We would like to acknowledge the contributions of Rex Lee and Amy O’Brien in preparing this blog.

Intellectual Property (IP) Australia published their 9th annual edition of the Australian IP Report (the IP Report) on 29 April 2021.  The IP Report, available here, offers a general overview of the current Australian IP climate. It outlines trends, data and legal rights pertaining to patents, trade marks, designs, plant breeder’s rights (PBR) and copyright.

IP Australia continues to expand its analytical tools, offering research and data in publicly available products such as the IP Government Open Data (IPGOD) and TM-Link international trade mark dataset to provide insight into how IP rights are being used.

The IP industry continues to have a critical role in Australia’s post-pandemic economy, following the nation’s steepest fall in gross domestic product (GDP) in history during 2020.  This article intends to analyse key data arising from the IP Report and comment on how emerging trends identified may impact IP development and productivity in future.

Key Takeaways

  • Interestingly, despite innovation generally being on the rise, 2020 saw a very slight decrease (-2%) in the number of patents filed in Australia.  Of the 29,293 patent applications filed, the vast majority were filed by non-residents.  The top five technology classes that patents are registered under remained consistent with the data from previous years, with medical technology unsurprisingly leading the pack.
  • Applications for trade marks related to medical and health care products and services increased during the COVID-19 outbreak, and soared during lockdowns.  This is despite historical trends that indicate applications tend to decrease in periods of economic uncertainty.  Nonetheless, trade mark exporters face uncertainty as supply chains are disrupted by the pandemic.
  • Applications and registrations for designs generally decreased compared to 2019, but certain classes of products pertinent to assisting with the COVID-19 outbreak, or entertainment in lockdown, saw a proportional increase.  Design certifications remained generally stable (with a small decrease) in 2020.
  • PBR applications increased in 2020 following a period of volatility, but the number of grants fell.  These have largely been unaffected by COVID-19.
  • Although copyright is an unregistered form of IP, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increased consumption of copyright work producing industries, being online, audio and screen content.  This is likely to result in an increased production of such content which will continue to boost the value of copyright to the Australian economy.


Standard Patent Applications and Grants

29 293 standard patent applications were received by IP Australia in 2020, including divisional applications (-2% from 2019).

Over the past decade, standard patent applications have shown an overall upward trend, with 2020 filings up 15% from 2011.

Key players

In 2020, non-residents were responsible for 92% (or 26 894 applications) of the total applications filed in Australia.

The number of filings by small and medium sized enterprises continued to grow in 2020, accounting for 81% of the standard patent applications filed last year. The remaining 19% were filed by large firms.

The top five international applicants for standard patent applications in Australia originate from the smartphone manufacturing and telecommunication industries.


In 2020, the top five foreign countries of origin for standard patent applications were the United States (13 122), China (2 358), Japan (1 643), Germany (1 344) and the United Kingdom (1 253).

Technology classes


The top five technology classes in which standard patent applications were filed in 2019 in Australia were medical technology (3,701, +1% compared to 2019), pharmaceuticals (3,106, +21% compared to 2019), biotechnology (2,865, +4% compared to 2019), organic fine chemistry (1,832, -1% compared to 2019), and civil engineering (1,516, -12% compared to 2019).

Innovation Patents

There was a significant increase in the number of innovation patent applications filed in Australia, reaching 4,586, approximately 2.5 times their 2019 level. Approximately 78% of these applications were received from non-residents. This is likely because legislative amendments relating to the innovation patent come into force on 26 August 2021. The final date to file an innovation patent in Australia is 25 August 2021, and existing innovation patent holders will maintain their rights.

Trade Marks

Applications and Registrations

Despite the steepest fall in Australia’s GDP in history, both applications and registrations continued to increase in 2020.

81,702 trade mark applications were filed in Australia (+8% from 2019 due to the 17% growth in filings by Australian residents from 2019).

64,086 trade marks were registered (+10% from 2019).

Key players

Origin of Applicants

Leading Applicants

Australians were named on 51 662 applications.

