Last calendar year, the number of standard patent filings in Australia fell by 1%, from 29,957 in 2018 to 29,666 in 2019. While this represents only a small decline, it follows two years of growth, by 1.8% for 2016-2017 and 3.6% for 2017-2018, and thus represents a reversal of the recent upwards trend. While international data on 2019 patent filings is not yet available, I think it doubtful that when IP Australia releases the 2020 edition of its annual Australian IP Report later this year it will be able to claim a high ranking for Australia among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in terms of patent growth, as it did in last year’s report. The 2019 result reflects a decline in both direct filings, and filings resulting from national phase entry of international applications previously filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
Demand for Australia’s second-tier patent right, the innovation patent, also fell in 2019, with 1702 applications for innovation patents being filed, compared with 2121 in 2018. Legislation to phase out the innovation patent system passed in the Senate late last year, and now merely awaits the formality of passage through the House of Representatives before becoming law, although it seems unlikely that the decline in filings is in any way related.
Provisional filings – mostly by Australian residents – remained steady, with 4,947 provisional applications filed in 2019, compared with 4,943 in 2018. This is mildly positive news, following as it does a fall of 5.2% between 2017 and 2018.
It is also encouraging to see that self-filing of new patent applications declined yet again in 2019. The number of originating applications (i.e. those that claim no earlier priority date, and are thus in most cases freshly-drafted) filed without the assistance of a patent attorney or other agent dropped to 1,702 from 1,870 in 2018. This is now less than half of the nearly 3,500 originating applications that were self-filed each year between 2002 and 2007. I regard this as a positive trend because the available data establishes, beyond any doubt, that outcomes for self-represented applicants are consistently far inferior to those of applicants that engage professional assistance.
As in previous years, the list of top applicants for Australian standard patents is dominated by foreign companies, with Aristocrat Technologies once again the only Australian company to appear in the top 30. Aristocrat fell two places, to number four in the rankings, despite filing 238 standard patent applications (only just shy of the 252 it filed in 2018), and a significant decline in filings (from 314 to 244) by last year’s top applicant, Qualcomm, which now stands third. LG Electronics was a big mover, increasing its filings from 175 to 245 to grab second spot.
The big surprise in the rankings is first-time entrant Guangdong OPPO Mobile Telecommunications Ltd (‘OPPO’), which leapt straight to number one with 314 standard patent applications. OPPO had never filed more than 19 Australian applications in any previous year (that was in 2017), and had filed a grand total of just 47 applications up until the end of 2018.
Among Australian residents, universities and public research institutions once again feature prominently, taking half of the top 20 places in the local rankings of standard patent applicants, and 12 of the top 20 in the provisional filing chart.
For all the numbers, and further commentary, please read on.
As for the equivalent data that I prepared last year, with curated data (i.e. the annual IP Report and an updated IP Government Open Data [IPGOD] set) unavailable at this time, I have relied on various searches via the online AusPat system, along with additional offline processing and data matching. While AusPat data has the merits of being live and up-to-date, it also has limitations compared to commercial databases and curated bulk data sources such as IPGOD, such as the absence of address/country-of-origin information in downloadable results tables. However, since top applicants have typically filed in previous years also, I have been able to obtain country information in most cases by matching of AusPat results with prior IPGOD data.
Although my results last year matched closely with equivalent analysis using the curated data, once available, all of the following should be considered preliminary and highly unofficial!
Patent Applications Filed in 2019
The following table summarises the total numbers of all types of patent applications filed in 2019. The total number of standard applications is also broken down into direct filings (i.e. Convention applications, and applications filed without earlier priority claims) and national filings resulting from international applications originally filed under the PCT system. The table additionally shows the number of originating applications that were self-filed by their applicants or inventors in both 2019 and 2018.
|Standard (PCT NPE)||20,826|
|Self-filed originating (2019)||1,728|
|Self-filed originating (2018)||1,854|
It is difficult to assess the precise level of abuse of the Australian innovation patent system by Chinese applicants seeking government subsidies at home, particularly in view of the increasing legitimate use of the Australian patent system by Chinese applicants. However, I estimate that this significantly declined in 2019, possibly to under 200 applications, down from as many as 500 in 2018. If this is correct, it would account for a substantial proportion of the drop in innovation patent filings in 2019.
