updated 10/15/2006 8:49:05 PM ET 2006-10-16T00:49:05

Patent filings in China increased by more than six times in a decade, helping the Asian country make a dramatic leap in catching up to the world leaders in patent activity, the U.N. agency that oversees intellectual property said Monday.

More than 130,000 applications from Chinese and foreigners were filed with Beijing in 2004, the last year for which figures were available, the World Intellectual Property Organization said. That catapulted China into fifth place in the total number filed, behind Japan, the United States, the European Patent Office and South Korea.

Over 65,000 of the applications were from Chinese, a six-fold jump from 1995, WIPO said. About the same number of foreign individuals and companies also applied in China, over seven times more than nine years earlier.

Patent filings as a whole only grew at an average rate of 4.75 percent annually during this period, the U.N. agency said.

“Patent statistics are increasingly recognized as useful indicators of inventive activity and of technology flows,” WIPO said in a 43-page report.

The Japanese continue to be the world’s greatest patent filers, responsible for four in five of the nearly 450,000 applications in the country during 2004, according to WIPO. They also filed 137,800 with foreign offices, the most of any nationality.

The U.S. came in second in applications received, with 403,050, and filings made by American-based inventors in foreign countries, which stood at 124,600. However, U.S. patent authorities received the highest number of applications from abroad, over 167,000, followed by the European office, China and Japan.

WIPO said, however, that the distribution of patent filings worldwide “is changing over time, in particular as (South Korea) and China are becoming major industrial economies.”

“The use of the patent system is growing quickly in the northeast Asian region,” the report said.

The number of applications received in South Korea almost doubled between 1995 and 2004. Per capita, Koreans were the second most frequent to file for patent protection, behind the Japanese. Americans, Germans and Australians rounded out the top five.

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