Today the WIPO announced that patent filing recovered from the decrease in 2009 to an increase of patent filings under the WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) of 4.8%. Top five applicants are influential companies all active in the ICT sector such as Panasonic, the Chinese ZTE, Qualcomm, Huawei Technologies and Philips Electronics. Top countries that increased their patent files are China (+56.2%), the Republic of Korea (+20.5%) and Japan (+7.9%); the strongest field of technology is ICT which is especially dominated by Digital Communication. A first broad conclusion: The Asian companies are catching up. But as we illustrated in our previous post, Chinas patent system does not yet fulfill all quality standards and is yet emerging. A recent development seems to be that patents increasingly function as a mechanism of defense or a vehicle in negotiations, rather than an incentive of innovation (Smarphone patents @ war). Where does a further diversification of patent files (by Asian countries) and a further concentration on the ICT markets lead us? Is this the beginning of a new era of patent thickets and excessive litigations?
Very interesting to me was that among the top patent filing companies, all of the listed are currently active in standardization and are those who excessively declare patents on standards. Standards connect and define technologies that have to enable interoperability among several different technical components. Technology is therefore often complementary and patent files (in certain positions) can block whole technologies, standards and products or alternatively enforce excessive royalties. This might cause opportunistic patent filing behavior.
Is that assumption supported by the recent results of the WIPO?
Secondly, ICT industries are the ones where technology is very complex and where recent studies identified overlapping patent files, a situation that is often characterized as “patent thickets”.
Thirdly, there are several concerns if the current Chinese patent system might block competition, increase the lack of transparency or even allows low quality and non novel patent files. All these developments would not increase incentives of innovation, but rather increase incentives of excessive patenting.
What do you think? Do we need new reforms for our patent systems?