WIPO announces 4.8% increase of worldwide patent files! Lubricant or sand in the wheels of innovation?

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?

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About timpohlmann

Tim Pohlmann is a post-doctoral researcher in economics at Mines ParisTech and Berlin Institute of Technology. He specializes in the economic analysis of markets for technology. He earned his doctoral degree with the highest distinctions in August 2012 from the Berlin Institute of Technology with a dissertation on patenting and coordination in ICT standardization. Tim’s research covers the empirical analysis of the trade of patents, patent trolls, standardization consortia and patent pools. He has presented his work at a large number of international conferences. Tim has been actively involved in preparing studies for the European Commission and the German Federal Government on the role of patents in technological standardization and business models in Open Source Software. Doctoral Thesis SSRN author page
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One Response to WIPO announces 4.8% increase of worldwide patent files! Lubricant or sand in the wheels of innovation?

  1. justusb says:

    Just a short comment on these figures: keep in mind that on a very stable trend, patent files in developed countries grow more slowly than R&D expenditures. This trend has led many to suspect a decline in R&D productivity. Accounting for indicators of patent quality reduces this apparent decline in research productivity over time (Lanjouw and Schankerman, 2004). These arguments point to a stable productivity of R&D, with a slightly decreasing propensity to patent.
    Even though I agree with your points, I think that the current rates of increase in the number of patents mainly just reflect GDP growth and the increasing importance of technology-intensive industries and for instance ICT in the economy. Portfolio patenting, blocking patents, patent trolls etc., even though important on a micro-level in studies of single, highly relevant technologies, should have to my opinion a lesser impact on the overall number of patent files.

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