Jack Ellis

The World Intellectual Property Organisation recently released annual data for industrial design filings under the Hague System; this is the first year in which Japan and the United States, and the second year in which South Korea, have been members of the scheme. All three countries now appear to be major players when it comes to design rights, as Korean press reports suggest – but a closer analysis of the statistics tells a different story.

In parallel to the Madrid system for trademarks and the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Hague System allows businesses to use a single application to apply for up to 100 of their designs across over 65 participating territories.

Speaking at a press conference announcing the latest statistics, Francis Gurry, director-general of WIPO (which administers the Hague System), stated that the impressive 40% year-on-year growth in Hague filings was linked in part to the fact that Japan, South Korea and the United States had joined the system over the past couple of years. Speaking more generally about global IP filings, he noted: “Global intellectual property applications, like those for patents, trademarks and industrial designs, provide a good indication of the incidence and location of innovation. We see through this indicator that, while the United States maintains its premier position, the geography of innovation continues to shift and to evolve, with Asia, and in particular Japan, China and the Republic of Korea [South Korea], forming the predominant geographical cluster.”

In terms of industrial designs, since acceding to the Hague System two years ago, South Korea has quickly become the fourth biggest origin of filings under the regime, with the United States and Japan taking sixth and ninth places respectively (after just one year’s membership).

However, a closer look at the applicant statistics shows that Korea’s rapid rise through the ranks is almost entirely accounted for by flagship firm Samsung Electronics. Suwon-based Samsung filed 435 Hague applications, consisting of 1,132 designs, in 2015. In total, Korean applicants filed for 1,282 designs in 548 applications. My own bit of number-crunching indicates this means that Samsung accounted for over 88% of all design rights filed under the Hague System from South Korea. In fact, Samsung alone accounts for almost 7% of the total 16,435 worldwide Hague filings last year.

When it comes to the other recent Hague members, 62% of US-origin designs were applied for by three companies – Procter & Gamble, Gillette and Microsoft. There would appear to be a somewhat broader spread among Japanese companies, where Mitsubishi Electric – the top applicant from Japan – accounted for just over 6% of designs applied for from the country.

The Hague System remains somewhat undersubscribed compared to its sister schemes – the Madrid system and the PCT. Significantly fewer countries have signed up to Hague and, as already mentioned, major economies such as Japan, Korea and the United States have only joined in recent years. Furthermore, it would seem reasonable to assume that design rights may have more relevance in certain sectors – namely, those centered on physical products and mechanical equipment – while trademarks are pretty much universally important to all industries.

Whether this upswing in filings will continue remains to be seen. A glance at the top 30 Hague applicants (see table below) shows that the filing statistics are still overwhelmingly dominated by entities originating from a handful of European countries and operating in a fairly narrow set of activities.

Rank Applicant name Industry Country of origin Number of Hague System applications Number of designs applied for
1 Samsung Electronics Electronics; household appliances; telecommunications South Korea 435 1,132
2 Swatch Watchmaking/clockmaking Switzerland 150 511
3 Fonkel Meubelmarketing Furniture/homeware Netherlands 18 438
4 Volkswagen Automotive Germany 53 418
5 Procter & Gamble Fast-moving consumer goods United States 46 369
6 Thun Handicrafts Italy 8 183
7 Gilette Fast-moving consumer goods United States 26 179
8 Thomas Sabo Jewellery Germany 4 156
9 Legero Footwear Austria 6 153
10 Cartier Creation Studio Watchmaking/clockmaking Switzerland 12 147
11 Wenko-Wenselaar Furniture/homeware Germany 9 143
12 Kronoplus Technical Manufacturing services Switzerland 8 128
13 Impress Tech Business services Cyprus 3 122
14 Centek Oilfield engineering services United Kingdom 3 120
-15 Candy Polstermöbel Furniture/homeware Germany 6 111
-15 Harry Winston Jewellery Switzerland 38 111
17 Ewald Schillig Furniture/homeware Germany 4 110
18 Hermès Luxury apparel France 19 109
19 Philips Electronics; medical technology Netherlands 77 108
20 Pierre Lang Europe Jewellery Austria 2 106
-21 AREA Highway management France 14 101
-21 Gemtique Suisse Jewellery Switzerland 3 101
-23 Daimler Automotive Germany 41 100
-23 Graff Diamonds Jewellery Switzerland 2 100
-23 Microsoft Information technology United States 6 100
26 Alfred Kärcher Cleaning equipment Germany 24 92
27 Geberit International Plumbing components Switzerland 8 90
28 Flos Lamps/lighting solutions Italy 34 89
29 Renault Automotive France 31 87
30 Mitsubishi Electric Electronics; electrical equipment Japan 15 75

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