Organisations from the Asia-Pacific region are driving
growing demand for international IP rights, led by high-tech
companies in China. The trend is particularly pronounced in
patent filing, judging by the latest data released by the World
Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The significant and
irreversible shift towards the region, which is likely to
accelerate in the next few years, will have a big impact on IP
practice and policy throughout the world.
According to statistics published in March 2017, Asia
accounted for 47.4% of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)
applications in 2016, compared to 25.6% for Europe and 25.3%
for North America. It is likely that Asia will account for more
than half of all PCT applications by 2018.
The United States remains the number one country for PCT
filings (24.3%) but it is closely followed by Japan (19.4%) and
China (18.5%) while Korea (6.7%) ranks fifth. India also
featured in the top 15 countries for PCT filing in 2016, with
The emergence of China has been the biggest story of the
past 15 years, and the country has posted double-digit growth
every year since 2002. Last year, Chinese applications grew by
over 44% and based on current trends China will overtake the US
as the largest user of the PCT system within two years.
"China-based filers are behind much of the growth in
international patent and trade mark filings, making great
strides in internationalizing their businesses as the country
continues its journey from 'Made in China' to 'Created in
China'," said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.
Seven of the top 10 ranked companies based on PCT
publications published in 2016 were from Asia, including ZTE
(ranked first with 4,123 patent applications published) and
Huawei (ranked second). Mitsubishi, LG Electronics, BOE
Technology, Samsung and Sony were the others. More information
about PCT trends is available in the PCT Yearly Review 2017,
published in July (see charts).
National filing trends
The trends seen at the international level are also clear in
filings before national offices. The JPO, KIPO and SIPO are
three of the IP5 offices alongside the EPO and USPTO, and the
IP5 has published preliminary data on national filing and grant
trends in 2016.
These figures show that SIPO received over 1.3 million
invention patent applications during the year, an increase of
21.5% on 2015. The USPTO received just over 600,000
applications while the JPO ranked third with just over 318,000.
SIPO granted some 404,000 applications (an increase of
But what's really striking is that the vast majority of
patent applications in China (including invention, utility
model and design patents) are from domestic entities, and these
applications are growing at about 25% a year according to
With applications in China soaring, and more and more
Chinese companies now seeking protection internationally, we
are also seeing more Chinese entities involved in disputes in
Europe and the United States as well as in China itself.
Chinese companies have been prominent in landmark cases on
standard-essential patents, such as Huawei v ZTE in
Germany and Unwired Planet v Huawei in the UK, and are
among the most active companies as both petitioners and
defendants at the PTAB in the United States.
Tao Zhang, of Huawei, and Jingui Fang recently co-wrote a
book titled "Mining Ideas for Diamonds: Comparing China and US
IP Practices from Invention Selection to Patent Monetization".
In it they say: "Companies in China and western companies, who
want to operate in China in the future, will need to figure out
how to manage IP in China … Due to the fact that the IP
industry is new to the Chinese market, IP professionals as well
as inventors will face similar situations as the United States
did 10+ years ago."
The authors identify "a disturbing phenomenon" that is often
detected when exchanging opinions with those in the IP industry
who manage portfolios in the US and China: "Most of the patent
prosecution teams file patents with a 'passive activity'
mentality, ie treating patent filing as a mere by-product of
R&D programs rather than part of strategic planning." By
contrast, in the US, companies are more focused on using their
patent portfolios offensively to protect their market
This is beginning to change, as the authors argue in the
book: "More and more Chinese companies are becoming strategic
and proactive in leveraging their patent portfolios … It
will soon become a common phenomenon to see sophisticated IP
strategies being practiced by both US and Chinese companies."
And, as Zhang told Managing IP in an interview published
earlier this year: "China and the US are very different, and a
lot of people don't leverage this part as much. Everybody is
globalised but they don't seem to pay enough attention to the
differences between China and the US."
Trade marks and designs
Outside of patents, Asian entities have not made quite as
big a mark on international filing trends – at least
not yet. Figures on the Madrid System for International Trade
Marks show that applications from China soared by two-thirds to
3,200 in 2016 – meaning the country ranked fourth
behind the US, Germany and France. Two other Asian countries
featured in the top 10: Japan in eighth place and Australia in
However China has been the number one country based on the
number of Madrid System designations since 2006. Last year, it
had 22,314 designations, slightly ahead of the EU and the US.
India, which joined the Madrid System in 2013, received 11,105
The highest placed Asian company, judged by Madrid
applications in 2016, was Daiichi Sankyo of Japan, ranked 15th
with 56 applications.
Statistics for The Hague System for Industrial Designs,
meanwhile, show that Korea and Japan have made their mark since
joining the system in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Korea ranked
third for applications, with 1,882, with Samsung ranked second
and LG Electronics ranked third in the list of users.
Japan ranked eighth in the list of countries, but
international design applications from the country grew by 109%
on the previous year, and are surely likely to grow further in
the coming years as companies become more familiar with the
system. Kabushiki Kaisha Bigwest was the highest ranking
Japanese company, in 20th place: it filed 104 designs in 2016,
compared to zero in 2015.
Throughout the region, governments are promoting the
development of IP protection and enforcement. China's 2014-2020
National IPR Strategy Action Plan aims to build a "strong IPR
country" and sets out aims that address both quantity and
quality of IP rights, In Japan, meanwhile, in response to the
Japanese government's 2016 Japan Revitalization Strategy, the
JPO has set numerous goals to be implemented, which have been
revised for fiscal year 2017. These span all IP rights and fall
into three groups: enhancing quantitative goals; setting
quality goals for quality aspects of examination; and expanding
the scope of quantitative goals to its entire business
operations. There are 43 separate goals in total, which are set
out on the JPO's website.
The growth of IP in Asia is being driven by both governments
and businesses, by both innovators and consumers. The impact of
this growth will be the biggest trend for international IP
practitioners over the coming decade, and no one can afford to