In first, China moves ahead of US as world’s top patent filer

Last year, China was the largest source of international patent applications in the world, pushing the United States out of the top spot it has held since the creation of the global system over 40 years ago, said the United Nations patent agency on Tuesday.

The World Intellectual Property Organization, which oversees a system for countries to share patent recognition, said 58,990 applications had been filed from China last year, beating the United States who had filed them. 57,840.

China’s figure has increased 200-fold in just 20 years, the report said. The United States has filed the most applications in the world each year since the Patent Cooperation Treaty system was established in 1978.

More than half of patent applications – 52.4% – now come from Asia, with Japan ranking third, followed by Germany and South Korea.

Patent ownership is widely regarded as an important sign of a country’s economic power and industrial know-how.

WIPO Head Francis Gurry said at a press conference that China’s success was “due to a very deliberate strategy on the part of Chinese leaders to advance innovation and make the country a countries whose economy operates at a higher value level.

“It works, and intellectual property is certainly part of this strategy. I would say that this vast movement is tending to become a higher value economy,” he said.

According to WIPO data, the Chinese company Huawei Technologies, the world’s largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment, was the first applicant for corporate patents for the third consecutive year.

The United States has called on countries to ban Huawei equipment from new mobile phone networks, arguing that its technology could be used by China to spy. Huawei denies that its technology poses a security risk.

Asked about the extent to which China’s advance was due to public subsidies, Gurry said: “It is a model that uses public subsidies to a greater extent perhaps that western economies could generally use the subsidies So yes, it certainly plays a role.

“But I think it’s very interesting to compare the United States of America as an example of the high-performing economy, which has long been at the top of innovation, a completely different model from what is happening in China.

“The jury is still out … maybe both are successful.”