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Pandemic drives ‘remarkable’ growth in trademark applications, WIPO says

WIPO headquarters in Geneva (Credit: WIPO. Photo: Emmanuel Berrod)

A wave of goods and services created in response to the coronavirus pandemic drove “remarkable” growth in global trademark filings last year, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said on Monday. 

Figures released by the UN agency show trademark applications leapt by 13.7 per cent in 2020 compared with the previous year, despite the deepest shock suffered by the world economy in many decades.

Patent applications rose by 1.6 per cent to 3.3 million while industrial design applications hit 1.1 million, up 2.2 per cent on the previous year.

The strong growth across all intellectual property filings contrasts with the financial crisis of 2008, when filings were sharply down.

“Historically trademark filings have really correlated with the business cycle but not so in 2020,” Carsten Fink, WIPO’s chief economist, told reporters in Geneva.

Marco Aleman, WIPO assistant director general, said the results “reflect the very different nature of this crisis and show that innovation plays a key role in addressing pandemic and its consequences”.

Trademarks boom. WIPO’s flagship Intellectual Property Indicators Report, which gathers data from some 150 national and regional authorities, shows trademark applications hit 13.4 million last year, covering 17.2 million class counts.

Products and services related to advertising and business management as well as pandemic-related goods such as pharmaceuticals, surgical, medical and dental products, were among the biggest drivers of growth.

The share of filings related to pharmaceuticals, for example, increased from 4.1 per cent in 2019 to 4.6 per cent in 2020.  However, these weren’t the areas of growth, said Fink, who noted that the pandemic was creating new business opportunities across many sectors of the economy.

“Despite the difficult situation, enterprises are finding opportunities to reach customers in new ways, open up new markets and bring their ideas to the world using IP, ” Daren Tang, director general of WIPO.

China’s IP office had the highest volume of filing activity, with a class count of around 9.3 million, followed by the United States, Iran, the European Union and India, which leapfrogged Japan to become the fifth largest in terms of trademark filing.

India’s 15.4 per cent growth was driven by resident filings in pharmaceuticals. In Iran, local pharmaceuticals were the third largest contributor to a 19.1 per cent overall increase, behind advertising, business management, and transport.

Patchy patents performance. Worldwide patent-filing activity returned to growth in 2020 driven by Asian economies, after the first dip in a decade in 2019, WIPO’s findings show.

China, where most patents are registered in the world, saw growth of 6.9 per cent, followed by India and the Republic of Korea. However, they were the only top 10 offices to record a rise in applications in 2020, with the rest remaining in the red.

“This performance is more in line with the recession although, given the depth of the downturn, it is still a surprisingly good performance,” said Fink.

Patent filings grew faster in Asia than in the rest of the world, cementing the longer-term shift of the geography of patent filings towards Asia, he added, with two thirds of the world’s patents now filed in Asia.