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  • Writer's pictureAisha Playton


Updated: Nov 11, 2023

There has been a significant increase in innovation, inventions, and access to production in 2020. The world of foreign intellectual property filing is growing smaller and moving faster than it has ever before. This is clear when looking at the growth in the number of patent and trademark application filings over the last few years.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), 3.3 million patent applications were filed worldwide in 2018. In addition, within the last ten years, global patent filings displayed an overall increase of 72.3%, trademark filings increased by 159.9%, and industrial design filings increased by 61.1%.

Even though 2020 remains uncertain due to the impact COVID-19 is having on the world presently, inventors, innovators and creators seem to be more innovative than ever, filing many novel and original trademarks and patents across the globe. Many IP professionals, law firms, and official offices around the world are applying new efficiencies and updates to constantly improve the foreign filing process, which is proving to be most helpful amidst the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Numerous IP trends are popping up in 2020 thus far, including trends flowing from innovators inspired by the will to combat and assist with the COVID-19 pandemic. This year has demonstrated that inventors are utilising new tools and technologies such as blockchain registers to protect their trade secrets. This would be, for example, using blockchain as an IP registry where authors store their IP as an encrypted document and represent a digital certificate of authenticity. This is an example of smart technology at its best, providing tamper-proof evidence, a chronological recording of transactions and encouraging transparency.

Another IP trend evolving this year is the emergence of globalisation in IP. Evidence of this is the new work-sharing agreement between the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI) that simplifies and modernises the procedure for obtaining a patent in Mexico based on a corresponding U.S. patent. Today, we can see more cooperation between the intellectual property offices of different countries and regions than ever before. This helps to bring costs down and makes the process more efficient, in addition to encouraging applicants to file more applications internationally, thereby promoting more innovation.

2019-2020 has also seen a clear increase in artificial intelligence (AI) inventions. Smart lifecycle management of IP portfolios is also gaining importance as it allows portfolio owners to optimise each stage of the patent filing process, allowing for proactive facilitation of patent protection and monetisation, correctly utilisation the tools and reliance on the most appropriate metrics to manage and track the process and leverage the most comprehensive track records to support decision-making in monetisation. Having a clear and distinct process allows IP portfolio owners to not only adapt more rapidly to market changes but also create a feedback system that can be continuously tweaked the improve the efficiency of each step involved.

Since the 17th of November 2019, when the first person was diagnosed with Covid-19, some inspirational technology has surfaced to combat and assist with Covid-19. Some of the greatest inventions in history were the product of pandemics, wars and recessions. During the 1918 Spanish flu, pandemic measures to improve general levels of sanitation led to the establishment of indoor plumbing systems, sewage lines and direct-to-home piped water supplies. In addition to this, the pandemic also triggered better regulations of foodstuffs. This subsequently led to a considerable increase in the need for refrigeration, which led to innovations in related technologies. The focus on hygiene and sanitation also triggered health reform initiatives. This included the establishment of devoted pediatric and maternity hospitals. Scrabble and the Fortune Magazine were some of the offspring of the Great Depression, and computers, aircraft carriers, jet engines, mobile x-ray machines and atomic energy are just a few of the major inventions linked with World War II.

Being faced worldwide with the COVID-19 pandemic today has led to the emergence of numerous technological innovations. Some of these include camera surveillance which can measure a person's temperature from afar, drones and robots being repurposed to disinfect hospitals and other high-risk spaces, drones being operated to police the streets in China to correct the conduct of those not adhering to regulations, the use of indoor air decontamination technology to eradicate viral material from the air, and home Covid-19 test kits to lessen the burden on laboratories. Companies have also grasped the need to repurpose themselves. For instance, Rolls Royce has started manufacturing ventilators, Zara is making hospital scrubs and a 3D printing company in Italy is printing respirator valves for hospitals.

It would be interesting to see what innovative ideas and further developments emerge in the IP sector worldwide, including within South Africa as the pandemic continues. South Africa is known as a nation with the ability to adapt and innovate and it will therefore be fascinating to witness significant innovations unfold in South Africa across all sectors during this year.


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