The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) recently published its latest statistical report on global intellectual property (IP) filings for 2016 and we can note that once again new records were set in global filings of patents, trademarks and industrial designs.

Patent filings Overall global patent filings grew by 8.3% and for the first time, more than 3 million (3 127 900) patent applications were filed worldwide in a single year. Driving such strong growth was an exceptional number of filings in China.

The State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China (SIPO) received 1.3 million patent applications in 2016 – more than the combined total for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO; 605,571), the Japan Patent Office (JPO; 318,381), the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO; 208,830) and the European Patent Office (EPO; 159,358). Together, these top five offices accounted for 84% of the world total patent filings in 2016.

Other countries which experienced notable growth in the number of filings compared to 2015 were South Africa (+29.5%), Morocco (+27.6%), the Republic of Moldova (+25%), Sri Lanka (+19.1%), Turkey (+17.2%), China Hong Kong (+15.4%), and the Islamic Republic of Iran (+9.5%).

Offices located in Asia received just over 2 million applications in 2016. Asia’s share of all applications filed worldwide increased from 49.7% in 2006 to 64.6% in 2016, primarily driven by strong growth in filings in China, which accounted for around two-thirds of all applications filed in the region. Offices in North America accounted for one-fifth of the 2016 world total, while those in Europe accounted for just over one tenth.

Offices of high-income countries received almost half of all applications filed worldwide in 2016 – considerably lower than their 78.3% share in 2006 – while the share for offices of upper middle-income countries rose from 18.3% in 2006 to 47.6% in 2016. This shift in distribution of applications toward the upper middle-income group is largely explained by the strong growth in filings in China and the decline in Japan.

Filing abroad reflects the globalization of intellectual property (IP) protection and a desire to commercialize technology in foreign markets. The costs of filing abroad can be substantial, so the patents for which applicants seek international protection are likely to confer higher values. Among the top 20 origins, applications filed abroad made up a large share of the totals for Canada, Israel and Switzerland. However, in absolute numbers, the U.S. had the most with 215,918, followed by Japan (191,819) and Germany (75,378). China has been the largest origin of patent applications since 2012, when it surpassed Japan. However, it should be noted that around 96% of all applications from China are filed in China and only 4% filed abroad. In contrast, filings abroad constitute around 43% of total applications from Japan and the U.S.

Patent applicants traditionally file at their national offices and then subsequently abroad. This means some inventions are recorded more than once. To take this into account, WIPO has developed indicators for patent families, and the trend in patent families mirrors that for patent applications. The total number of patent families worldwide increased from around 1 million in 2010 to just over 1.42 million in 2014. Over the past 20 years, the ratio of patent families to applications has remained more or less stable at around 0.52. This means that just over half of all applications are initial filings and the others repetitive filings, mostly at foreign offices.

The size of patent families (i.e., the number of offices) reflects their geographical coverage. Around 81% of patent families created worldwide between 2012 and 2014 were filed in a single office. There is considerable variation among top origins, however. For example, around one-third of all patent families originating from the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland cover a single office, whereas single-office patent families account for 97% of all families for China and the Russian Federation. Focusing exclusively on foreign-oriented patent families shows that on average such patent families cover three foreign offices.

In 2015 – the latest year for which complete data are available due to the delay between application and publication – computer technology was the most frequently featured technology in published patent applications worldwide with around 187,000 published applications. It was followed by electrical machinery (176,400), measurement (124,000), digital communication (123,300) and medical technology (110,100). These five fields accounted for 28.6% of all published applications worldwide.

Canon Inc. of Japan was the top applicant for the period from 2011 to 2014, with 30,476 patent families worldwide. It was followed by Samsung Electronics (26,609) of the Republic of Korea and Japanese companies Panasonic (22,899), Toshiba (22,627) and Toyota Jidosha (22,190). The top 10 applicants are all located in Asia. The highest-ranking non-Asian applicant was Robert Bosch of Germany (16,582) at number 12.

Offices carry out a formal and substantive examination to decide whether or not to issue a patent. The procedure for granting a patent varies across offices, and differences in the numbers of granted patents among offices depend on factors such as examination capacity and procedural delays. In 2016, an estimated 1.35 million patents were granted worldwide, up 8.9% on 2015. Growth in 2016 was the fastest since 2012. This was due mainly to the increase at both the EPO and SIPO. The EPO granted 27,500 more patents in 2016 than in 2015, while SIPO issued 48,900 additional patents.

