UK companies are falling behind in the use of regional and international intellectual property protection, in the form of patents, trademarks and registered designs.
At the same time, the number of European and international rights of foreign companies, particularly from Japan, China and the Republic of Korea, which all have effect in the UK, continues to rise.
The international intellectual property system consists of international patent applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, international design registrations under the Hague Design System, international trademark registrations under the Madrid Trademark System and international copyright protection under the Berne Convention. International patent applications are effective in 144 states for a period of up to 31 months, after which applicants can continue the rights as separate national or regional patent rights for up to 20 years.
The international design system allows registration of a design in up to 71 states, including the 27 EU member states as a single designation.
The duration of the design registration depends upon the national law of each state.
In Europe, the duration of design registrations is up to 25 years, but for many other states, designs are registered for 15 years.
International trademark protection helps to protect company names, brand names, logos and domain names in 86 states, and is renewable every 10 years, with no maximum term.
Copyright protection applies to original literary, artistic and other works.
Under the Berne Convention, UK companies are entitled to copyright protection in 163 foreign countries, to the same level as if they were nationals of that country.
China is party to the Patent Cooperation Treaty for international patents, to the Madrid System for international trademark system, and to the Berne Convention for copyright, but has not yet joined the international registered design system.
The leading countries for filing international patent applications are the United States (44,890 applications in 2010), Japan (32,180), Germany (17,558) and China (12,295).
China has experienced a particularly strong growth in international patent applications, with an increase of 37.5 per cent in 2010 whilst, in the same year, the number of international applications filed by the United States fell. By comparison, UK applicants accounted for 4,908 international patent applications in 2010 and applications have been steadily declining since 2007.
For international trademark registrations, the leading number of filings in 2010 were Germany (4,548), the United States (3,987), China (1,820), Japan (1,422) and the United Kingdom (1,062). International trademark applications originating in Germany and the United Kingdom have recently fallen, whereas those from the United States, Japan and China are on the increase.
The relatively low number of international trademarks from the United States reflects the recent accession of the US to the international trademark system, and the inertia in realising the cost benefits of international trademark registration compared to respective national trademark registrations.