Global patents applications: India puts up a poor show, even Huawei has more filings

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Updated: Aug 24, 2020 2:04 PM

A decade ago (in 2009), while China had filed 7,946 patent applications, India made up for only 761. The gap has been just widening, despite improvement shown by New Delhi in recent years.

Huawei alone filed 4,411 applications, followed by Mitsubishi Electric (2,661), Samsung (2,334) and Qualcomm (2,127).

Huawei, Mitsubishi Electric, Samsung and Qualcomm filed more international patent applications each than the whole of India in 2019, showed the latest data compiled by the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This reflects poorly on New Delhi’s innovation prowess and brings to the fore, yet again, its markedly poor spending on research and development (R&D).

India filed only 2,053 patents applications in 2019, accounting for fewer than 1% of the global filings (see chart). In contrast, Huawei alone filed 4,411 applications, followed by Mitsubishi Electric (2,661), Samsung (2,334) and Qualcomm (2,127).

Other companies with substantial filings to their credit included Guang Dong Oppo Mobile (1,927), Boe Technology (1,864), Ericsson (1,698), Ping An Technology (1,691), Robert Bosch Corporation (1,687) and LG Electronics (1,646). The list is based on applications filed through the WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system.

Not just patents, India fares poorly in applying for trademarks as well, having made up for just 0.7% of global filings in 2019, the WIPO data showed. In industrial designs, the country is nearly absent, having filed for only three designs, against 21,807 globally.

As for patents, none of the Indian companies made it to the list of top 50 filers globally, while as many as 13 Chinese companies featured in it – with four among the top ten. Interestingly, the list of corporations with substantial patent filings is dominated by firms in the network product space, where Indian companies don’t yet have a meaningful presence.

Last week, virtually addressing an event organised by NGO Disha Bharat, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman exhorted more and more Indian entities to realise the growing importance of patents and filing applications.

China ended the US reign in filing for patents in 2019 for the first time since the PCT started operation in 1978, with as many as 58,990 applications, making up for as many as 22% of the global filings.

From just 276 in 1999, applications by Chinese entities rose to 58,990 in 2019 – a 200-fold jump in just 20 years, reflecting Beijing’s phenomeal rise in the innovation sphere, according to WIPO director-general Francis Gurry.

A decade ago (in 2009), while China had filed 7,946 patent applications, India made up for only 761. The gap has been just widening, despite improvement shown by New Delhi in recent years.

What is equally disturbing is that none of the Indian educational institutions featured in the WIPO’s list of top 50 institutions globally for filing patent applications. University of California led the pack, with 470 applications in 2019. It was followed by Tsinghua University and Shenzhen University (both in China) with 247 and 230 applications, respectively.

Despite some progress made by India in recent years in overhauling the system of filings for patents, trademark and industrial design, inadequate spending on R&D and lack of awareness about the importance of filing such applications continue to weigh India down.

India’s R&D spending remained constant at around 0.6-0.7% of its GDP, way below the expenditure level of countries like Israel (4.3%), South Korea (4.2%), the US (2.8%) and China (2.1%), according to a statement by the ministry of heavy industries and public enterprises in July last year.

Official expenditure, almost entirely by the Centre with negligible contribution from state governments, is the driving force of R&D in India, in contrast with the advanced countries where the private sector is the dominant force.

In a bid to promote innovation, the Centre came out with a national IPR policy in 2016, employed more people to clear pending applications on time, offered 80% discount to start-ups to file patent claims, among other initiaves.

In fact, in 2016, the department of industrial policy and promotion (now DPIIT) recruited 458 patent examiners, effecting a four-fold increase in the number of such staff, to expedite the process of clearing over 2 lakh pending applications. Prior to that move, the patent offices had a paltry staff of 130 to examine around 43,000 applications a year. Unless states and the private sector pitch in in a meaningful way, along with a greater push from the Centre, India’s innovation landscape will continue to lag potential.

Over three-fourth of patent applications in India are filed by foreign entities or individuals, who also account for around 80% of the patents granted over the years.

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