Patent rights generally last for up to 20 years from the date the application was filed. The estimated number of patents in force worldwide rose from 7.8 million in 2009 to 11.8 million in 2016. The USPTO recorded the most, with 2.8 million patents in force in 2016, followed by the JPO (2 million), SIPO (1.8 million) and KIPO (1 million). Just these four jurisdictions cover around 63% of all patents in force worldwide.

Holders must pay maintenance/renewal fees to maintain the validity of their patents, and may opt to let a patent lapse before the end of its full term. For the 72 offices that reported their in-force data broken down by year of filing, between 40% and 43% of patents granted remained in force for at least 6 to 10 years after the filing date, and about one-fifth lasted the full 20 years.

Trademarks An estimated 7 million trademark applications were filed worldwide in 2016, 16.4% more than in 2010. There are now almost three times as many trademark applications being filed around the world than in 2001.

A trademark application may refer to different classes of goods or services. Many offices use the Nice Classification, an international classification of goods and services for registering trademarks and service marks. Applications received by these offices are classified in one or more of the 45 Nice classes. Some offices allow single-class filing only, meaning applicants have to file a separate application for each class. Others permit multi-class filings, enabling applicants to file a single application in which a number of classes can be specified. To improve international comparisons of the numbers of applications received, class counts are used to make trademark registration activity internationally comparable. When differences in filing systems across national and regional offices are harmonized using the application class count, trademark filing activity in 2016 also saw a double-digit increase, up 13.5% on the previous year. The total number of classes specified in applications – known as the application class count – reached an estimated 9.77 million.

As with other forms of intellectual property (IP), the increase in trademark filing activity (measured in application class counts) largely reflects high numbers of trademark applications filed in China. In 2016, the trademark office of China accounted for 75% of the annual increase in global trademark filing activity. It was followed by the office of Japan, which accounted for 9% of total growth. The office of China’s class count of almost 3.7 million was followed by a count of 545,587 at the office of the United States of America (U.S.). These have been the top two offices since the early 2000s, but since 2006 China’s class count has grown from double that of the U.S. to over six times as much. These two offices were followed by that of Japan (451,320), the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO; 369,970) and that of India (313,623). The top five offices accounted for 55% of all trademark filing activity in 2016.

The largest annual increases in number of filings compared to 2015 was recorded in Yemen +33.7%, +30.8% both in China and Japan, followed by Pakistan (+28.8%), Madagascar (+22.1%), Vietnam (+21.1%), the United Kingdom (U.K.; +19.1%) and the Russian Federation (+14.8%).

Applications at some regional IP offices (e.g. EUIPO) are equivalent to multiple applications in the countries that are members of the organizations establishing those offices. For example, an application filed with the EUIPO by an applicant residing outside the EU is counted as 28 applications abroad – equivalent to the 28 member countries of the EU in 2016. An application filed by an applicant residing in an EU country is counted as 1 resident application and 27 applications abroad. The same multiplier is applied to the classes specified in these applications. The equivalent application class count concept is used for reporting data by origin.

At most offices, trademark applications are filed mainly by residents seeking protection within their domestic jurisdiction. In 2016, residents accounted for 79.8% of global filing activity. In fact, domestic filing is becoming increasingly pronounced as a share of total filing activity, with the world resident application class count having increased by 15.5% on the previous year; in contrast, that for non-residents increased by only 6%.

Resident filing activity drove the double-digit growth in China, Japan, the Russian Federation, the U.K. and Vietnam as well as growth at several other top 20 offices, whereas non-resident filing activity accounted for most or all of the total growth in Australia, the EUIPO, Switzerland and the U.S. In Canada, France, Germany and the Republic of Korea, declines in total filing activity can be attributed entirely or mainly to a drop in resident applications.

Of the top 20 offices, half had non-resident filing shares of around 20% or greater, with Australia (39.7%), Canada (47%), Mexico (30.3%), Switzerland (59%) and Vietnam (33%) recording the highest. The lowest non-resident shares were recorded at the offices of China (4.6%), France (5.9%) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (6.9%). The low non-resident shares for France and other EU member state offices can be explained by the fact that many non-resident applicants file for protection in these countries via the EUIPO.

In terms of filing activity abroad based on equivalent class count, applicants from Germany seek protection for their trademarks outside their country more than those of any other origin, a position Germany has held since 2006. In 2016, German filing activity abroad reached an equivalent application class count of about 2.04 million, followed by applicants from the U.S. (1.22 million), the U.K. (1.07 million) and Italy (922,851). The high equivalent class counts for applications abroad from these origins can be explained not only by their high application class counts at numerous offices abroad, but also their frequent use of the EUIPO – with its multiplier effect – to seek protection within the EU as a whole.

