Digitisation: China and South Korea are gaining further ground

Analysis for the 2021 DPMAnutzerforum: Asian countries gain ground in key technologies in Europe – DPMA President: innovation process much more dynamic than in Germany

Press release of 30 March 2021

Munich. Companies from China and South Korea are increasingly gaining ground in key digital technologies on the German and European markets. In 2020, the two Asian countries recorded the largest increases in patent applications with effect for Germany among the top countries in terms of application numbers in selected fields of technology for digitisation. Although the US continues to lead in all areas, China is following closely behind, especially in digital communication, which covers applications for the cutting-edge 5G technology. In this field, the number of Chinese applications was 29.1% higher than in the previous year – by far the largest growth in this area. With an increase of 25%, South Korea made the biggest leap in computer technology, which includes inventions relating to artificial intelligence, while Chinese applications rose by 18.8%. Although Germany saw rising numbers in many areas, hardly any German applicants have made it into the top applicant rankings in their home market. Overall, the number of applications has risen rapidly over the last ten years, especially in digital communication (+91.1%) and computer technology (+74.7%).

The data are part of an analysis conducted by the DPMA on the occasion of its annual DPMAnutzerforum (German only) event for customers in March. The event, which was held as an online conference this year due to the pandemic, attracted almost 1,000 attendees from the business community as well as from law firms and IP service providers. In addition to the latest developments regarding patents, utility models, trade marks and designs, the event focused on the topics of digitisation and artificial intelligence.

“We are pleased that innovation activity in these key technologies has increased also in Germany,” said DPMA President Cornelia Rudloff-Schäffer and added: “However, China and South Korea are much more dynamic. There are similarly large increases from the US – but at a much higher level. There is still no sign of Germany racing to catch up in digital technologies.”

The analysis takes into account published patent applications filed with the German Patent and Trade Mark Office and the European Patent Office effective for Germany without double counting. In accordance with legal requirements, patent applications are published 18 months after filing.

Coronavirus pandemic could reinforce trends

These data reflect the starting point of innovation activity before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Recent publications suggest that trends are continuing or intensifying. Among the most important filing countries in 2020, China (+16.1%) and South Korea (+5.2%) saw the largest increases in international patent applications with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). With sharp increases in applications, the technology groups Huawei (China, +23.9%) and Samsung (South Korea, +32.5%) ranked first and second among the top patent applicants. “So far China and South Korea have come through the pandemic relatively unscathed. There are good reasons to assume that these countries have been able to further strengthen their position, particularly in the field of digital technologies of the future,” said the DPMA President.

The individual fields of technology in detail:

Digital communication

With 14,874 published applications, digital communication came out on top among the selected technology fields. 5G technology is one of the drivers of the rise in patent applications. This new technology is capable of achieving substantially higher data transmission speeds and low latency (ping) times. The Internet of Things (IoT) also benefits from this technology. The US is leading in this field (4,193 applications), just ahead of China (4,043). Germany only ranks sixth here with declining applications (-3.7%). In the manufacturer ranking, the Chinese company Huawei ranks first, ahead of its US competitor Qualcomm. Ericsson, one of the few European top applicants, is in third place.

Computer technology

The second most important field of technology in terms of application numbers is computer technology (14,589 applications). This field covers applications that directly or indirectly concern computers. Inventions for image and speech recognition as well as artificial neural networks (artificial intelligence) and their uses also come under this heading. The US (5,674) is in the lead by a wide margin, followed by Germany (1,592), Japan (1,573), China (1,509) and Korea (1,059). The top applicant in this field is Samsung (643), ahead of Intel (639) and Microsoft (584).

Audio-visual technology

In the field of audio-visual technology, 5,195 patent applications were published. It covers television technology, digital cameras, coding of video signals, loudspeakers or hearing aids. The US (1,117) also leads in this field, closely followed by Japan (1,100) and by China (749), ranking third. Among the manufacturers, Samsung again leads (216), ahead of Sony (183) and Huawei (140).


This broad field includes the manufacturing of semiconductor devices such as simple transistors, highly complex microchips or memory chips – but also solar cells for PV modules or LEDs for lighting. In this technology field, 4,936 applications were published. The US (1,066) also takes the lead in semiconductors. Japan (1,052) and Germany (723) follow in second and third place, respectively. The top applicant is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd. (377), ahead of Intel (307) and Samsung (191).

IT methods for management

The smallest of the selected fields is IT processes for management (2,674 applications). These include, for example, payment concepts, ticket reservations, purchase or sale transactions, authorisation procedures or banking and stock exchange transactions. Here, too, the top country in terms of applications is the US (963), far ahead of Germany (384) and Japan (325). The leading applicant is Alibaba Group (103), originating from China, but filing applications via the Cayman Islands. Siemens follows in second place and Microsoft in third place.

The German Patent and Trade Mark Office

Inventiveness and creativity need effective protection. The DPMA is the German centre of expertise for all intellectual property rights – patents, utility models, trade marks and designs. As the largest national patent office in Europe and the fifth largest national patent office in the world, our office stands for the future of Germany as a country of inventors in a globalised economy. Its staff of just under 2,800 at three locations – Munich, Jena and Berlin – provide services to inventors and companies. They implement federal innovation strategies and develop the national, European and international IP systems further.

Last updated: 11 July 2024