GENEVA China, Japan and South Korea are dominating growth in international patent filings in a dramatic demonstration of the shift of scientific and economic power to northeast Asia, figures released on Wednesday showed.
The World Intellectual Property Organization said China had increased its international patent filings in 2010 by an astonishing 56.2 percent to 12,337, triple its 2006 figure and pushing it into fourth place in global rankings.
South Korea, edged into fifth place by China, grew 20.5 percent and second-placed Japan, although a mature economy, still managed growth of 7.9 percent.
"We see a meteoric rise of Northeast Asia," WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry told a news conference.
With global growth in international patent filings rising 4.8 percent to close to pre-crisis levels, the Asian figures complemented stagnation or decline in other industrialized economies.
The United States, still by far the biggest filer, saw a fall of 1.7 percent to 44,855, some 20 percent below its 2007 level.
The figures underline the challenge for President Barack Obama who called in last month's State of the Union speech for the United States to regain competitiveness by more spending on research and education.
U.S. policy-makers can draw some comfort from the list of international patent applications by universities, still completely dominated by U.S. schools, headed by the University of California and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
U.S. legislation encouraging the commercialization of publicly funded research makes American universities better than their foreign counterparts at making money out of their inventions, Gurry noted.
Rich endowments and the general U.S. tradition of heavy research spending also help.
The leap in Chinese patent filings shows that an increasing number of inventors in China -- often accused of pirating other people's intellectual property -- are seeking international protection for their inventions.
The Chinese figures include a 33 percent jump in patents in electrical engineering and a 220 percent leap in nanotechnology.
Gurry said India recorded a 15 percent rise in filings and this would bear watching, although it is not yet a clear trend.
Among other big emerging economies, Brazil is scarcely a player with only 442 filings in 2010, down from 493 in 2009, while Russia dropped to 560 -- less than Singapore -- from 711.
The top 10 companies by filings included three from Japan, two from China and one from South Korea, with one U.S. firm and three Europeans making up the rest, data from the United Nations intellectual property agency showed.
Japanese consumer electronics group Panasonic Corp. again led the listings with 2,154 applications, and China's second biggest telecoms equipment maker, ZTE Corp., jumped into second place. U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm was in third place followed by Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies in fourth.
WIPO operates the Patent Cooperation Treaty which allows an inventor to apply for an international patent affording protection, once granted, in all treaty members, currently 142.
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
(Full WIPO patent filing details at bit.ly/h4RjQ0 )