Global patent filings numbered 7M in 2022, rising at a 10% CAGR, suggesting the pace of global technology is accelerating. The patent filings also provide support for megatrends such as rising commodity demand, digitalization and electrification. However, 79% of all patents globally are now filed in China, while the US is also very strong, albeit not yet back to new peaks in its patent filing volumes, despite a clean industrial boom?
How many patents are filed globally each year? Global patent filings reached 7.4 million filings in 2021, rising at a 10-year CAGR of 12% from 2.3 million filings in 2011, and 1.5 million filings in 2001. Hence a purpose in our energy transition research is to assess new technologies that can improve the global energy system.
Is the pace of technology development accelerating? The 10-year CAGR in global patent filings has increased from 3% per year in the decade ending in 2002, to 5% in the decade ending in 2012 and 10% per year in the decade ending in 2022. This seems to support our view that technology development is accelerating, although bringing new technologies to market can still be a 10-20 year process.
Did the pace of global patent filings slow down in 2022? Our data-file is built by searching public data from the European Patent Office. Note there is a lag between patents being filed, and then approved, and coming through to the database. Hence we do not think that the 2022 data represents any kind of ‘slowdown’, it is simply a database issue.
What is the breakdown of global patent filings over time? 27% of global patents are associated with the manufacturing industry, up from 19% a decade ago, reflecting the mega trend of industrialization. 19% are physics-related, up from 7%, and this category includes innovations associated with the rise of the digital world. 14% are associated with the use of electricity, up from 7% a decade ago, and this category includes innovations associated with the mega-trend of electrification. 15% are for consumer products (aka human necessities), down from 16% a decade ago. 10% are engineering related, 9% are chemistry/materials-related technologies, 6% are construction related (chart below).
The rise of China as an industrial power is truly staggering. Patent filings in China reached 6M in 2021, which was 79% of all global patent filings. 30% of these patents were focused on global manufacturing, compared with 14% in the US and 18% in Japan. Patent filings in China began in the mid-1980s, under Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, surpassing the US in 2007. The battle is trade but the war is technology. Our China research is here.
A resurgence of US industrial activity and technology development? A view in our recent research is that the US is set for an unprecedented boom in the mid-late 2020s, especially on the US Gulf Coast. While we would like to substantiate this conclusion, we cannot yet find evidence of accelerating technology development in the total number of patent filings (first chart below). The patent categories making new peaks in US filings are in digital and high-tech manufacturing, while engineering and energy use is more muted (charts below).
Technology development in Japan? Has Japan heavy manufacturing peaked? Elsewhere in the developed world, Japan’s patent activity actually peaked in 1992 and has since been declining. Manufacturing categories appear to have declined most.
The full data-file breaks down the number of global patent filings since 1920, across 150 different categories, and three different geographies, to illustrate the pace of technological progress, across each industrial sub-segment. There is always a debate about whether the quantity of patents matters. One argument is that quantity is a quality of its own. But our own view is the most meaningful way to assess IP is with qualitative patent screening.