World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Director General Francis Gurry.

South Africa emerged as one of the fastest-growing filers of patent applications in the 2011 world intellectual property indicators, according to World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) director-general Francis Gurry.

“Despite the continued uncertainty and fragility of the global economy, intellectual property performs well when evaluated by the number of applications for intellectual property protection around the world,” Gurry said last week.

China overtook the US in filings and Gurry expected the trend to continue in 2012.

The majority of the top 20 offices saw growth in patent fillings in 2011, with China (34.6 percent), China-Hong Kong (15.3 percent) and South Africa (13.5 percent) seeing double-digit growth.

Last year patent filings across the world grew by 7.8 percent. Trademark filings grew by 13.3 percent, industrial design filings grew by 16 percent and plant variety applications grew by 7.8 percent with applicants seeking to protect their inventions.

“If you look at the performance of individual offices, it is quite remarkable how well these headline numbers coincide with the economic performance in 2011. We see very strong growth from China,” Wipo chief economist Carsten Fink said.

“We see much slower growth in developed economies. We also see remarkable, relatively good performances from other emerging economies, in particular from India and 13.5 percent growth from South Africa.”

Wipo is the UN agency dedicated to the use of intellectual property such as patents, copyright, trademarks and designs as a means of stimulating innovation and creativity.

Gurry said: “Overall we see it as quite a good performance. Intellectual property concerns one of the best performing parts of the economy. It concerns the innovation economy.

“It concerns those parts of the economy where we see the new economy operational.

“Sustained growth in intellectual property filings indicates that companies continue to innovate despite weak economic conditions. This is good news, as it lays the foundation for the world economy to generate growth and prosperity in the future.”

South Africa’s increase in filings was the highest for major developing economies, except for China.

In 2011, 2.14 million patent applications were filed, with China filing for 526 412 patents, followed by the US with 503 582 and Japan with 342 610. South Africa was 20th with 7 245.

China’s State Intellectual Property Office overtook the US Patent and Trademark Office in 2011 to become the largest patent office globally, after having surpassed the Japan Patent Office in 2010.

In the 100 years to 2011, only Germany, Japan and the US have taken the top position. - Peter Kenny