China has overtaken the US for the first time in the number of patent applications last year, the World Organisation for Intellectual Property (WIPO) says.

China made 59,000 patent applications in 2019, about 1000 more than the US, WIPO said.

The US had been top of the rankings every year since 1978.

China’s rapid rise to the top underlines the shift in Asia to focus in innovation, WIPO director general Francis Gurry said in Geneva on Tuesday.

More than half of all patent applications were made in Asia, WIPO said.

Japan was third in the rankings. Germany was fourth with 19,350 applications but, with the Netherlands, was one of two countries with a particularly high number of applications to record a decrease.

Turkey found itself among the top 15 for the first time after a big increase of 46 per cent.

Most applications internationally were made for computer technology, followed by digital communication and electronics.

Chinese firm Huawei led the field with 4440 patent applications, followed by Mitsubishi of Japan, Samsung of South Korea and Qualcomm of the US.

Patents are granted for innovative products, processes or technical solutions to problems.

Once a patent is awarded, only the holder can commercially exploit the invention. Normally a patent lasts 20 years, according to WIPO.

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