China has overtaken European nations in the global ranking of patent applications to become the fourth largest source of filings, underscoring the increasing prominence of north-east Asian countries in intellectual property.
In its first comprehensive report on patent activity, published on Monday, the World Intellectual Property Organisation found China had a sevenfold increase in patent filings in 10 years.
Geneva-based Wipo, a UN agency, ranked Japan top of the world’s patent league, followed by the US, South Korea, China and the European Patent Office. These five patent offices accounted for three-quarters of all patents filed in 2004, the latest year for which comprehensive figures are available. Germany, a traditional source of patent applications, ranked sixth.
The report shows patent filings have increased in line with economic growth over the past 20 years, almost doubling to 1.6m globally in 2004. More than 5.4m patents were in force that year.
Filings in north-east Asia in particular have boomed as first South Korea and then China have become major industrial economies. Although Taiwan does not feature in the report because it is not eligible to join Wipo, officials said it would rank about 10th.
In China half the patent filings in 2004 were by foreign companies. Most in Japan and South Korea are still by local inventors.
The Wipo report comes as China prepares to face questioning in the World Trade Organisation this month on its compliance with intellectual property rules, including the internet sale of counterfeit goods.
The US and European Union have complained that Beijing is not doing enough to crack down on intellectual property theft.
The US Chamber of Commerce estimated that China accounts for 60-65 per cent of the billions of dollars US companies lose from intellectual property theft.