China Increases its Lead in International Patent Applications

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The Patent Cooperation Treaty ("PCT") is an international agreement that makes it cheaper and easier for inventors or their employers to apply for patents for their inventions in more than one country. Readers who are unfamiliar with the PCT will find a very good video on the agreement on the WIPO website.

The treaty came into force in 1978. In every year of the subsistence of the treaty up to 2019, the USA made more applications than any other country.   In 2019 China nosed ahead of the USA with 59,193 applications compared to the USA's 57,499. In 2020 it increased its lead to 68,720 over the USA's 59,230 (see Annex 1: International patent applications by origin (PCT System) to the press release Innovation Perseveres: International Patent Filings via WIPO Continued to Grow in 2020 Despite COVID-19 Pandemic 2 March 2021). The number of applications from the UK also increased from 5,773 in 2019 to 5,912 in 2020 whereas the numbers from Japan, Germany, France and the Netherlands fell slightly.

The biggest percentage increase was ib Saudi Arabia. There the number of PCT applications rose from 552 to 996, an increase of 73.2%. It places that kingdom just behind the Russian Federation which has excellent universities and research institutes and a long tradition of research and development and significantly ahead of the Irish Republic which also saw a substantial increase from 636 to 793.

I was interested to see whether there were any special factors to explain Saudi Arabia's growth so I put the following question to Mr Mohammad Alahmad, Managing Partner at Legal Tracks in Saudi Arabia:

"Yesterday the WIPO published https://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2021/article_0002.html It estimated that Saudi Arabia's applications through the Patent Cooperation Treaty in 2020 would be 956 applications which was a 73.2% increase on the figure for the previous year. You will see that Saudi Arabia is not far behind Russia which has a much larger population and a long research tradition; Do you know of any reason for Saudi Arabia's impressive performance such as an increase in investment in R & D or the opening of a research facility in the country?"

Mr Alahmad replied:

"What a great topic. Thank you for sharing this with me. 

To put it in a nutshell, the Kingdom has been promoting R&D for a while now, as can be seen in the Vision 2030 original file and the subsequent reports especially in the defense industry and renewable energy sectors. For example, https://www.vision2030.gov.sa/en/node/384 

However, the Kingdom's issued its first Law of Patents, Layout Designs of Integrated Circuits, Plant Varieties, and Industrial Designs back in 2004, the implementation of which was assigned originally to the R&D establishment of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology which was established almost twenty (20) years before the issuing the law (My colleague Hassan Almaznai is currently leading its Intellectual Property Portfolio: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hassan-almaznai/ ). Nonetheless, the private sector lead by SABIC contributed, significantly, to raising awareness regarding the importance of patents and R&D centers. In addition, the academic sector took a great turn, which has been influenced, especially, by those who have been sent to the best academic institutions all over the world after they come back to the Kingdom. 

Hope this helps and it is certainly an interesting subject to investigate."

Mr Alahmad later mentioned the establishment of the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property back in 2018 https://www.saip.gov.sa/en/about/  That Authority appears to be the Saudi Intellectual Property Office which has taken over that responsibility from the King Abdulaziz City.   A few minutes ago, Mr Alahamad sent me the following message through LinkedIn:

"In connection with our last communication, the Saudi council of ministers has formed a high committee for innovation and R&D. This will magnify the development even further."

Other countries in the region have also promoted R & D but none of them has achieved the success of Saudi Arabia,  The number of PCT applications from the UAE fell from 108 to 86. Kuwait's increased from 5 to 12, Oman's from 9 to 11.   Bahrain/s remained at 2 in both years.  Qatar's fell from 25 to 23.

The WIPO press release reported that Huawei Technologies published 5,464 PCT applications,  It was followed by Samsung Electronics with 3,093, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. of Japan with 2,810, LG Electronics with 2,759 and Qualcomm Inc. with 2,173) (Annex 2).  The only European company in the top 10 PCT applicants was Ericsson, There were no British companies in the top 50. The top technologies were computer technology (9.2% of the total), digital communications (8.3%), medical technology (6.6%), electrical machinery (6.6%), and measurement (4.8%).

I was pleased to see that the University of California of which my alma mater forms part was the top university with 559 applications. It was followed by MIT with 269, Shenzhen with 252, Tsinghua with 231 and Zhejiang with 209.  The only British universities in the top 50 were Oxford and Imperial.  Incidentally, the King Abdullah University of Saudi Arabia made 97 PCT applications in 2920 compared to Oxford's 93. That was a factor that contributed to Saudi Arabia's success that should be added to those mentioned by Mr Alahmad.

Anyone wanting to discuss this article or trends in IP filing generally is welcome to call me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 during UK office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

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