IP Australia have just released their tenth edition of the 'Australian Intellectual Property Report'1 (the Report), and for those with an interest in the number of filings in the various categories of intellectual property (IP) which IP Australia administers, makes for interesting reading.
The Report is aimed at promoting awareness of IP rights and discussing the latest IP statistics. In particular, the Report explores and illustrates the latest IP trends in Australia and how Australians have adapted to the changes in our social and work environment during COVID-19. Perhaps unsurprisingly, demand has "surged" in pharmaceutical patent filings, given the need for novel vaccines and treatments, as well as computer and audio-visual technology, as the economy has moved to a virtual model. Additionally, trade mark and design filings have grown for products that households invest in when upgrading their homes to create comfortable living and workspaces. The Report also "presents evidence that IP activity is a significant forward indicator of employment growth for Australian small and medium enterprises (SMEs)."
In brief overview, patent applications increased in 2021, recording a 11% growth, with filings from Australian residents up 25%. Designs, too, are up 13% (the steepest year-on-year growth this decade), with trade marks recording a 9% increase, driven by a significant increase in resident filings. The number of patent, trade mark and design filings are at record levels. Plant breeder's rights experienced a 6% decrease, likely reflecting the continued impacts of drought, Australia's devastating bushfires in 2019–20, COVID-19 lockdowns, and border closures.
IP Australia received 32,397 standard patent applications in 2021, which is an increase of 11% from 2020. This increase represents the second largest growth in a decade, which is notable as the large spike in filings in 2012/2013 is likely to be an artefact from the introduction of the IP Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012 amendments, which encouraged applicants to bring forward national phase entry. The data also confirm that national phase entry from PCT applications is the preferred filing route, with 23,371 national phase entries and around 9,000 direct entries recorded last year. Filings by non-residents increased by 9% in 2021 and made up the majority of patent applications.
Countries of origin
Non-residents were responsible for just over 90% of applications in 2021 with the United States the biggest contributor, followed by China, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom. On the other hand, patent application filings by Australian residents enjoyed a 25% increase in 2021, after a 10% decline in 2020.
Of major concern, however, is the persistent decline in the filing of provisional applications over the past decade. Just over 5,400 provisional applications were filed in 2011, which has now dropped by over 20% to 4,297 in 2021. The authors of the Report do not speculate on the reasons for the decline, but noting that 94% of provisional applications are filed by Australians or Australian entities, and assuming that the number of provisional applications filed is one indicator of Australian innovation and entrepreneurship, it would seem that fewer and fewer Australian innovations are being developed and protected.
With the phase-out of the innovation patent system in August 2021, there was a dramatic increase in the demand for innovation patents, with over 7,800 applications filed in 2021. This represented a 71% increase from filings in 2020. The majority of the increase was attributed to non-residents who, in 2021, accounted for 78% of filing growth, primarily due to increased filings from China and India.
The five leading classes for standard patent applications in 2021 were Pharmaceuticals, Medical technology, Biotechnology, Organic fine chemistry and Computer technologies. Pharmaceutical patent applications grew by 27% in 2021, after an 18% increase in 2020. Computer technology patent applications increased by 27% to become the 5th-ranked class, possibly driven by the need of remote working and communication due to the current pandemic. In particular, patent filings in AI are growing rapidly, nearly doubling each year.
The top five international patent applicants were LG Electronics, Huawei Technologies, Guangdong Oppo Mobile Telecommunications, Nestlé and Apple, while the top five domestic applicants were Aristocrat Technologies Australia, CSIRO, NewSouth Innovations, ResMed and Breville.
Gender gap in patenting
The Report notes that "Studies on the gender of inventors on patents show that gender imbalances persist, with substantial differences across countries and technology fields. However, women's participation in patenting is rising." Female inventors comprised around 12% of unique Australian inventors listed on patent applications in Australia in 2016, up from 4% in 1980. Over that period, the female inventor share of Australian filings in civil engineering remained low, at just over 10%, but in biotechnology and organic fine chemistry rose from less than 20% to more than 50%. The Report notes that the increase in participation is primarily due to growth in applications attributed to mixed teams, involving both men and women inventors, and the authors of the Report speculate that the results "could reflect change in the team composition of inventors or, alternatively, shifts in organisational practice with women inventors more likely to be recognised on patent applications for their contributions."
