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Who gains from the relentless rise in IP applications?

WIPO has just revealed its annual report on IP indicators, filled with superlatives about fastest rates of growth and record numbers of filings. After a short-term drop following the lowest point of the global financial crisis, it seems as though the steady uptick in global IP applications continues

But should we celebrate or be concerned about the statistics?

Take China. WIPO says that last year, for the first time, residents of China accounted for the largest number of patents filed throughout the world. The country’s IP office, SIPO, received more applications than any other IP office.

It’s not just in the patent field where China dominates. Last year, residents of China filed trade mark applications with more than 1.5 million class counts – more than three times as many as the next biggest class filer, the US.

So how should we interpret the statistics? One interpretation is that they signal a real change in levels of Chinese innovation and brand creation. Another is that they represent a flood of applications for utility model patents and bad faith trade mark filings. (Chinese companies are far more likely that foreign ones to apply for lower-value utility models rather than invention patents in China – a phenomenon that the government is seeking to change. High levels of trade mark squatting have exasperated foreign companies entering the Chinese market).

The answer, of course, is probably a bit of both.

The majority of practitioners and IP professionals understand that global patent filing growth rates of 9%-plus and a 6% rise on trade mark class counts may not be unqualified good news: the pressure on IP offices, leading to patent thickets and overcrowded registers and the high cost of challenging duff patents and other IP rights? are just a few of the potential problems.

But while there might be agreement that the relentless rise in IP applications is not necessarily a Good Thing at the aggregate level, is there an agreement about what should be done about it?

One option, or course, is to do nothing. Another is for IP lawmakers and examiners to make it tougher to obtain IP rights. Yet another is for IP attorneys to discourage their clients from adding to the pile of weak applications. After all, isn’t improving the system better for all IP owners and users in the long run? While the season may be apt for metaphors about turkeys and Christmas, isn’t that something the profession should consider? Do you – or should you – tell clients not to apply for IP rights? Do let us know.

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