In 2011, for the first time ever, China led the world in patent applications, surpassing both the U.S. and Japan, according to a report released this month by the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO).

Worldwide, patent filings increased by 7.8 percent between 2010 and 2011 to reach 2.14 million. Trademark applications rose by 13.3 percent, the same rate as in 2010. Domestically, U.S. patent applications rose by 5.1 percent between 2009 and 2011. But China was by far the most active player in the global IP field, leading the world in filings for patents, utility models, trademarks and industrial designs.

“Even though caution is required in directly comparing IP filing figures across countries, these trends nevertheless reflect how the geography of innovation has shifted,” WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said in the report. Gurry added that the growth in patent filings bodes well for the global economy, as it indicates continued innovation.

The computer technology sector was the field with the largest number of applications (126,897), while the title for highest average annual growth went to the digital communications industry.

Among corporations, Chinese telecommunications company ZTE Corp.; Panasonic Corp.; Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., a Chinese communications company; Japanese electronics maker Sharp Kabushiki Kaisha; and German engineering and electronic company Robert Bosch Corp. submitted the most filings using WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty, which provides a unified procedure for filing patent applications in contracting countries.

Read the WIPO’s full report here.

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