Japan helps drive surge in global patent applications

Latest figures for the number of applications for international patent filing by companies through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) point to continued international recovery in research and development (R&D) spending across a broad range of technologies and industries. Applications from East Asia and Japan in particular showed strong growth, the organization said Tuesday.

In the first six months of 2004, U.S. businesses applied for 17,278 international patents, more than were appled for by businesses in any other country, according to Francis Gurry, deputy general director of WIPO. Japan came second with 10,393. Germany was third, with 6,757 applications, he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

WIPO figures show a surge in applications from Japan in particular. According to WIPO, Japan overtook Germany to become the second most prolific country to apply for international patents in 2003. In 2004, Japan appears to be building a bigger lead. At the same point last year, Japanese companies applied for 8,349 patents compared to 6,665 by German companies. In other words, while German application numbers remained about flat, Japan’s are racing ahead.

In addition, of the 10 main technology and industrial classifications for patent applications that WIPO uses, applications for the electronics, digital data processing category and the transmission of digital information category took first and second place. The figures indicate continued investment by companies of all stripes in R&D. They also indicate an overall recovery and confidence in the world economy, Gurry said.

“Intellectual property has become an essential part of the high-tech real estate of industrialized countries. Japanese applications rose about 20 per cent in 2003 over 2002. This year, over the first six months, they were up about 17 per cent,” Gurry said.

WIPO is an international patent application clearing house offering a system that helps companies obtain patent protection in 123 countries. Because corporations can bypass the system and file patents in individual countries of their choice, WIPO’s figures do not present a total count of applications and awards, but are representative, Gurry said.

Gurry said that patent applications tend to be evenly filed throughout the year, so the number of applications at the sixth month stage is usually about half of the total for the full year. WIPO believes Japan is on target to hit 20,000 patent applications in 2004, compared to 17,360 in 2003. Germany should apply for about 13,000 to 14,000, a similar number to the previous year.

WIPO figures also show that Chinese companies are increasingly aggressive in patent applications. In 2004, China ranked 14th with 856 applications for the first half of the year. China is on target to reach 1,600 to 1,700 for the full year, said Jay Erstling, director of the Office of the Patent Cooperation Treaty. China made fewer than 1,000 applications in 2002, but made 1,290 in 2003.

WIPO does not have figures for the first six months of 2004 for applications on a per-company basis. However data from 2003 and 2002 shows that three of Asia’s largest electronics companies are boosting their applications. Japan’s overtaking of Germany in country rankings seems to be largely caused by two of Japan’s powerhouse electronics companies.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., better known for its Panasonic brand, and Sony Corp. both significantly increased their number of applications in 2003 compared to 2002. Matsushita made 1071 applications in 2003 compared to 838 applications in 2002. Sony made 822 applications in 2003 compared to 676 the previous year. In fact, Matsushita was the third-largest applier for patents in 2003 while Sony was fifth. This was the first time that two Japanese companies made the top five in over a decade, according to WIPO.

“The increase reflects the growing technological superiority of Japanese companies and their increased use of international patents systems,” Gurry said.

Matsushita has increased its R&D spending 10.5 per cent to

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