WIPO’s annual IP indicators raise prospects of future economic prosperity

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has published its 2016 World Intellectual Property Indicators (WIPI). The report dissects filing activity and registrations for 2015 and offers interesting insight for IP professionals.

First, IP applications grew again. This isn’t new news – they have been growing since 2009 and now represent at least three times the volume of 1990. It can be easy to get complacent about numbers which rise year-on-year, but it is important to remember that IP filings are an indicator of global innovation.

Francis Gurry, the Director General of WIPO, notes that it is encouraging to see that IP activity saw healthy growth in 2015 with global patent filings growing by 7.8%, and global trademark filings by 15.3%.

Investment in IP is a down payment on future economic prosperity. Of course, not all patents filed will be issued, but the report shows a 5% growth in the number of patents granted globally in 2015, and the global economy should benefit from this increased innovation as protected properties start to deliver economic value.

Much has been made of the China patent office passing the milestone of one million applications filed in one year. Behind the headlines, it is helpful to note that China only made around 30,000 international applications under the PCT system. This is still a significant proportion of the 218,000 international (PCT) patents applied for in 2015 (only the USA and Japan filed more), but it demonstrates that Chinese innovation is still firmly rooted in its home market.

The special theme for year’s report presents new statistics on the gender of inventors. It shows that women inventors are still a minority, even though female participation in international patenting increased from 17% in 1995 to 29% in 2015. The share of female inventors varies across countries and technical fields, with the highest participation rates in the life science fields. Despite this, less than a third of all applications in 2015 included women.

Growth in international patents could well be a key indicator of future economic prosperity. Conducting business internationally has become an essential part of the overall strategy for many businesses, but protecting ideas globally still presents many challenges. Of 2.9 million patents filed in 2015, less than 8% were international (under the PCT). And yet we live in an era of global brands; Starbucks has stores in 70 countries, and McDonalds in more than 100. In this environment it should be easier to create innovation and protect it for global exploitation. Technology has an important role to play here.