Non-residents named on 30,040 applications in 2020 (-4% from 2019).

Australian residents registered 35,033 trade marks (+11%) while non-residents registered 29,053 trade marks (+7%).

There were 77,521 single party applications and 4,118 multi-party applications. Of the multi-party applications, 3,755 were Australian co-applicants only, 363 were international co-applicants only and 63 were applicants of mixed origin.

Leading domestic applicant was Bluescope Steel (215 applications).

Leading international applicant was Huawei Technologies (186 applications).

Following a sustained period of growth in applications filed by international partnerships in 2015–2019, international partnership applications fell by 15.6% in 2020, likely due to the volatility in international trade induced by the pandemic.


Applications by State/Territory

Most applications were from NSW (18 286) and Vic (16 105). Of 51 662 resident applications, 118 were filed by interstate partnerships. The most common interstate partnerships were between NSW and Qld (28), NSW and Vic (17) and Qld and Vic (17).

VIC – 16,105 (+21%)

NSW 18, 286 (+14%)

QLD- 9,418 (+16.9%)

WA – 3, 558 (+16.5%)

SA – 3,032 (+15.3%)

TAS – 487 (+11.7%)

NT – 170 (-5.6%)

ACT 712 (+6.1%)

Vic led for most applications per capita (2.2 per thousand people) and for highest rate of growth in applications (+21%)


Applicants filed 148,104 classes, (average of 1.8 classes per application).

Top 5 classes in 2020 were:

  • Class 9 Technological and electrical apparatus (14 130) +8%
  • Class 35 Advertising (14 370) +3
  • Class 41 Education, training and entertainment (10 816) +2
  • Class 42 Scientific and technological services (9 719) +7%
  • Class 25 Clothing, footwear and headgear (7 239) +13%

Biggest change in classes were steered by the pandemic:

  • Surgical and medical apparatus (+23%)
  • Pharmaceutical and veterinary preparations (+23%)
  • Clothing and footwear (+13%)
  • Non-medicated cosmetics and toiletries (+13%)
  • Legal services (+12%)

The classes with the highest rates of decline were Medical and veterinary services (–10%) and Transport services (–9%).

Trade Mark Exports

In 2020, IP Australia used Australian customs and firm microdata to discover that trade mark owners exporting overseas are not as affected by exchange rates as they are by tariffs. Unlike other exporters, trade mark owners who file trade marks in the export market earn more when the Aussie dollar appreciates. While exports decrease when the Australian dollar rises (as foreign buyers will buy local goods insteE the costs of advertising and marketing overseas decrease.

Export activity is more sensitive to tariff increases. For trade mark owners, a reduction in tariffs (down 10% to zero) will induce a 71% increase in export revenue, more than double the 32% for firms without trade marks. Overall, IP Australia reported that after a business files a trade mark, the likelihood of exporting increases.


Design Right Applications, Registrations and Certifications

There was a total of 7,165 design right applications filed in Australia (-4% compared to 2019).

Note: Design Right applications are not substantively examined on registration, so time-series variation in application/registration levels is highly correlated.

6332 designs were registered in 2020 (-11% compared to 2019).

There was a total of 998 design right certifications by IP Australia in 2020. This is a small decrease from 2019, but still a generally stable amount.

Key players

Generally, the decline in filings was proportional across residents and non-residents.

Australian residents filed 2,581 applications (-3% compared to 2019).
95% of resident applications listed only 1 Australian applicant.
For multi-party applications, there were 113 Australian co-applications, and 10 Australian & International party co-applications.

Non-residents filed 4560 applications (-5% compared to 2019).
About 63% of all filings (4,488 filings) came from single non-resident applicants.

Leading Applicants

Leading domestic applicants were producers of textile goods.
Zimmermann Wear accounted for 90 applications, while Industrie IP had 87 filings (primarily for packaging designs).

Leading international applicants included Phillips, with 109 applications, and Google, with 96 applications.
Fisher & Paykel Healthcare (who manufacture, design and market products and systems for use in respiratory care) also accounted for 75 applications.

