BY CAROLINE GABRIEL
Huawei has overtaken Panasonic as the largest applicant for international patents, according to a survey of 2014 submissions conducted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The patents surveyed all relate to IT and telecoms technology, and the latest report from the United Nations body mirrors the shift in technological R&D and patent power from traditional strongholds, like Japan and the US, to China. The largest category of patents relates to computer technology, while digital communications accounts for almost 15% of the total.
The league table is an important benchmark of technological power, and it shows some traditional big-hitters, like Qualcomm, still holding considerable sway. The US chip giant, whose business model is heavily reliant on IP licensing, was the second biggest applicant for international patents in 2014, with 2,409 published applications, to Huawei's 3,442.
Among the top 50 applicants, Huawei also had the largest increase in filings (up by 1,332), followed by compatriot Tencent, and then Microsoft.
In third place was another Chinese major, ZTE, with 2,179 applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the basis of WIPO's rankings. A single PCT filing allows applicants to seek patent protection in 148 countries at once.
Communications dominate the filings. Digital communications, including mobile technology, accounted for two-thirds of Huawei's applications, followed by computer technology and telecoms; while for Qualcomm the percentages were 40% and 10% respectively, and for ZTE they were 61% and 13%.
The overall trends reflected in the report are well known - the change in the basis of China's technology power, from low cost manufacturing to heavyweight innovation and a bold attempt to create a homegrown hi-tech economy and to lead international standards. China was the only country to see double-digit growth in filings compared to 2013, while Japan saw its total fall.
The US, predictably, remains the biggest source of filings with its companies totalling 61,492 applications, up 7.1% on the previous year. Japan was in second place with
42,459, down 3%, while China was in third place with 25,539, up 18.7% year-on-year. China and the US accounted for 87% of the total growth in filings, which overall was up by 4.5%.
There were, however, signs of a fightback by European companies, which have led the development of some technology markets in the past, including the 2G and 3G mobile generations. Recession and consolidation have weakened the influence of Europe, but the Commission is determined to put the region in the forefront of '5G' standards and patents, and for the first time since 2007, the top three EU nations saw an increase in their PCT filings. The strongest growth came from the UK and France, said WIPO.