The State of Intellectual Property Around the World

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The United Nations's globe-spanning, definitive guide.

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Economies are slowing across the globe. But inventors across the globe apparently didn't get that memo. Patent filings and grants have exploded in the past few years -- fueled, in particular, by innovations coming out of, and into, China. And fueled, as well, by new fields -- computer technologies, communications platforms -- that invite inventors to make their marks on them.

A new report from the World Intellectual Property Organization -- the IP arm of the United Nations -- has documented that proliferation of patents (and trademarks, and industrial designs) as it's played out on the world stage. And their findings are pretty staggering. The study tracks data as of  2011, detailing IP trends on a worldwide, and country-by-country, basis. And while the report lends itself to a major headline -- that China's patent office has ousted the United States's as the world's largest -- the real story here is the fact that innovation, overall and officially, is on the rise. Around the world. 

"Sustained growth in IP filings indicates that companies continue to innovate despite weak economic conditions," WIPO Director General Francis Gurry put it in a press conference. "This is good news, as it lays the foundation for the world economy to generate growth and prosperity in the future." 

The report itself is long and wonky. But it's full of juicy stats. So here, below, are some of the juiciest. The current state of intellectual property, around the world and by the numbers:

    • Total number of patent applications filed worldwide in 2011: 2.14 million
    • Years up to now that have seen that many applications: 0
    • Of those 2+ million applications, the number filed by residents of the countries that received the applications: 1.36 million
    • The number filed by non-residents: 0.78 million
    • Number of 2011 applicants, to patent offices worldwide, whose country of origin was Japan: 472,417
    • Rank of Japan in country-of-origin counts: 1
    • Rank of China in country-of-origin counts: 2
    • Increase in the total number of patent filings worldwide between 2009 and 2011: 293,900
    • Percent of this increase accounted for by filings to China: 72
    • Total number of applications received by China's patent office in 2011: 526,412
    • Total number of applications received by the United States's patent office in 2011: 503,582
    • Total number of applications received by Japan's patent office in 2011: 342,610
    • Increase in worldwide patent applications between 2009 and 2010: 7.5 percent
    • Increase in worldwide patent applications between 2010 and 2011: 7.8 percent
    • Estimated number of patents granted worldwide in 2011: nearly 1 million
    • Estimated number of those patents granted to residents of a country applied to: 606,800
    • Estimated number of those patents granted to non-residents of a country applied to: 390,000
    • Worldwide growth of patent filings in 2011: 7.8 percent
    • Amount of growth that represented over 2010: 7 percent
    • Growth of patents granted in 2011: 9.7 percent
    • Country with the most patents granted: Japan
    • Number of patents granted to Japan: 238,323
    • Country with the second-highest number of patents granted: United States
    • Number of patents granted by the United States: 224,505
    • Country that overtook the United States in 2011 to have the largest patent office in the world: China
    • Number of other countries that, in the 100 years before 2011, have occupied the position of largest office: 3
    • Those countries: Germany, Japan, and the United States
    • China's growth in patent filings in 2011: 34.6 percent
    • Hong Kong's growth in 2011: 15.3 percent
    • South Africa's growth in 2011: 13.5 percent
    • Algeria's growth: 11.3 percent
    • Madagascar's growth: 41.9 percent
    • Saudi Arabia's growth: 6.3 percent
    • Guatemala's growth: -13.1 percent
    • Jamaica's growth: -27.6 percent
    • Jordan's growth: -15.6 percent
    • Field that saw the highest average annual growth rate between 2006 and 2010: digital communication
    • Digital communication's rate of growth: 8.1 percent
    • Number of applications filed for computer technology in 2011: 126,897
    • Rank of computer technology among other fields: 1
    • Field that has consistently declined in application rates since 2007: pharmaceuticals
    • Increase in utility model, industrial design, and trademark filings, respectively: 35 percent, 16 percent, and 13.3 percent
    • Increase of patent applications for energy-related technologies (fuel cells, geothermal, solar, and wind energy) between 2009 and 2010: 8 percent
    • Number of energy-related patents filed in 2010: 34,873
    • Most common country-of-residence for people filing patents for solar energy and fuel cell technologies: Japan
    • Most common country-of-residence for people filing patents for geothermal technology: Germany
    • Most common country-of-residence for people filing patents for wind energy technology: United States
    • Trademark applications filed worldwide in 2011: 4.2 million
    • Growth of trademark applications in 2011: 13.3 percent
    • Country primarily contributing to that growth: China
    • Trademark application growth accounted for by China in 2011: 61.8 percent
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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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