China overtakes USA in patent applications

China overtakes USA in patent applications

7. April 2020 0 By Horst Buchwald

China overtakes USA in patent applications


New York, 7.4.2020


China became the world leader in international patent filings last year, replacing the United States, which held the top spot for more than four decades, according to the UN in its recently published annual report.


A record 265,800 international patent applications were filed last year, a 5.2 percent increase from 2018, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.

WIPO’s complex system for registering international patents covers several categories. In the main category – the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) – China led the rankings for the first time with 58,990 applications.

It thus overtook the United States, which filed 57,840 applications and has led the PCT rankings since the system came into force in 1978.

China and the United States were followed by Japan, Germany and South Korea as the world’s leading patent applicants, WIPO noted.

“China’s rapid growth to become the top applicant for international patent applications through WIPO underscores a long-term shift of the innovation location to the East, with Asian-based applicants now accounting for more than half of all PCT applications,” WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said in a statement.

The WIPO report shows that Asian-based applicants account for 52.4 percent of all applications, while Europe and North America each account for less than a quarter.

Huawei top applicants

And for the third consecutive year, China-based telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies led the global rankings in 2019 with 4,411 PCT applications.

This was despite a relentless campaign by Washington, which is working with its allies around the world to ensure that the company’s telecommunications equipment is not overburdened with security concerns, in the shadow of a wider trade conflict between the US and China.

It was followed by Misubishi Electric Corp. of Japan with 2,661 applications, Samsung Electronics of South Korea with 2,334 applications and Qualcomm Inc. of the United States with 2,127 applications.

Gurry, who will step down at the end of September after 12 years at the helm of WIPO, said the organization had received only 276 patent applications from China in 1999. Last year’s nearly 59,000 applications represented “a 200-fold increase in only 20 years.”


While intellectual property is increasingly at the center of global competition, Gurry said that “it is important to remember that innovation is not a zero-sum game.

“A net increase in global innovation means new medicines, communication technologies, solutions to global challenges that benefit everyone, wherever they live,” he said.

“I am pleased that WIPO’s IP services are successfully helping to promote innovation and disseminate it worldwide,” said Gurry.

Fears about the impact of a pandemic

Gurry will almost certainly be replaced by the current head of Singapore’s national patent agency, Daren Tang, who won a hotly contested and at times politicized race against five other candidates last month, including Chinese citizen Wang Binying, who served as deputy head of the UN agency for a decade.

The vote of the WIPO Coordination Committee on 4 March still has to be confirmed during the organisation’s General Assembly, which is normally held in May and is traditionally a formality. It remains unclear whether it can be held as planned in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic.

Gurry said at a virtual press conference that it is uncertain how the new coronavirus, which first appeared in China at the end of last year and has now infected some 1.3 million people and killed more than 70,000 people worldwide, will affect future international patent applications.

“We do not yet know how deep and how long this crisis will be, but it will be of great importance in all areas of the creative industries,” he warned.

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