US tops list of international patent-filing universities

US universities remain the most prolific international patent filers among higher education institutions worldwide, accounting for 30 of the top 50 institutions. The US is followed by Japan and South Korea with seven institutions each, the UN World Intellectual Property Organization, WIPO, reported on Monday.

Israel has two universities in the top 50, and Australia, China, Denmark and Singapore have one each.

With reference to the WIPO-administered Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which facilitates the process of seeking patent protection in multiple countries and now has 144 member states, a release on the report stated that the University of California was the world’s largest patent filer among institutions.

It had 277 patent applications published in 2011 under the PCT, and was followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (179), University of Texas System (127), Johns Hopkins University (111) and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (103).

America also led the top 15 countries in filing international patent applications, followed by Japan and Germany. Together these three countries accounted for 58% of the world’s output. Next came China, South Korea, France, the UK, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Sweden in the top 10.

Among the top filing countries, PCT applications from China (+33.4%), Japan (+21%), Canada (+8.3%), South Korea (+8%) and the US (+8%) saw the fastest growth in 2011.

However, the US – with 48,596 filings – remains the largest user of the PCT system, followed by Japan (38,888), Germany (18,568) and China (16,406).

“US universities dominate the list of the top research-intensive universities in the world, and not surprisingly they also dominate the list of top universities in the creation of intellectual property,” John Daly, a science and technology consultant and former director of the office of research at USAID, told University World News.

“American universities have tended to see a three-part mission, combining teaching with knowledge creation and community service. There is thus a historical linkage of the university and the private sector, leading to university R&D leading [in turn] to useful technologies.”

Daly explained further: “Part of the success results from government policies. First and foremost is the public support for research-intensive universities, dating from the land grant college act under President Abraham Lincoln, which created centres for agricultural technology in universities.

“And for more than half a century the National Science Foundation [NSF] and the National Institutes of Health have been building research capabilities in the higher education system here.”

“I also give credit to federal and state government policies to promote university-industry cooperation. For example, the NSF has long provided grants to university-industry partnerships that develop technology. Importantly, the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 allowed universities to patent inventions arising out of government funding.

“The universities quickly acted to develop this new source of funding,” Daly pointed out.

He quoted NSF statistics indicating that the top US research universities now generate more than a billion dollars a year from royalties on intellectual property.

“It is important to realise that over the past half century, universities in the United States have created offices which encourage faculty to seek patents, help them to do so, and manage the portfolios of intellectual property rights for the institutions,” Daly concluded.

With reference to fields of technology, digital communications remains the field of technology accounting for the largest share (7.1%) of total PCT applications in 2011, followed by electronic machinery (6.9%), medical technology (6.6%) and computer technology (6.4%).

The top five patent-filling companies were ZTE Corporation of China (2,826 applications), Panasonic Corporation of Japan (2,463), Huawei Technologies Co of China (1,831), Sharp Kabushiki Kaisha (1,755) of Japan and Robert Bosch Corporation (1,518) of Germany.

Five Japanese companies – Panasonic, Sharp, Toyota, NEC and Mitsubishi – featured in the top 15 list.

More information about the performance of the PCT system in 2011 will be provided in the PCT Yearly Review: The international patent system in 2011, to be published on the WIPO Intellectual Property Statistics website in April.

Hassan Moawad Abdel Al, former president of the City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications in Alexandria, Egypt, welcomed the WIPO report. “Ranking universities based on the number of produced patents is very important as an indicator for measuring a university's innovative output,” he told University World News.

“The number of patents produced for new technologies is a commonly used output measure for innovative activities as it provides an indicator of researchers’ and university staff abilities to develop new technologies and remain competitive,” Abdel Al explained.

“To promote and protect innovation within universities, an intellectual property rights system for rewarding creativity must be set up and technology transfer offices must be established for stimulating and diffusing innovation from universities into the industrial sector as well as promoting markets for new products,” Abdel Al said.

But Richard Gold, an expert in innovation, patent law and policy, a professor in Canada-based McGill University’s law faculty and director of the innovation partnership, told University World News:

“While the figures are interesting, they don't tell us much about underlying innovation systems – unless one believes that patents are essential to moving inventions into innovations.”

Gold added: “The likely reason why universities mentioned in the report are the largest PCT filers among higher education institutions is that those countries, or institutions within those countries (such as the Association of University Technology Managers, in the US) promote patenting and-or fund the costs of patenting.

“There is no evidence that the level of patenting by universities is a measure of their scientific output or productivity. While we measure patents and patenting levels, it is a poor indicator of actual invention and even less of innovation (the making available of new products or services).

“This is especially true with public or quasi-public institutions such as universities, in which patenting policy has less to do with real output than with modes of thought on technology transfer and relations between universities and industry more generally,” Gold concluded.