WIPO’s statistical report “World Intellectual Property Indicators 2009” was recently published on their website. It notes that “the impact of the economic recession in 2008 is not fully reflected in this report, although signs of a slowdown in the use of IP rights can be seen already in 2007.”
There is evidence of a significant rise in the rate of design filings over the past decade, with double-digit growth since 2005, reaching 15% in 2007, “thanks largely to increased activity in China”.
There is also an interesting aside in the report on foreign design filings. It notes that: “In 2007, the share of total industrial design registrations by non-residents amounted to just 19.8%, which is below the equivalent shares for patents and trademarks. Industrial design protection is sought less frequently in foreign markets, because the products in question are geared mainly toward domestic commercialization.”
We think, however, that the main reason for low foreign design filing rates are twofold: firstly, the Hague international design registration system (unlike Madrid and PCT) does not cover much of the industrialised world, and secondly, worldwide substantive law is far from harmonised which makes international design filing more complex and hence relatively expensive. Until these issues are addressed, designs remain less internationalised than patents or trade marks and foreign filing is therefore more complex.
Use of the Hague system itself is a more complex story. From a total of 4,000 filings a year in 2002, the numbers plummeted to 1,000 a year over 2005 to 2007. As half of those applications are “multiples” containing an average of 8 designs, you need to multiply those figures by 4.5 to get the total number of designs registered via Hague, but it is still low as compared to 40,000 Madrid trademark filings and 150,000 PCT patent filings each year.
You don’t have to look far for the explanation of the 2003 filing collapse; that was the year OHIM opened its doors, so that the predominantly European Hague system had a serious competitor. However, a rise in Hague filings of 32% in 2008, despite the economic collapse, suggests that since the EU joined the Hague system at the beginning of 2008, Hague is clawing back business that would otherwise have gone to OHIM. Presumably, these two will at some point reach an equilibrium - until a major economy such as the US, Japan, Korea or China joins Hague and tips the balance further away from Alicante and towards Geneva.