India remains a laggard in innovation, China overtakes US

WIPO figures show that China accounted for 825,136 out of 2.6 million patent applications filed in 2013, almost one-third, and India only 43,031


Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Geneva: India remains a laggard in the world of innovation while China overtakes the US and other industrialized countries in the filing of applications for patents, trademarks and industrial designs.

Figures released on Tuesday by the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) show that out of 2.6 million patent applications filed in 2013, China accounted for almost one-third, amounting to 825,136, and India only 43,031. The US has filed 571,612 patent applications, and Japan applied for about 328,436 patents.

Patent filings are a barometer for assessing the spread of scientific progress, and innovations and inventions in a knowledge-based economy. Every year, WIPO receives patent applications from inventors to secure patent protection under its Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

“The patent filings in India declined by 2.1% last year, from little over 44,000 in 2012,” says WIPO economist Carsten Fink. “But overall filing of patent applications grew from 17,000 in 2004 to about 44,000 in 2012 in India,” Fink suggested. “The economic slowdown and investment activity could have contributed to a drop in the patent filings in India,” according to WIPO.

Most of the patent application filings from India came from non-resident Indians. Out of 43,031 Indian patent applications, residents living within India filed 10,669 while non-resident Indians filed 32,362 patent applications.

Despite an economic slowdown and continued recession in major industrialized economies, economies in East Asia continue to propel growth in the intellectual property (IP) activity. WIPO says patents witnessed a growth of 9% last year, compared with 6.4% growth in trademarks and 2.5% for industrial designs. “Global intellectual property filing trends mirror the broader economic picture,” says Francis Gurry, WIPO’s director general. “The diverging performance of the world economy appears to be leaving its mark on the global innovation landscape,” Gurry has pointed.

Last year, innovators filed some 2.57 million patent applications worldwide, an increase of 9% over 2012. Most of the filings amounting to 1.71 million came from residents while non-resident filings are estimated at around 0.86 million. Significantly, patent applications in computer technology ranked first (7.6% of total) followed by electrical machinery (7.2%) , digital communication (4.5%) and medical technology (4.3%).

WIPO says an estimated 1.17 million patents were issued in 2013 by various patent registration agencies in different countries, a growth of 3.1% over the previous year. Around 9.45 million patents were in force worldwide in 2013, with the US accounting for the most with 2.39 million (26% of worldwide), followed by Japan (19%).

In the arena of trademark activity, China filed 1.88 million trademark applications while India accounted for 202,444, the US 486,128 and the European Union 324,749. WIPO argues that “over the last decade, trademarks relating to the service class that is associated with advertising and business management and administration have continued to be the most sought after”.

China also dominated the filings in industrial designs as compared to any other country. China’s industrial design applications are estimated around 659,563, while India filed 8,497 last year.

The Economist has raised, however, serious questions about quality of patents from China. “Of the desired 2m (million) filings, many will be for “utility” or “design” patents (in China), which are less substantial than ‘invention’ patents.”

But WIPO’s director general has disagreed with The Economist’s assessment, saying that “all the signs we see in China’s engagement in this area are extremely positive”. Gurry says other indicators also suggest that China is the second largest country to invest in research and development after the US and very soon it will catch up with the US in investments in research and development.

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