Patent Growth. A recent report by WIPO indicates that from a patent filing aspect the world economies have mostly recovered from their 2008 doldrums. Another interesting aspect of this report is that it appears that the post 2008 innoation and patent landscape is looking quite different than before. The center of gravity for innovation and patent growth seems to be shifting to Asia and particularly to the Chinese patent office. China is becoming a major player in the intellectual property market.
The WIPO report addresses more than just patent filings. It includes analysis of research and development (R&D) investment, innovation, and the acquisition of IP rights.
Patent activity tends to be a lagging indicator of both an economic downturn and the subsequent recovery. At the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008, worldwide patent filings increased over the previous year, though at a slower rate. In 2009, however, the number of filed patent applications actually dropped below the levels of the previous year for the first time since 2002. And the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system experienced its first drop in patent applications (almost 5% over the previous year) for the first time since its inception. By contrast preliminary 2010 data is indicates a renewed growth in worldwide patent filings, although still not back to the pre 2008 level.
Despite the overall worldwide decrease in patent filings, filings in the Chinese patent office continued their strong growth with a roughly 18% increase in 2009. And PCT applications arising out of China and Korea outpaced the growth of their domestic applications in 2009.
Unlike patents, trademark activity tends to be a leading indicator of declining economic health. In fact, trademark activity began slowing in 2006, with worldwide filings decreasing in 2008 over the previous year. Despite the continuing decrease in filings in most national offices in 2009, trademark activity in China grew substantially with filings up nearly 21% over 2008. Chinese registrations were up nearly 57% during the same period. Though the flurry of activity in China skews the worldwide data, the WIPO Director General stated that preliminary data for 2010 indicates a return to 2008 levels with a projected 11% increase in trademark filings. Another indicator that companies are feeling their oats about the future economy.
Industrial design applications in 2008 also demonstrated significant regional variation. Overall, worldwide industrial design applications increased for the 15th consecutive year, though the 5.7% increase was lower than the increase of subsequent years and is largely attributed to increased activity in the Chinese Patent Office. The number of industrial design applications filed in China in 2008 was four times higher than that filed at the second busiest office.
The 2010 World Intellectual Property Indicators report indicates that patent growth is on the road to recovery throughout much of the world; in China, no recovery was necessary as the trends indicate China has had continued growth over the past few years. I have certainly seen this in my practice as I know have several clients that now include China in their top three countries to file in. This is a major change from five years ago.
As an aside, despite all of the "optimism" being exhibited by companies around the world about the "recovery", I remain unconvinced until I see a major improvement in the employment picture. But that's just me.
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