Global Patent Filings Increase in 2014, Continuing Five-Year Trend

Monday, January 4, 2016

As if we needed any further proof that the number of patent applications continues to soar, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) announced this week that 2.7 million patent applications were filed worldwide in 2014 – a 4.5% increase over 2013. It marked the fifth-straight year of patent application growth. While plenty of nations worldwide have kept global patent offices busy, China led the pack in 2014. The country filed a whopping 928,177 applications, totaling more than the second- and third-place filers – the U.S. (578,802) and Japan (325,989) – combined. If that number seems huge, it is – China’s patent filings increased by 12.5% over 2013.

So, why all the growth in China last year? According to WIPO director-general Francis Guy, China has strongly encouraged domestic growth, putting an emphasis on solar power and telecommunications. But it’s a little premature to call China the “next Silicon Valley.” Detractors are quick to point out that the number of application filings don’t necessarily mean much – there’s no guarantee that any of them will be approved or that the proposed products are high-quality. Although China was a main driver of worldwide patent growth, it’s worth pointing out that Iran recorded the fastest growth in filings last year, hitting an 18.5% increase over 2013 filings. Computer technology continues to draw more applications than any other segment, with electrical machinery not far behind.

Patent filings aren’t the only type of IP that innovators are increasingly concerned with – 2014 also saw a jump in the number of trademark applications filed worldwide. Again, China led the pack in the number of applications filed, accruing a class count of 2.22 million to mark 18.2% growth in 2014. Japan also experienced a double-digit (16.9%) increase in trademark applications last year and the U.S., India, and Mexico saw growth, as well. 

It’s easy to assume that the increasing number of IP application filings are due to rapidly developing innovation, but it’s also possible that inventors and organizations are being more cautious about protecting their IP these days. Between legal fees, delays in getting products to market and other unforeseen costs, patent litigation is an extremely costly and inconvenient burden for organizations to bear. After years of spiking numbers of IP lawsuits – with 20-30% year-to-year growth, on average, in the U.S. between 2009 and 2013 – numbers began to drop in 2014 and there was actually a 13% decrease in lawsuits filed last year. It might not be a coincidence that there’s also been a global boom in applications in recent years – it’s quite possible that inventors are taking a “better safe than sorry” approach to innovation and are doing their best to avoid potentially costly lawsuits.

The final numbers for 2015 won’t be available for quite a while, but the trend toward growth in filings shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. And with filings on the rise, it’s more important than ever that organizations obtain protection for IP, stay abreast of deadlines, and ensure that applications are in pristine condition to ensure approval. As we roll into 2016, IP protection should be top-of-mind for every innovation-minded business – so make sure that you have the tools and strategies in place for success in the new year.