Patent Race: China ahead in filings, but US leads active inventions chart

As we head into 2013, patents – along with the legal fight to enforce and protect them – is becoming a larger part of tech companies. Just ask Apple and Samsung. Where should we look for the next patent to appear? A good bet is China, which in 2011 filed for more than 500,000 technology related patents in 2011, topping the United States. According to the United Nations, China applied for 526,412 patents last year, more than the US with 500,000 and Japan’s more than 300,000 applications…

China also accounted for 72 percent of the growth in patents filed between 2009 and 2011. By contrast, the US contributed sixteen percent of the patents.

According to the Economist, worldwide patent filings topped two million in 2011, rising annually by more than seven percent for the past three years.

While China leads in the number of patent applications filed, Japan approved the most patent applications. America led the world with the most active patents: more than 2.1 million of the 7.9 million patents globally.

Still, many people point out that the US patent system is broken beyond repair.

On one hand, companies that aggressively patent anything and everything – like Apple and other tech giants do – are allowed to protect the stuff such as the Siri mic icon, digital page turn, the rectangle or even the Mac startup chime.

On the other, even a major patent grant can be disputed, as we’ve seen with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office’s invalidation of Apple’s touch heuristics patent.

Moreover, the system even encourages so-called patent trolls who make a living just by filing patents, without doing any real work or producing any kind of product or service. These firms sometimes become a weapon for well-known brands who don’t want to get their hands dirty by taking competitors to court themselves.

For example, Sony claims a patent on the screen rotation feature so it sued Apple through MobileMedia Ideas, a company it jointly owns with Nokia and Denver-based patent licensing firm MPEG LA. Earlier in the week, Apple was found guilty of infringing three MobileMedia patents.

Finding the middle ground is not an easy task, but surely today’s patent system isn’t fair as it creates more problems and litigation than protects true innovation.

Though nobody has come up with a better solution yet, is today’s patent system really the best we can do?