Global appetite for inventions fuels patent explosion|
Posted on Sunday, January 13, 2008 @ 18:26:05 EST by vlad
The global appetite for inventions and their money-making spin-offs has
sparked an explosion in patent applications, mainly in Asia and the
United States, which threatens to swamp the system responsible for
dealing with them, experts have warned.
Worldwide patent applications
are growing at about 4.7 percent per year, according to the 2007 report
of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), and the pace is
even faster among Asian economic tigers such as China and South Korea.
In China, applications grew eight-fold in the decade since 1995 and doubled over the same period in South Korea.
Alison Brimelow, who heads the European Patent Office (EPO), said
China, which is particularly inventive, has overtaken Europe in terms
of patents filed, while the United States and Japan still lead the
In 2005, 1.6 million applications were filed worldwide.
"It is a source of anxiety in that globally, we are looking at a
huge backlog of unexamined patents," said Brimelow, whose organisation,
based in the southern German city of Munich, grants patents valid in up
to 34 European countries.
"Piles of unexamined patents
represent uncertainty in the market place because you don't know if
someone's got in ahead of you and may come in with an idea that kills
yours," she said.
A recent EPO-linked report said patent applications to the
organisation had quadrupled over the past 25 years to reach 208,500 in
2006, mainly because of greater input by new Asian players, increased
global business activity and ever-faster development in information,
communication and biotechnologies.
A year ago, the backlog at the EPO stood at 440,000 files. In Japan it stood at 838,000 and in the United States at 1.1 million.
Of the applications received by the EPO, 30 percent are ruled out
in the early stages of the research for "prior art" -- finding out if
inventions are indeed new -- while nearly half of the remainder falls
by the wayside later in the process.
"That does tell us that quite a lot of rubbish is coming in," said Brimelow.
In a bid to reduce backlogs, the EPO is looking at ways of
encouraging greater cooperation among patent offices in Europe, and
between top international players in Europe, the United States, Japan,
China, and South Korea.
"Given the rapid growth of both Korea and China, it is very
important to find ways to work effectively with them," said Brimelow,
who points to difficulties, for example, in cooperating with China in
the search for "prior art."
But paradoxically, it is growing Chinese piracy which is currently
putting a dampener on patenting in Europe, according to German business
"The technical details (of patent applications) are available
online 18 months after a patent application has been filed, making it
easy for an expert to understand them," the head of the German patent
office Juergen Schade recently told the Financial Times Deutschland.
Because of pirating "we actually register very few patents," said Heinrich Weiss, head of the SMS steel group.
Chinese competitors regularly take advantage of technical data
published by patent offices to rush out copycat products, he claimed.
The head of German crane manufacturer Demag, which specialises in
lifting apparatus for ports, said the Chinese had earlier copied two
versions of its cranes.
"Now we try to keep the Chinese at a distance for as long as possible," said an official.
According to a study by the German association representing
producers of machines and industrial equipment (VDMA), four out of five
of its members have suffered from Chinese piracy.
"Now we recommend that our members only apply for patents if their
product involves very complex technical know-how," VDMA official Hannes
Hesse told the Financial Times Deutschland.
© 2008 AFP
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