Trade mark applications and registrations
In 2021, nearly 89,000 trade mark applications were received by IP Australia, which represents a 9% growth from 2020. This growth, together with the 8% increase in 2020, defies Australia's first recession in 30 years and was regarded as "somewhat unexpected" by the authors of the Report, as "despite ongoing COVID related restrictions, 2021 saw the highest rate of business entry in a decade ... and gross disposable income reached its highest level on record." 78% of the applications in 2021 were direct applications, as opposed to applications through WIPO's Madrid route. Despite an 18% increase, non-residents held a lower share of trade mark applications (40%) in 2021 when compared to residents (60%).
Trade mark classes
The five classes in the Nice Classification system that received the most applications in 2021 were: Class 9 Technological and electrical apparatus and instruments, Medical technology, Biotechnology, Organic fine chemistry and Computer technologies.
The top five international applicants were Glaxo Group, Apple, Novartis, Samsung Electronics and Philip Morris Products, while the top five domestic applicants were Aristocrat Technologies Australia, Endeavour Group, Coles Group, Aldi Foods and Southcorp Brands.
Design applications, registrations and certifications
Over 8,100 design applications were filed in 2021, which is a 13% increase over the previous year. This growth can be entirely attributed to non-resident applications, which accounted for 68% of the total applications in 2021. Over 1,370 designs were certified in 2021, representing a 38% growth from the previous year.
The five classes in the Locarno Classification system that received the most applications in 2021 were: Means of transport or hoisting, Recording, telecommunication or data processing equipment, Medical and laboratory equipment, Packaging and containers and Furnishing.
The top five international applicants were Koninklijke Philips, Beijing Xiaomi Mobile Software, Apple, Aussie Union Group Hongkong and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, while the top five domestic applicants were Zimmermann Wear P/L, Phoenix Industries P/L, Vuly Property P/L, Frankie4 IP 1 P/L, and With Jéan P/L.
Plant breeder's rights
In 2021, 297 PBR application were filed, which accounted for a 6% decrease from 2020. Despite a 9% decline, non-residents held a higher share of PBR applications (58%) in 2021 when compared to residents (42%). The Netherlands and the US retain their status as the two major foreign countries of origin for PBR filings in Australia.
The Report confirms the extensive level at which copyright material is used. For example, in 2021, over 409,000 copyright owners in the music industry received a total of $430.7 million. Further, $102 million in revenue was distributed to more than 17,000 rights holders including writers, artists, publishers and agents by Copyright Agency Limited (CAL). $36.4 million was distributed to registered artists and licensors by the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA), and $45.3 million was distributed to 4,900 copyright owners in the audiovisual sector such as producers, directors, broadcasters and agents by Screenrights.
The Report notes that small businesses contribute disproportionately to job creation and aggregate productivity growth (by one estimate, up to 60% of growth) through their innovative activity. Also, after filing for IP rights, Australian SMEs are more likely to achieve high growth than their peers (i.e., one study that was cited estimates a 22% increase in firm size following the grant of a patent), and pay a higher median annual wage.
The data presented in the Report suggest that "IP activity is a significant forward indicator of employment growth for Australian SMEs", and that the results are "consistent with previous 'event studies' showing that significant increases in size, skill and capital intensity within a firm coincide with the grant of a patent, though a business may take up to 3 years to scale to its new level."
Apart from the statistics, the report also details IP Australia's research programs. The three main programs include: the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE), the Centre of Data Excellence (CODE) and the Patent Analytics Hub. These programs accomplish many things, for example: the OCE investigates the impact of IP policies and activities on Australian businesses and economy; the CODE analyses, presents and reports data across all IP rights; and the Hub assists Australian innovators by extracting value from patent databases in order to make the most of their IP by aiding understanding of their technology areas, finding collaborators and boosting the commercial returns from research.
The Report, and these programs, are well worth a more detailed review for interested parties.
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