Financial and Monetary Systems

The number of global patent applications is breaking records. Where are the hotspots?

Global growth in patent applications was driven largely by China, India and South Korea.

Global growth in patent applications was driven largely by China, India and South Korea. Image: Unsplash/ Ameen Fahmy

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • A record number of intellectual property (IP) filings were made for patents, trademarks and designs in 2021.
  • Global growth in patent applications was driven largely by China, India and South Korea.
  • A total of 1.7 million patents were granted worldwide in 2021, following the highest annual growth rate for a decade.

Having an inspiring business idea is one thing, but taking action to bring it to life is another. In 2021, a record number of intellectual property (IP) filings were made for patents, trademarks and designs to protect innovations.

Despite COVID-19’s impact on economies around the world, innovation has blossomed. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) says 3.4 million patent applications were made in 2021, the highest annual total ever recorded.

Graph showing the patent applications worldwide 2007-2021
Global patent applications reached their highest ever level in 2021. Image: World Intellectual Property Organization

Globally, applications for patents have increased from 1 million in 1995 to 2 million in 2010 and then 3 million in 2016.

Asia-Pacific countries accounted for more than two-thirds of global patent applications in 2021, led by China with almost 1.6 million. Japan had the third-highest total with more than 289,000 patent applications, followed by the Republic of Korea with around 237,000.

Outside Asia-Pacific, the US recorded the second-highest number with just over 590,000.

Patent filing hotspots

The global growth in patent filings has been driven largely by countries such as China and India, each recording a 5.5% year-on-year increase. In the Republic ofKorea, the number of applications was up 2.5%.

Statistic showing the patent applications by region, 2011 and 2021
Asian countries filed 67.6% of global patent applications in 2021. Image: World Intellectual Property Organization

The thriving economies of Asia have seen substantial growth in their share of global patent filings over the past decade, up from 54.6% in 2011 to 67.5% in 2021.

Other regions have consequently seen their share of applications fall. North America dropped from a quarter of all applications in 2011 to 18.5% in 2021. Europe experienced a similar trend, falling from 15.5% to 10.5%.

The increase in worldwide filings led to 1.7 million patents being granted in 2021, which represents 10% annual growth – the highest for a decade.

Graph showing the patent grants world wide, 2007-2021
2021 saw the fastest growth rate of patents issued within a decade. Image: World Intellectual Property Organization

Again, Asia saw the highest percentage of patents granted in 2021 with almost 64% of the worldwide total. The region is home to three of the top-five patient issuing authorities: China, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

China accounted for a 39.6% share of worldwide patents granted, followed by North America (19.9%) and Europe (11.8%).

New frontiers

As the global economy began to bounce back from the pandemic, other forms of IP filing grew faster than patents. Applications for trademarks rose by 5.5% in 2021, rising by 9.2% for industrial designs.

New and frontier technologies featured heavily in IP applications, as digitalization and smart technologies continue to impact global economies, helping create new markets and opportunities for ideas and development.

Discover

Who are the World Economic Forum's Innovator Communities?

Global innovation is supported by initiatives like The World Economic Forum’s Global Innovators Community, which brings together the world’s most promising start-ups and scale-ups to advance ethical technology and business model innovation.

Companies invited to join the community can access platforms like UpLink, which cannects problem-solving innovators with the expertise and networks of the World Economic Forum.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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