Trademarks registered in relation to particular classes of goods or services and Service class 35 (advertising, business management, business administration and office functions) have been at number one since 2004 – when complete class counts first became available – and in 2016 was represented in 10.5% of all reported trademark filing activity by class. Nice Class 35 is followed by goods class 9 (6.9%), which includes scientific, photographic, measuring instruments, recording equipment, computers and software.

After examination, an office may decide to register a trademark, and 4.61 million trademarks registrations were recorded worldwide in 2016, which represents an increase of 4.3%, or 191,500 additional registrations, on the previous year’s total.

Unlike most forms of IP, trademarks can be maintained indefinitely by payment of renewal fees at defined time intervals. In 2016, there were an estimated 39.1 million active trademark registrations at 136 offices worldwide, representing an increase of 8.7% on 2015. Sixteen percent of these trademarks registered in 1983 remained in force in 2016, reflecting the enduring value of trademarks. For those registered in 2006 and later, the percentage rises to above 50%. About half of these 13.8 million registrations in force have a recent registration date dating back only to 2010.

Industrial Designs An estimated 963,100 applications for Industrial Designs were filed worldwide in 2016, representing annual growth of 10.4%. Increased filings in China accounted for 90% of the total growth in 2016 and the State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO) received applications containing 52% of all designs in applications filed worldwide. The application design count at SIPO grew by 14.3% on the previous year to reach 650,344 designs. SIPO was followed by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO; 104,522), the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO; 69,120), and the offices of Germany (56,188) and Turkey (46,305). The top 20 offices combined accounted for 93% of designs in all applications.

The annual growth in 2016 was particularly high in Guatemala (+70.4%), the Philippines (+42.2%), Belarus (+41.9%) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (+34.8%), Ukraine (+17.4%), China (+14.3%) and the United States of America (U.S.; +12.1%).

Designs contained in resident applications accounted for 89.3% of the world total design count in 2016. The offices with the highest resident design count shares were those of the Islamic Republic of Iran (98.9%), Italy (98.6%) and China (97.2%). Increasing resident and non-resident design counts contributed almost equally to overall growth at the office of the Russian Federation. An increase in the non-resident design count was the main or sole driver of growth at the offices of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S.

Asia accounted for more than two-thirds (69.3%) of all designs in applications filed worldwide in 2016. It was followed by Europe (23.2%) and North America (4.1%). Of all geographical regions, only Asia (+9%), North America (+5.3%) and Europe (+1.3%) experienced average annual growth between 2006 and 2016. In contrast, Oceania (0%), Africa (-0.3%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC; -0.3%) had zero or negative average annual growth rates.

Designs in applications filed at regional offices are equivalent to multiple designs in applications filed in the respective member states of those offices. To calculate the number of equivalent designs for the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI, which has 17 member states), the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property BOIP, (3) and the EUIPO (28), each design is multiplied by the corresponding number of member states. Applicants from China had the highest equivalent design count in 2016, numbering almost 800,000. They were followed by applicants residing in Germany (636,395), Italy (364,944), the U.S. (320,395) and France (213,873).

The Locarno classification includes 32 classes of industrial designs. In 2016, the classes that accounted for the largest shares of the world total remained furnishings (10.8%), articles of clothing (8.6%) and packages and containers (7.3%).

An estimated 706,300 industrial designs were registered worldwide in 2016. This represents an annual decline of 3.5% following a pronounced 21.5% increase in 2015. This fall was mainly due to a considerable decrease in registrations in China, which registered 36,524 fewer applications than in 2015. Nonetheless, registrations in China accounted for 63% of the world total industrial design registrations in 2016.

A record 3.6 million industrial design registrations were in force worldwide in 2016, up 6% on 2015. The number of registrations in force in China increased by over 120,000 to reach 1.36 million design registrations – 36% of the world total. China was followed by the Republic of Korea (338,234), the U.S. (307,018), Japan (250,819) and the EUIPO (194,781).

In the past many Western companies has hesitated to enter China or to bring in technology because of concerns about loss of intellectual property. However, maybe this trend is changing as China’s government has made improving IP protection a national priority. In 2014 and 2015, the first specialised IP courts in China were established in three major cities (in addition to the many IP “tribunals” already in place throughout the country). There have also been an incredible number of recent legislative changes strengthening IP protection, including dramatically increasing statutory damages that courts can award for IP infringement. Also, in the past three years, the Chinese authorities have significantly toughened regulation of abuse of patent monopolies and proactively enforced these new rules. Maybe this is now paying off and from the figures presented by WIPO we can conclude that at least Chinese residents seem to have faith in the recent changes made in Chinese IP protection.