U.N. report says patent filings on the rise in Asia

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China and its fast-growing Asian neighbors lead to a 4.7 percent rise in worldwide patent filings in 2005, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said today.

The U.N. agency reported that 600,000 patents were granted in 2005, the last period for which complete figures were available. The vast majority went to Japan, the United States, China, South Korea and Europe.

While applicants from Japan and the United States accounted for 49 percent of the 5.6 million patents in force in 2005, more and more developing nations are seeking legal protection for their innovations, WIPO Deputy Director General Francis Gurry said.

China’s patent office processed more than 173,000 patent applications in 2005, an eightfold increase from 1995, among which 93,172 are direct filings by Chinese residents, the report said. Patent applications by non-residents (foreign individuals and companies) also increased markedly in China.

“Northeast Asia has become a major force technologically. We have seen explosive growth out of the Republic of Korea and China,” Mr. Gurry said in Geneva on Friday. “A few years ago, they took the patent world by surprise, but it is now very much the expectation that countries like China and the Republic of Korea will continue their rapid developments in innovation, one indicator of which is the number of patent applications filed.”

The report said that intellectual property rights violations spanning a range of industries, including music, movies and fashion, have been a major source of friction between China and its trade partners, especially the United States and the EU.

According to Reuters, U.S. software and entertainment firms have estimated Chinese counterfeits cost them US$2.2 billion in sales last year and Washington has filed a pair of piracy complaints against China at the World Trade Organization.

The WIPO report suggested China and other emerging Asian powers like Indonesia were increasingly engaged in intellectual property, reflecting what Gurry called a ‘significant shift in the geography of innovation’ away from developed economies.