GENEVA -- China was responsible for around 40% of the 3.17 million patent applications submitted worldwide last year, putting the country at the top for the seventh straight year and driving Asia's growing presence in the global intellectual property arena.
The World Intellectual Property Organization said Monday China's 1.38 million applications mark a new record, though the group did not give a year-on-year percentage increase due to changes in the way China's patent office counted filings.
China's patent applications in 2017 mainly concerned electronic devices, computer technology and digital data transmission. Chinese tech companies, such as telecommunications equipment makers Huawei Technologies and ZTE, significantly boosted their application counts.
At 607,000, patent applications from the U.S. were less than half of China's total. That places America in second place, followed by Japan's 318,000 applications in third and South Korea's 200,000 in the No. 4 spot.
Global patent applications have grown each year since 2003, except for 2009 right after the global financial crisis. The growth is being generated by highly competitive research and development in artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and similar innovations around the world. The WIPO reports that industrial design applications grew to 1.24 million last year, while trademark applications jumped to 12.39 million.
"Demand for IP protection is rising faster than the rate of global economic growth," said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. He added that China "is now driving worldwide growth in IP filings" through its "homegrown innovation."
Through its Made in China 2025 initiative to modernize industry, Beijing has lavished financial support on the domestic high-tech sector, and has indicated a vigorous posture toward protecting intellectual property. On the other hand, the U.S. under President Donald Trump has accused China of forcing technological transfers and violating intellectual property rights.