Standard Patent Applications
The following table lists the top 30 applicants for standard Australian patents (direct filings and PCT National Phase Entry combined) in 2019, along with their country of origin.
|1||GUANGDONG OPPO MOBILE TELECOMMUNICATIONS LTD||CN||314|
|2||LG ELECTRONICS INC||KR||245|
|4||ARISTOCRAT TECH AUSTRALIA PTY LTD||AU||238|
|5||HUAWEI TECH LTD||CN||187|
|7||ALIBABA GROUP HOLDING LTD||KY||155|
|10||HALLIBURTON ENERGY SERVICES INC||US||135|
|11||ACCENTURE GLOBAL SOLUTIONS LTD||IE||116|
|12||MAGIC LEAP INC||US||116|
|15||BIOSENSE WEBSTER ISRAEL LTD||IL||108|
|16||SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS LTD||KR||106|
|17||KIMBERLYCLARK WORLDWIDE INC||US||88|
|18||BECTON DICKINSON & CO||US||85|
|20||F HOFFMANNLA ROCHE AG||CH||80|
|22||FISHER & PAYKEL HEALTHCARE LTD||NZ||72|
|23||TELEFONAKTIEBOLAGET LM ERICSSON PUBL||SE||71|
|24||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (US GOV’T)||US||70|
|25||REGENERON PHARMACEUTICALS INC||US||67|
|26||ELECTROLUX APPLIANCES AB||SE||67|
|27||DAIKIN INDUSTRIES LTD||JP||65|
|29||JANSSEN PHARMACEUTICA NV||BE||65|
|30||SOCIETE DES PRODUITS NESTLE SA||CH||64|
Last year, 16 of the top applicants were US-based companies. This year, that number has fallen to 13. Notable US departures from the top 30 include Visa, Mastercard, Facebook and Google – all of which are perhaps catching on that Australia is not a friendly jurisdiction when it comes to patenting of computer-implemented inventions. Other US departures were well-known names Caterpillar, 3M and General Electric, making way for a number of new US entrants: spatial computing start-up Magic Leap Inc; genetic technology company Illumina Inc; Regeneron Pharmaceuticals; and Johnson & Johnson medical subsidiary Ethicon Inc.
As was the case last year, the sole Australian member of the top 30 is gaming system developer Aristocrat Technologies, with New Zealand being represented again by Fisher & Paykel Healthcare (a separate company from the well-known maker of home appliances). While both companies filed similar numbers of applications to the previous year, Aristocrat fell two spots from second to fourth, whereas F&P gained five positions, rising from 27th to 22nd.
As I have already noted, Chinese company OPPO – known primarily as a maker of mobile handsets – has come from literally nowhere to grab the top spot with 314 new Australian standard patent filings is 2019. This places it well ahead of fellow Chinese telecommunications manufacturer Huawei, which increased its Australian filings from 119 (and 10th place) in 2018 to 187 (and 5th place) in 2019,
Who is Handling OPPO’s Australian Filings?
As an aside, I was interested to see which patent attorney firms had benefited from OPPO’s sudden enthusiasm for Australian patent filings. The table below summarises its 2019 filing numbers according to the firms handling the applications. Surprisingly, the beneficiaries are not (just) the usual suspects at the top end of town, whom you might expect to have the greatest capacity to manage large numbers of filings. According to the current records of the Trans-Tasman IP Attorneys Board (TTIPAB), Perth-based Golja Haines & Friend and Sydney-based Cotters have just four registered patent attorneys apiece. They will have plenty to keep them busy once examination reports start to issue on the 129 and 55 application, respectively, that they have filed on behalf of OPPO!
|Attorney Firm||OPPO Filings|
|Golja Haines & Friend||129|
|Davies Collison Cave||90|
|Cotters Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys||55|
|Spruson & Ferguson||9|
The table below lists the leading Australian applicants. As in previous years, the top Australian applicant from outside the main leader-board is national research organisation CSIRO. Other public research institutions, including a number of universities, also feature on the list.
|1||ARISTOCRAT TECH AUSTRALIA PTY LTD||238|
|2||COMMONWEALTH SCIENTIFIC & INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH ORGANISATION||51|
|3||NEWSOUTH INNOVATIONS PTY LTD||18|
|4||UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND||16|
|6||BREVILLE PTY LTD||15|
|7||UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY||14|
|8||TECHNOLOGICAL RESOURCES PTY LTD||14|
|9||FASTBRICK IP PTY LTD||13|
|10||UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE||12|
|11||CCL SECURE PTY LTD||10|
|12||TNBT HOLDINGS PTY LTD||10|
|13||SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC AUSTRALIA PTY LTD||10|
|14||UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE||9|
|16||CSR BUILDING PRODUCTS LTD||9|
|17||COUNCIL OF THE QUEENSLAND INSTITUTE OF MEDICAL RESEARCH||9|
|18||BLUESCOPE STEEL LTD||8|
|19||CHEP TECH PTY LTD||8|
It is somewhat dispiriting to note that it took only seven applications to make the top 20 list of Australian-resident applicants for 2019. This compares with the most recent annual listing of US patent recipients (i.e. not merely filings, but actual granted patents) by IFI Claims, in which the 20th-placed US-resident entrant (44th overall), Oracle International Corporation, was awarded 847 US patents in 2019, up 24% from 685 in 2018.
