings grew 3.6 percent and Korea’s 2.1. The WIPO press release, with a list of these statistics, is available here.

Filings declined in traditionally patent-heavy areas of computer technology, pharmaceuticals and medical technology, the press release said, while new-growth areas nanotechnology and semiconductors saw growth.

The International Monetary Fund also recently released an updated World Economic Outlook for 2010, which Fink said showed most projected economic growth for the year will also be in emerging economies. The IMF report predicts that “developing Asia” (a group of 26 countries including China, India, and Thailand) will perform particularly well, with China having the highest projected growth rate of 10 percent.

At the last presentation of patent indicators, in September 2009, Gurry and Fink presented data showing an interaction between patent filing rates and economic cycles (IPW, WIPO, 20 September 2009).

The PCT is a tool to aid companies in the process of filing for patents abroad, and accounts for most of WIPO’s funding, so there was concern that the 2009 declines might affect WIPO’s overall budget. But, the press release said, cost-cutting measures undertaken in preparation for this downturn should mean the organisation is well-prepared.

Cost-cutting measures caused a bit of consternation at a September Programme and Budget Committee meeting in which some developing country member states felt there had been inadequate funds provided for new projects in WIPO’s Development Agenda. In the end, most of WIPO’s approximately CHF 7 million in unallocated funds were earmarked for development work (IPW, WIPO, 22 September 2009).

Also in September, at a symposium of IP authorities, several key IP leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the PCT as the framework under which international IP cooperation should happen, and emphasised that other international work-sharing efforts (such as the information-sharing network the Patent Prosecution Highway and collaborative projects between the world’s largest 5 IP offices) should not interfere (IPW, WIPO, 17 September 2009 and 21 September 2009).

Gurry also praised India’s “sophisticated Traditional Knowledge Digital Library,” a repository of prior art that has been licensed to the US Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office, as “a model we hope to establish in other countries around the world,” though there are no statistics related to traditional knowledge in the recently released report. There has been ongoing debate at WIPO and in other international fora over whether the IP system is the best place for protection of traditional knowledge, and a quote from Gurry at an earlier press conference “perpetual protection is not on the table” (IPW, WIPO, 22 October 2009) was picked up with concern by indigenous representatives.

In 2010, Fink said he was “reasonably optimistic that there will be a modest recovery” in patent filings, but that there are “great amounts of uncertainty” attached to the predictions.

Kaitlin Mara may be reached at

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  1. says

    I wonder whether, now that the economic crisis is easing (in the US, at least), patent applications will start to sharply rise again — or if perhaps companies and innovators will continue their recent trend of opting for quality rather than quantity, and keep filing fewer patents.

  2. says

    It is essential for China to respect and regard the international intellectual property of its global partners and play fair.

    We are deeply heartened that His Holiness, the Dalai Lama will be meeting with President Obama tomorrow.

    Bhod Gyalo
    Let there be open dialogue about human rights in Tibet.


    Dr. Amy Eisenberg
    World Care Project Manager for Tibetan Projects


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