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]


2 January 2015

Country shares in PCT patent publications, 2014 versus 2013

Using data for PCT patent publications (the so-called World Patent) in the free Espacenet database, I have made some calculations comparing countries for 2014 over 2013. I carried out a similar exercise in January 2014. In this post, I have adjusted the 2013 figures as given in Espacenet as apparently the final figures were later revised on the database.

For those new to patents, it is 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 (the Patent Cooperation Treaty, based in Geneva and run by WIPO) enables a single document to be published rather than each office publishing its own version. Individual countries or regional systems later individually decide whether or not to grant a patent and hence the data merely reflects wanting to patent.

Because of the way the system works, the data reflects filing activity between 18 and 30 months ago.

One advantage of using this international system rather than comparing national figures is that it is a "level playing field", as different countries charge different fees and may permit different kinds of inventions or have different attitudes to novelty.

A second advantage is that regional patent systems, of which the European Patent Convention is the largest, confuse the issue. A European county can apply directly to Europe, or directly to the PCT designating Europe among other patent systems, or could apply to their home country as well. This causes much confusion.

In 2013 there were 192619 published patent specifications in the PCT system, while in 2014 there were 201456. This is a 4.5% increase.

This means that when comparing the numbers each country was responsible for, any gain under 4.5% 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, however, that most countries' shares will not be substantially different.

However, two problems reduce the actual numbers (and possibly % shares) 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 2014 10358 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 10239 in 2013.

Another is that the Geneva office that handles the PCT filings can itself be quoted as a priority, using the WO code. These numbered 22717 in 2014, and 21243 in 2013.

I am unclear about the impact of these EP and WO priorities, which if added together would reach 33075, third place in the list of countries applying for rights in the PCT (and only just behind Japan).

The table below gives the top ten countries in 2014, and the percentage gain or loss in actual numbers (not in % of market share) over 2013.

2014 publications
2013 publications
% gain or loss
United States
 + 10.2
 - 3.8
 + 8.4
 - 5.4
 + 1.1
 - 1.4
United Kingdom
 + 2.2
no change
 + 1.3
 - 3.7

Only the USA and China increased their "market share" of all published PCTs. Germany again suffered a drop in numbers, and Japan did only a little better.

Another way to look at the numbers is to examine the three major blocs and see how their percentage of all published PCTs changed from 2013 to 2014. These blocs are the USA, the Far East (Japan, China and Korea) and the EU (Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain). Yes, I know that Taiwan (not a member state of the PCT, hence in theory no priorities) is also in the Far East, and that there are other EU member states. While my choice of five does diminish the EU share, we can at least see how the named countries as a bloc changed.

The US went from 33.9% to 35.8%, plus 1.9%.

The Far East went from 31.0% to 29.6%, minus 1.4%.

The EU went from 14.6% to 13.6%, minus 1.0%.

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. That suggests that China's numbers have a long way to go in their increase.

It could be argued that the PCT data reflects a country's interest in exporting its innovation, either as actual exports or in licensing agreements. Countries that traditionally manufactured other countries' technology but that are shifting to innovating themselves will do well.

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. It is best to treat this data as indicative rather than definitive.

I have posted a follow-up on EU countries, National patent shares in major EU countries.

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