The United States has retained its position as the world's most inventive country. But, the World Intellectual Property Organization says countries in northeast Asia are catching up. Last year, WIPO says 156,000 patent applications, a record number, were filed, representing a 4.7 percent increase over the previous year. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WIPO headquarters in Geneva.

The says the growth in patent filings by several countries in northeast Asia confirms shifting patterns of innovation around the world. It notes nearly 26 percent of all international patent applications last year came from Japan, South Korea and China.

WIPO Deputy Director General, Francis Gurry, says South Korea, which experienced an 18.8 percent growth, overtook France to become the fourth country of origin for Patent Cooperation Treaty filings.

He says China recorded more than a 38 percent growth, dislodging the Netherlands to become seventh in the number of patent filings.

"If you think about China, in the last three years, growth rates have been 43 percent, 58 percent and now 38 percent over the last three years under the PCT [Patent Cooperation Treaty]," said Francis Gurry. "So, it is really an extraordinary performance. And, in this regard, we can also note that Matsushita became last year the top filer of PCT international applications overtaking Philips of the Netherlands."

Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial giant has supplanted Philips Electronics, the Dutch multi-national that has been the world's top applications filer since 2002.

Despite good news from Asia, the United States remains the largest filer, followed by Japan, Germany, the Republic of Korea, France, the United Kingdom and China.

Gurry notes more than 52,000 patents were filed last year by inventors and industry in the United States, representing more than one third of all applications worldwide.

"It is still the heavyweight, you know clearly in there. And, applications continue to rise from the U.S.," he said. "A consensus prevails amongst economists that the biggest productivity gains come from invention. So, there is a lot of money invested in research and development."

The report finds most patent applications related to telecommunications, information technology and pharmaceuticals.

WIPO reports applicants are moving away from paper and are increasingly submitting their applications electronically. It says this increases the organization's efficiency and the ability to get technological innovation into the marketplace quickly.