The table below lists the top 20 filers of provisional applications in 2018. This year, all are Australian residents (last year, US-based Illinois Tool Works made the list, at number 12, although I speculated that this was a result of inventions developed at its Australian manufacturing subsidiaries).
|1||COMMONWEALTH SCIENTIFIC & INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH ORGANISATION||AU||62|
|2||NEWSOUTH INNOVATIONS PTY LTD||AU||48|
|4||UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE||AU||38|
|5||RESMED PTY LTD||AU||37|
|6||UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND||AU||34|
|8||UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY||AU||29|
|9||GRAND PERFORMANCE ONLINE PTY LTD||AU||28|
|10||BREVILLE PTY LTD||AU||24|
|11||AGRICULTURE VICTORIA SERVICES PTY LTD||AU||20|
|13||ARISTOCRAT TECH AUSTRALIA PTY LTD||AU||19|
|15||UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE||AU||17|
|16||SWINBURNE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY||AU||16|
|17||UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY||AU||15|
|19||UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA||AU||13|
|20||BFRE PTY LTD||AU||12|
The list is dominated by universities and public research institutions, with the leading corporate filers of provisional applications being Resmed Pty Ltd, Grand Performance Online Pty Ltd, Breville Pty Ltd, Aristocrat, and BFRE Pty Ltd. The remaining three places on the list are occupied by individual applicants (Christopher Higgins, Norman Matthews and Adam Gardner), who are prolific self-filers of provisional applications.
Innovation Patent Applications
The table below lists the top 20 filers of innovation patent applications in 2019. While the innovation patent system was established primarily for the benefit of Australian small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the largest single user has historically been Apple Inc. This year, for the first time, top spot on the table has gone to e-commerce giant Alibaba, which is headquartered in China, listed on the New York, as well as Hong Kong, stock exchanges, and apparently has an IP holding company in the Cayman Islands (country code KY).
|1||ALIBABA GROUP HOLDING LTD||KY||41|
|5||TTI MACAO COMMERCIAL OFFSHORE LTD||MO||14|
|6||OUTOTEC FINLAND OY||FI||7|
|8||SKYTENT PTY LTD||AU||7|
|9||TANGSHAN HARBIN SHIP TECH LTD||CN||7|
|11||1IC GLOBAL PTY LTD||AU||6|
|12||MGE HOLDINGS LLC||US||5|
|13||TECHTRONIC CORDLESS GP||US||5|
|14||KOREA ADVANCED INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY||KR||5|
|15||OZDOCS INTL PTY LTD||AU||5|
|17||MODULAR INNOVATIONS PTY LTD||AU||4|
|19||ANHUI UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY||CN||4|
|20||JILIN PROVINCE TEYIFOOD BIOTECHNOLOGY CO LTD||CN||4|
Notably, only seven of the top 20 filers of innovation patents are Australian, and a number of these are self-filers whose patents are possibly not worth the electronic pages on which they are rendered. So while Australian SMEs and individuals do remain, collectively, the largest national user-group for the innovation patent, it is not hard to see why the government has been persuaded to abolish the system.
Conclusion – Are We Watching the Rise of China?
In 2019 a Chinese company, OPPO, topped the list of Australian standard patent applicants for the first time, while a second Chinese company, Huawei, took fifth place, and a third, Alibaba, was the number one applicant for innovation patents. Although there were no other Chinese applicants in the top 30 standard patent applicants, this is still a notable advance on 2018 when Huawei just scraped into the top 10, with the next highest-ranked Chinese company appearing in 21st place.
The top five countries of origin for Australian standard patent applications in 2018 were the US (13,562), Australia (2,774) , Japan (1,695), Germany (1,511), and the United Kingdom (1,400), which were followed fairly closely by China (1,254) and Switzerland (1,243). While I currently have country-of-origin information for only around 75% of all 2019 applicants, by projecting this data it appears likely that China will enter the top five – possibly as high as number four, and probably at the expense of the UK. The numbers of US and Japanese applicants may be slightly higher in 2019 than in 2018, while Australian, German, Swiss and UK applicant numbers look to have declined, though the changes will not be sufficient to upset the top three positions held by the US, Australia and Japan.
And while Chinese applicants have a very long way to go before they will surpass the number of applications filed by US residents each year, they will soon be well within range of Japanese and Australian applicants. I would not be surprised to see Chinese applicants overtake Japan within three years, and take second position from Australian applicants within six years. In any event, it seems certain that Australians will be, at best, the third largest users of our own patent system – after the US and China – before this decade is out.