04 February 2006

Patents: Is the USA Losing its Technological Edge?

There is a think tank in America called "The Project for the New American Century". Its website states that it is a

"non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world."

Whether or not American leadership is a good thing is not a topic for discussion on this blog, but, if the phenomenal growth in PCT activity of Japan, South Korea and China is anything to go by, the discussion will be otiose. Although the USA is still the top country of origin for PCT applications with 45,111, the percentage increase in the number of applications since the previous year was only 3.8% compared to 4.0% for Germany, 6.6% for France, 24.3% for Japan, 33.6% for South Korea and a whopping 43.7% for China. The only major industrial country to have done worse than the USA is the UK with a percentage increase of only 1.5%. I should not be surprised if that is in no small part the result of looking across the Atlantic for social, economic, political and legal models rather than across the Channel to neighbours that are closer to us in almost every respect except language.

In that respect it is is significant that 4 of the top 5 applicants are European companies: Phillips Electronics is no. 1 with 2, 492 applications followed by Matsushita with 2,021, Siemens 1,402, Nokia, 889 and Bosch with 843. Sadly, there are no British companies in the top 50.

Although Europe as a whole appears comfortably to be outpacing the USA, North-East Asia is likely to surge ahead of us. Japan has dislodged Germany from the number 2 slot of countries of origin, but South Korea has displaced the Netherlands from 6th place and is snapping on our heels and China has displaced Italy, Canada and Australia from the 10th.

At the last domain name panellists' meeting in Geneva, Francis Gurry told us that on present trends most of the world's new technical literature will be in a North East Asian language. Technology brings economic, military and diplomatic power. Absent a cataclysm this new century is much more likely to be Chinese than American.

In the light of what happened in Tiananmen Square and Tibet, I would have regarded that prospect with alarm until about three or four years ago. I should add that I am "Americophile" - if there is such a word - having been educated at UCLA and and having made many subsequent visits to that country. Nevertheless, in view of the present federal American administration's selfishness over climate change, its obstreperousness over the International Criminal Court and its cavalier disregard of the UN Charter in the run up to the invasion of Iraq - not to mention some of the liberties that are being taken (quite literally) with Americans' human rights - I am facing the prospect of American relative decline with increasing indifference as well as resignation.

1 comment:

IP Dragon said...

Hi John,
This growth of patent filings by Chinese companies, might be a good thing. It could be an indication that Chinese companies start to take patents seriously and may pressure their government to enforce IPR. What do you think

Blogged about it here:
http://ipdragon.blogspot.com/2006/02/is-exceptional-growth-of-patent.html

Cheers,
IP Dragon