WIPO statistics – how useful are they?

The World Intellectual Property Organization  (WIPO) in Geneva published its “World Intellectual Property Indicators 2009”. It provides – among others – statistics on how many patent applications have been filed via WIPO’s PCT. The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is an international treaty, administered by WIPO. The PCT makes it possible to seek patent protection for an invention simultaneously in a large number of countries by filing a single “international” patent application at WIPO.

From the statistics we see the usual data such as which countries filed the most patent applications, the numbers of granted patents per country and the like. But in fact, what does it tell you and more interestingly, what not?  The word “world” in “WIPO” may give the misleading impression that WIPO statistics give you a complete picture of patent applications. Although very important, not everyone uses the PCT system to file patent applications. Does that mean that WIPO statistics are incomplete?

WIPO as PCT administrator tells only part of the story:

  1. WIPO only registers patent application under the so called PCT system (a system whereby you basically can file patent applications in your own language and postpone national filings and national costs)
  2. The use of PCT  – and therefore the results in the statistics –vary across industries and countries, e.g. US companies generally file much less via PCT/WIPO than Asian companies
  3. It does not tell you in which countries the applications will be followed up
  4. These are only applications, it does not tell you whether the patents will be eventually granted

It is not very easy to find out how “complete” and comprehensive the WIPO statistics are. On the WIPO website one can find “Patent statistics methodology “and would expect to find how the statistics have been produced. However this “Methodology” does only refer to what a patent is and how a patent application is filed (what has that to do with methodology?) and tells you about patent statistics as an indicator of inventive activity. Nothing however on whether the WIPO statistics are purely the PCT statistics with its limitations (see above) or provide more comprehensive data, including data from EPO, JPO and USPTO. The WIPO website refers to Patent applications by office and filing route (1995-2008)” by direct filing and PCT national phase entry” so one would expect that Patent offices are being approached to provide data, but questions on how this has been done and how complete those data are missing.

Are we mistaken?

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