Leading Product Classes

The following product classes had the largest changes in applications:

  • Class 24 – Medical and Laboratory Equipment (561 applications, + 21%)
  • Class 14 – Recording, Telecommunication or Data Processing Equipment (584 applications, + 3%)
  • Class 2 – Articles of clothing and haberdashery (523 applications, -1%)
  • Class 12 – Means of Transport or Housing (618 applications, -11%)
  • Class 9 – Packaging and containers (518 applications, -13%)

Trends by reference to product classes included:

  • Increased sales of video games, participation in outdoor sports and home workouts. Applications for designs of games, toys, tents, sports goods increasing dramatically by 22% from 2019.
  • Products to do with COVID (testing, stem or avoiding effects of) also up significantly.
  • Restricted social interacting (incl. in-store retail trade) could have been conducive to a decrease in applications for articles of adornment (e.g jewellery), which fell by 34%, and household goods down by 19%.

Other Trends

There were 1,853 applications from the United States (-11% compared to 2019).

There were 486 applications from China (+31% compared to 2019).

There were 358 applications from the UK (+59% compared to 2019).

Plant Breeder’s Rights (PBR)

PBR Applications and Grants

There were a total of 316 PBR applications (+12% compared to 2019), following volatility between 2016 and 2020.

Number of PBR grants fell to 212 (-24% compared to 2019).

Note: Applications have to pass a substantive examination process and in most cases, a comparative growing trial conducted in Australia.

Plant Varieties

Ornamental plant varieties constituted 106 applications (34% of all applications).

Fruit Crop plant varieties constituted 90 applications (29% of all applications).

There is an overall increasing trend from 2011-2018, with a sharp drop in 2019 (possibly due to flooding in Northern Queensland and drought in NSW), and a rebound in 2020.

Key players

Australian Residents filed 40% of all PBR Applications (-16% compared to 2019).

Non-Residents filed 191 applications (+43% compared to 2019).

This is in line with the general trend of non-resident applications being the dominant source of filings.

Australian residents had 105 PBR Registrations, which is 50% of total registrations (-21% compared to 2019).

Non-residents had 107 PBR Registrations (-27% compared to 2019).

Countries of Origin

US and Netherlands constitute 61% of overseas filings.

The US had 36 filings in 2019, increased to 62 filings in 2020.

Netherlands had 27 filings in 2019, increased to 54 filings in 2020.

Leading Applicants

Leading domestic applicants include Australian Grain Technologies (AGT), NuFlora International, and Plant Growers Australia, all with 10 applications.

The leading international applicant is Rijk Zwaan Zaadteelt en Zaadhandel BV (RZZZ) with 19 applications.

RZZZ is a vegetable breeding company based in the Netherlands, and operating in 30 different countries.


Copyright is a form of IP which cannot be registered, making it more difficult to track the trends and growth in creation. IP Australia’s report considers a number of recent studies that show the value of copyright to the Australian economy.

One of these by PwC, looked at the economic contribution of Australia’s copyright industries between 2006 and 2018 and found that Australian industries relying on copyright protection in 2018 (including Press & Literature and Radio & Television) contributed $124.1 billion to the Australian economy, equivalent to 6.8% of Australia’s GDP.

Furthermore, IP Australia’s report notes that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the copyright landscape. In particular, as people have been spending more time at home, there has been a significant increase in online, audio and screen content consumption. The report cited Screenrights as an example, which reported an exponential growth in the use of members’ content, processing over 50% more usage records than anticipated for the 2019–20 period due to COVID-19. This increased consumption of content related to copyright-work producing industries is likely to boost content creation and highlights the importance of copyright to the Australian (and international) economy.


The IP Report highlights the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on registered and unregistered IP rights by demonstrating the manner in which the pandemic has influenced both innovation and consumption patterns. In the current climate, it is unsurprising that IP rights pertaining to medical and biotechnology are on the rise. We expect this rise will continue in Australia due to recent tax cuts for these types of innovation included in the Federal Budget.