24 September 2020

Has COVID-19 Affected Patent, Trade Mark or Design Filing Activity – an Australian Perspective

Patent-Insights LogoThis is a guest contribution from Mike Lloyd of Patent-InsightsFurther details about the author can be found at the end of the article.

COVID-19 has had many devastating impacts all around the world, both in terms of fatalities and other health impacts, and also in economic terms.  While the economic impact is yet to be fully understood, it has led to significant drops in GDP activity in many countries. In Australia, the drop in GDP due to COVID-19 has been estimated to be 7%.

But how has this affected IP activity – particularly in relation to intellectual property rights (IPR) filed in Australia, and filed globally by Australian IP owners?

Mark Summerfield has considered this in relation to patents being filed in Australia in recent blogs, and found a 5% decline, which is in line with the drop in GDP, and the largest fall over a comparable time period since the GFC .  This study is intended to consider more international aspects, if from an Australian perspective, and also to consider registered designs and trade marks.

The Challenge of Working with IP Data

Like many data sources, IP data can be imperfect, particularly for recent data.  Sometimes data is delayed for various administrative reasons, and sometimes data reflects decisions made earlier, before the consequences of COVID-19 were fully understood.  There is also variation in filing activity throughout a calendar year, based on such factors as summer holidays, and end of year or end of financial year trigger points.

IP data reporting is also inconsistent between jurisdictions.  IP Australia is unusually good in the rapid publication of new filings, even for patents that are theory ‘unpublished’ due to the normal 18-month publication delay for new patents.  In contrast, for some countries including the US, no record is publicly available at all for patent filings until at least 18 months after the priority date.

So the challenge was to find IP activity data which is new enough to reflect any decisions likely made after March 2020 – which is when the economic impact of COVID-19 started to become known – and yet not affected by any of the factors above.

Time limitations on data

For all of the datasets listed below, I have based the analysis on applications filed between 1 April 2020, and 31 July 2020. The first date limitation of 1st April is to allow for the filing activity to be more likely to have been impacted by COVID-19, while the limitation of 31st July is to give hopefully sufficient time for the data to be compiled by the databases we consulted.

Data can be more meaningful when compared to suitable control data. For this reason I collected equivalent data from 1 April to 31 July for each of the 2019, 2018 and 2017 calendar years. I then determined the average of these data sets for these three earlier years, and ‘normalised’ all data, i.e. compared it to this average, shown as a percentage of this average value.

Another reason for considering the data for these four data periods was to put the changes in the 2020 data into a medium-term context.

Trends in Patent Data

I ended up with the following data sets for patent analysis:

  1. National Phase Entries (NPEs) for PCT patent applications, using the commercial Patseer database.  I chose NPEs because they are generally published immediately, unlike conventional patent filings.  They are also more likely to be filed by companies, and not underfunded individuals.
  2. I also searched for patent applications filed in Australia in a range of categories, using the IP Australia Auspat database.

The trends in these datapoints are shown below:

Patent Filing Trends

This data suggests that:

  1. There has been a reduction in filing rates for all of the above patent types, apart from national phase entries filed in Australia. The biggest of these falls is for non-PCT based standard patents that filed in Australia.
  2. Of note, the number of NPEs filed by Australian patent owners fell by 10% compared to the three previous years. This is shown in more detail in the chart below.

PCT NPE by Australian Applicants

This chart shows that the 2020 filings were similar to the 2019 filings up until May, when was a big drop. They appear to be recovering in June and July.

Note that the Auspat-sourced data excludes Innovation patents.  Mark Summerfield has found that the number of innovation patents filed in Australian is increasing at a rapid rate in 2020, with the growth driven by Chinese applicants.  While this is an interesting trend, it is unlikely that this growth is a consequence of COVID-19, hence I have not included this data in this analysis.

Trends in Trade Mark Data

I used the following data points:

  1. Global trade marks filed by Australian and global owners, using trade mark application sourced from the WIPO Global Brand database.
  2. Trade marks filed in Australia, using the Australian trade mark database.

The results are shown below:

Trade Mark Filing Trends

This data shows that:

  1. The number of global trade mark applications by Australian companies in the 2020 time period has increased by 8% compared to the three-year average.
  2. In contrast, global trade mark applications in total have fallen by 10%, compared to the three-year average.
  3. Australian trade mark applications appear to be relatively stable.
  4. The upward trend in global trade mark applications in 2020 is interesting, and this is expanded in the chart below. 

Global Trade Mark Filings by Australian Applicants

The chart shows that trade mark filings for January and February 2020 were very similar to the same months in 2019.  There was a small dip in March – and filings appear to have increased significantly in June and July.

This is perhaps surprising - one hypothesis is that underutilised (due to the COVID-19 crisis) Australian companies or individuals are starting new business ventures, and have filed trade marks to support this.

Design applications

I used the following data points.  I did consider other potential data points similar to those analysed for patents and trade marks, but for these other data points I saw large reductions in the 2020 data, which I cannot at this stage rule out also being due to relevant data being incomplete.  I may able to revisit these other data points at a later date.

  1. Designs filed in Australia, using data from the Australian design database, hosted by IP Australia
  2. European database applications, using data from the DesignView database, hosted by the European Union Intellectual Property Office

The results are shown in the chart below:

Design Filing Trends

This data shows a significant reduction in design applications for both Australian and European designs.  The following chart shows that, in Australia at least, this reduction happened from May 2020 onwards (note that I have included data from August, as IP Australia filing data should be reliable for August 2020).

Australian Design Applications


A study of the impact of COVID-19 on patent, trade mark and design filing in Australia, and where possible for Australian applicants filing in foreign countries, has shown that for the time period from 1 April to 31 July 2020:

  1. Most categories of patent filings analysed have shown a decrease compared to the same time periods for the previous three years.  This was greatest for the non-PCT standard patents filed in Australia, which were down 13% compared to the same time period in previous years.
  2. National phase entries for PCT patent applications filed by Australian owners reduced by 10% over the same time period.
  3. However the number of trade marks filed by Australian applicants globally increased by 8% compared to previous years.  This may reflect new business ventures.
  4. Both design applications filed in Australia, and European design applications, have decreased by around 13%.

While these results are varied, in many categories IP filings are down by greater than the expected GDP drop.  This was higher than expected, and might suggest difficult challenges ahead for the IP industry.

Nonetheless, in the wider picture both the COVID-19 health crisis, and the resulting economic crisis, are far from over.  Within the Australian economy, some sectors such as those focused on domestic needs (for example furniture, food and home office equipment) are doing very well, while others are struggling.  In the longer run there may be a permanent step change in the number of white-collar workers working from home, either full or part time.  These changes will no doubt lead to business start-ups creating new innovations and brands to meet these new needs, and hopefully these innovations and brands will be protected, and this help underpin IP filings going forward.

About the Author

Mike LloydMike Lloyd is an experienced IP analyst and IP manager. He analyses IP data from a variety of sources to help patent owners, innovators, startups and patent attorneys to understand more about their IP, and the IP of competing companies and products.  Mike has over 15 years of experience in this field, with the majority of the time working for a leading Australian IP firm, and with global multinationals as clients.

Mike is also involved in Ambercite, which has developed and globally commercialised innovative patent searching software.  Ambercite was developed to complement conventional searching software. Mike is also the Australasian agent for the patent searching software Patseer.


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