I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


5 January 2014

Country shares in PCT patent publications, 2013 versus 2012

Using data for PCT patent publications (the so-called World Patent) in the free Espacenet database, I have made some calculations comparing countries for 2013 over 2012. For those new to patents, it customary to file abroad within 12 months of the domestic filing to gain foreign protection and all applications are published as 18 months from the first "priority" filing. The PCT enables a single document to be published rather than each office publishing its own version at 12 months.

In 2012 there were 178199 published patent specifications in the PCT system, while in 2013 there were 192620. This is an 8.0% increase.

This means that when comparing the numbers each country was responsible for, any gain under 8% is in fact a decline in "market share", as total numbers grew by that amount.

The national shares were worked out by asking the database for the number of Paris priority applications from that country (in the form of country codes such as GB for the UK) This is not quite the same as the nationality of the first named applicant (a common measure requiring the use of priced databases), and there will be some oddities, such as a Finnish applicant using a German priority, or a Hong Kong applicant using a UK priority. I expect that most countries' shares will not be substantially different, but suspect that Switzerland has probably suffered -- it had only 389 applications in 2013 in my calculations, when I would have expected it to be in the top ten applicants.

However, two related problems reduce the actual shares for each country.

It is possible to quote an EP priority to show that the first filing was not national but rather regional: the European Patent Office. In 2013 10328 applications gave that office as the priority and hence could not be allocated to a country. I expect that these were mostly EU nationals. There were 10409 in 2012.

Another is that the Geneva office that handles the PCT filings can itself be quoted as a priority, using the WO code. These numbered 21205 in 2013, and were 17852 in 2012. While many Western applicants do so, some Chinese applicants at least do so as well.

I am unclear of the impact of these EP and WO priorities, which if added together would reach third place in the list of countries applying for rights in the PCT.

The table below gives the top ten countries in 2013, and the percentage gain or loss in actual numbers (not in % of market share) over 2012.

2013 publications
2012 publications
% gain or loss
United States
United Kingdom
No change

Germany's decline in actual numbers surprised me, and may partly be accounted for by the use of EP priorities as the office is in Munich. India's figures hardly moved, while China's small gain in market share may be a signal that as some commentators suggest its years of spectacular growth are coming to an end (in 2011 its figures were 9878, in 2010 just 7051).

If we look at the three major blocs, the USA's numbers made up 33.0% of all published PCT specifications in 2012, and rose slightly to a share of 33.9% in 2013. Numbers for the Far East (Japan, China and Korea) data went up from 54452 in 2012 to 59775, a change from 30.6% to 31.0%. The EU countries in the table (Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain) went from 29037 to 28243, a decline from 16.2% to 14.6%.

Of course another way to look at the data is to see how many applications were published per million population. Italy is only a little smaller than France or the UK yet has half the number of applications, for example. China has a population much larger than Korea or the UK yet its numbers do not (yet) reflect that disparity.

It could be argued that the PCT data reflects a country's interest in exporting its innovation. Countries that traditionally manufactured other countries' technology but that are shifting to innovating themselves will do well. Korea and China are examples.

In addition, if the principle that the claimed national priority is mostly the same as the actual country is not correct then the data itself is suspect and hence any conclusions.

The 2013 PCT Yearly Review gives a great deal of analysis for applications made (not published) in 2012.

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