Patent applications are booming, with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) announcing a 4.7 percent year on year growth of applications filed under its patent cooperation treaty -- but questions have been raised over how valuable the filings really are.
The treaty makes it possible to seek patent protection for an invention simultaneously in each of a large number of countries by filing an "international" patent application.
In total, 156,100 patent applications were filed in 2007, with inventors from the USA being the most prolific, followed by Japan and then Germany whose percentage of total filings sits at 33.5, 17.8 and 11.6 percent respectively. Australia made its way to 13th place with 1.3 percent of total applications.
Meanwhile, North-east Asian countries have upped their filings significantly, accounting for over a quarter of international applications under the PCT. South Korea overtook France with 28.8 percent year-on-year growth, becoming the country with the fourth largest number of patent filings while China topped the Korean growth rate to file 38.1 percent more patents in 2007 than 2006.
The largest proportion of PCT applications published in 2007 related to telecommunications at 10.5 percent of total filings, followed by IT at 10.1 percent and pharmaceuticals at 9.3 percent. Telecommunications is one of the fastest growing sectors with 15.5 percent growth in patent applications.
Keep in mind for the 99 out of 100 patents that are either bad or indifferent, that 100th patent cures AIDS
"It is most encouraging to see clear evidence that countries in the region are embracing the tools of the international patent system to stimulate commercial activity and economic growth," Dr Kamil Idris, director general of WIPO, said in a statement.
Greg Aharonian, publisher of the Internet Patent News Service, has long argued that 40 to 60 percent of the patents issued to companies in developed countries are in some way invalid.
Aharonian said that due to the lack of resources for prior art -- information made available to the public which might be relevant to a patent's claims of originality -- and legal sophistication in developing countries, he suspects the number of "bad" PCT filings is even higher, leading to a "lot of wasted trees".
The enormous growth in patent applications in places such as South Korea is most likely the countries playing catch-up to what Japan and United States are doing with their patents, according to Aharonian -- a phenomenon which he believes applies particularly to innovations from developing countries, duplicative of inventions first created in developed countries.
However, Aharonian believes there is an overall positive effect from the increase in patent filings.
"It means more people and countries are realising the value in protecting their innovation, however big or small it is, and are learning to play games like the American patent system. Keep in mind for the 99 out of 100 patents that are either bad or indifferent, that 100th patent cures AIDS, or makes politicians and priests more honest."