The WIPO recently released its 2008 World Patent Report, which contains all kinds of interesting statistics on patent activity worldwide. In 2006, a stunning 1.76 million new applications were filed worldwide, driven largely by filings in China, Korea and the U.S.
One of the most interesting sections covers patent filings per GDP, population and R&D. Both Japan (#1) and Korea (#2) had more than 2000 new resident applications per million population. (Japan 127 million pop. = / Korea pop. = 49 million) The U.S. (#3) managed just shy of 800 resident filings per million (with a pop. of 300 million). In R&D, Korea was the leader again, with slightly more than 5 applications per million $ of R&D funding. Russia, Japan, China and (surprisingly) New Zealand rounded out the top five. The US ranked #7 and Canada #29. Clearly, Asia is keen on generating IP.
All this demand is creating huge problems for patent offices. In 2006, the USPTO had more that one million pending applications, a 30% increase over 2004. Japan has about 800K pending applications, up from 600K in 2004. The EPO, on the other hand, has about 250,000 pending applications, which is about the same as 2004 and 2005. It takes about 40 months on average for the EPO to process an application but only 30 months at the JPO and USPTO. The Korean IP Office processes applications in about 20 months.