GENEVA (AFP) - Global patent filings grew at their fastest pace in almost two decades in 2012, with China the driving force, the UN's intellectual property agency said on Monday.
In its annual report on patents, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said the patent filings rose by 9.2 per cent last year, representing the fastest growth in 18 years, reaching an estimated 2.35 million.
Filings had contracted by 3.9 per cent in 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, but have been picking up pace since then, rising by 7.6 per cent in 2010 and 8.1 per cent in 2011.
"These are well in excess of the rate of growth worldwide of the global economy, and well in excess of most economies' individual performances," WIPO head Francis Gurry told reporters.
For the first time, residents of China accounted for the largest number of patents filed throughout the world, hitting a total of 560,681.
Residents of Japan ranked next, with 480,000 filings, followed by US residents, who filed 460,000.
"As a broad generalisation, patent applications tend to track economic performance," Gurry explained.
"More specifically, China is still very much in a development mode, it is still developing its expertise in this area," he said.
"So enormous investment in research and development, enormous investment in education, and investment in knowledge infrastructure are also being reflected in the take-up in the use of the intellectual property system," he added.
With 652,777 filings, China's State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) last year logged the largest number of applications received by any single office, a position it first reached in 2011.
The figure included filings by Chinese residents as well as those by foreign firms and individuals seeking protection in China.
While two-thirds of the globe's patent filings were made in high-income countries, China's share of the total was almost 28 per cent in 2012.
The US and Japan followed, with 23 per cent and almost 15 per cent respectively.
Overall, filings at China's SIPO rose 24 per cent in 2012, followed by New Zealand, where the growth rate was 14.3 per cent.
Next came Mexico, with nine per cent, the United States, on 7.8 per cent, and Russia, which saw growth of 6.8 per cent.
Brazil also posted solid patent filing growth, logging a five-per cent increase, with fellow BRICS members India showing 3.9 per cent growth and South Africa 2.7 per cent.
Fortunes were mixed in Europe.
Filings grew by four per cent at the European Patent Office. The national offices of Germany and Britain also posted an expansion of 3.2 per cent and 4.4 per cent respectively.
In contrast, filings in France fell by 0.7 per cent and those in Italy by 4.2 per cent.