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Image: TRR

COVID-19 may have put a striking dent in consumer spending on discretionary goods and services, such as travel and luxury goods, but the onset and enduring impact of the global health pandemic did not bring a stop to global trademark and patent filing trends. In an annual report released on Wednesday, the World Intellectual Property Office (“WIPO”) revealed that international patent applications filed by way of its Patent Cooperation Treaty in 2020 “continued to grow,” with filings increasing by 4 percent in 2020 (a total of 275,900 applications), which WIPO says is “the highest number of filings ever,” despite an estimated drop in global GDP of 3.5 percent during the same period.

According to WIPO, China – which was responsible for 68,720 of the total patent applications, a rise of 16.1 percent on a year-on-year basis – remained the largest user of the Patent Cooperation System, followed by the U.S. (59,230 applications, up 3 percent), with both nations “marking annual growth in filings” in 2020. Japan followed with 50,520 applications (down 4.1 percent on a year-over-year basis), while Korea (20,060 applications, up 5.2 percent) and Germany (18,643 applications, down 3.7 percent) rounded out the top five filing countries.

Patents up, Trademarks down

On the trademark front, WIPO – the United Nations agency dedicated to “developing a balanced international IP legal framework” – asserted that “use of the international trademark system dipped, but only slightly” during 2020, which it says “was expected given that trademarks tend to represent the introduction of new goods and services – both of which slowed as a result of the global pandemic.” Specifically, the WIPO report revealed that international trademark applications filed via WIPO’s Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks decreased by 0.6 percent to 63,800 in 2020, marking “the first decline since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.”

American entities lead the pack in terms of the most trademark filings, with 10,005 applications, followed by applicants in Germany (7,334 applications), China (7,075), France (3,716) and the United Kingdom (3,679). WIPO notes that China stands out in terms of its filings, which grew by 16.4 percent compared to 2019, as it was the only country to record double-digit growth in 2020. The UK, which filed 5.1 percent more applications in 2020 on a year-over-year basis, and Italy – up 3.6 percent – “also reported notable growth.”

Meanwhile, France, which is home to the biggest names in fashion and luxury, saw its filings drop by 16.3 percent. 

In terms of the top individual filers of WIPO trademark applications, Swiss healthcare company Novartis topped the list with 233 filings followed by oft-controversial Chinese tech titan Huawei Technologies in the number 2 spot, and Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido taking third place (from the number 11 spot on last year’s last). L’Oreal notably dropped down to the number 5 for 2020 after taking the top spot the year prior, meanwhile, Abercrombie & Fitch’s European arm took the number 19 spot (from 30 in 2019) with 48 filings. Ahead of its impending IPO, Korea e-commerce giant Coupang Corp. landed in the 27 spot (from 113 since last year), and LVMH-owned Guerlain at 36 (63 in 2019). 

WWD reports that further down on the list are Louis Vuitton, which had 23 filings in 2020; Giorgio Armani S.P.A. with 21 filings; Richemont International S.A. with 17 filings; Moncler S.P.A. with 16 filings; Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing with 14 filings; and Rare Beauty, the newly-launched beauty venture of Selena Gomez with 12 filings. WIPO data also shows that “several brands filed substantially fewer applications” in 2020 than the year prior, including LVMH Fragrance Brands, with 13, down from 25 a year earlier; Hermès International, with 16 (down from 22), and Chanel Sarl with 15 filings (down from 21).

Interestingly, although unsurprisingly, WIPO revealed that among the top 10 classes of goods and services most heavily cited in the trademark applications filed in 2020, Class 10, which covers “medical apparatus,” and Class 5 for “pharmaceuticals and other preparations for medical purposes” saw the fastest growth, growing by 21.1 percent and 9.2 percent respectively. (As we noted in December, fashion and luxury brands have been rushing to file trademark applications for their names and logos for use in Class 10, i.e., for use on “protective” and “respiratory masks,” as designer face masks have become a category of accessories all of their own.)

Industrial design filings & domain disputes

As for industrial designs, WIPO says that “the economic fallout from the pandemic hit demand for the protection of industrial designs via the Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs,” with demand falling by 15 percent in 2020 to 18,580 designs – the first decline since 2006. 

Some of the noteworthy names on the list of applicants seeking protections for the visual design of their products: Hermès’s corporate entity Hermes Sellier, which took the number 23 spot (up from 113 in 2019), having filed 139 design applications in 2020; the Swiss arm of jeweler/watchmaker Harry Winston took the number 25 for 2020 (up from 28); Cartier right below it at 26 (up from 40 in 2019); Cartier’s parent company Richemont came in at number 33 (down from 26 last year); and watchmaker Patek Philippe took the number 38 spot (down from 33 in 2019). 

Finally, reflecting on disputes initiated in connection with the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, WIPO found that of the “record” 4,204 cases initiated by trademark holders, 6 percent of complainants were fashion brand and 1 percent were luxury brands. WIPO noted that “with a greater number of people spending more time online during the COVID-19 pandemic, trademark owners are taking up this service not only to reinforce their online presence, but also to offer authentic content and trusted sales outlets to Internet users across varied business areas.”