GENEVA (AFP) - A record number of international patents were filed last year, indicating that innovation had not been stymied by the Covid-19 pandemic, the United Nations said on Thursday (Feb 10).
Even as Covid-19 took a vast human and economic toll, international patent applications continued to grow, with Asia, and China in particular, cementing their leading positions.
A record 277,500 international patents were filed last year, marking a 0.9 per cent increase from 2020, the UN's World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) said in its annual overview.
"These figures show that human ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit remain strong despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic." Wipo director-general Daren Tang said in a statement.
Last year marked the 12th consecutive year of growth in international patent filings.
Wipo's chief economist Carsten Fink highlighted how remarkable it was that "international patent filings continued to grow in 2020 and 2021 as the global pandemic unfolded and upended economies around the world".
"This experience is notably different compared to previous economic crises," he told reporters, pointing to how international patent filings fell during the global financial crisis in 2009.
Wipo's complex system of registering international patents involves multiple categories, including global trademarks and design filing systems.
China on top
In the main category - the Patent Cooperation Treaty, or PCT - China remained at the top of the rankings with 69,540 filings.
That marks a mere 0.9 per cent increase over 2020.
But a year earlier, China registered a 16 per cent jump over 2019, when it for the first time overtook the United States as the world's top international patent filer.
The US remained in second place last year, with 59,570 filings, followed by Japan with 50,260, South Korea with 20,678 and Germany with 17,322.
The UN agency highlighted significant growth in applications by several smaller filers as well.
Singapore, for instance, saw its international patent applications swell by 23 per cent to 1,617, while Finland and Turkey each saw jumps of more than 13 per cent.
Wipo's report showed that Asia-based applicants accounted for 54.1 per cent of all filings last year, up from 38.5 per cent a decade earlier.
For the fifth consecutive year, China-based telecoms giant Huawei Technologies topped the global ranking, with 6,952 PCT applications.
The company thus applied for more international patents than all the filings out of Britain last year, Mr Fink said.
It was followed by US firm Qualcomm at 3,931; South Korea's Samsung Electronics at 3,041 and LG Electronics at 2,855; and Mitsubishi Electric Corp of Japan at 2,673.
Computer technology accounted for the largest share of published PCT applications, making up 9.9 per cent of the total, followed by digital communication and medical technology.
The pharmaceutical field recorded the strongest growth rate for filings, seeing a 12.8 per cent jump, followed by biotechnology, which was up 9.5 per cent.
Mr Fink pointed out that it takes around 18 months for patents to be published after they are filed, warning that the official 2021 figures might not yet completely reflect pandemic-fuelled technology trends.
However, he said, "we have definitely seen greater dynamism in the health-related technology fields".