In terms of the filing of international patents, 2022 was a record-breaking year, with higher education playing a significant role in driving innovation and expanding international practices regarding intellectual property (IP). The UN World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) reported in February 2023 that 278,100 international patents had been filed globally in 2022, a 0.3% increase from 2021 and representing the 13th consecutive year of growth. Revealingly, the largest share of patents were filed in the field of computer technology (10.4%), followed by digital communication (9.4%), electrical machinery (7.1%) and medical technology (7%).

According to the WIPO statistics for 2022, China once again topped the list as the world’s most prolific filers of international patents, registering over 70,000 applications for the year. GCC countries filed 627 applications in total in 2022, down from 997 from the previous year. Notably, Saudi Arabia accounted for nearly 75% of the region’s filings.

Higher Education & Patents

One measure of how institutions of higher education contribute to a country’s research and innovation efforts is the number of patents they file. Universities in emerging economies have traditionally generated fewer patents than those in more mature economies, due to factors ranging from lower levels of public funding to limited collaboration between industry and academia. However, some markets that scored highly in the WIPO rankings have taken steps to develop dynamic and innovative higher education ecosystems. Universities have an important role to play in the creation of a culture in which IP is both developed and protected, contributing to broader national goals of facilitating economic growth and developing high-value industries.

For example, Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University Intellectual Property Institute – founded in 1996 – is responsible for protecting the IP of researchers at the university, as well as national and international patent and copyright registration. The institute also supports the application of research in industrial and social contexts, serving as an interface between academia and society as a whole. Thailand ranked 43rd in WIPO’s Global Innovation Index 2022, with the report noting that its performance was above expectations considering its level of development and income group. Oman finished 79th out of 132 in the ranking, with its best scores coming in the institutions, human capital and research, and infrastructure categories.

Private Sector Collaboration

According to WIPO, Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University was the top international patent applicant in the sultanate from 2019 to 2021, filing seven in total. Omani universities accounted for nearly 25% of all international patents filed in the sultanate during that period.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals was granted 233 patents and ranked third overall in the 2022 list of the “Top 100 Worldwide Universities Granted US Utility Patents”, a report published annually by the National Academy of Inventors, a US-based non-profit. King Abdulaziz University, was ninth with 177 patents, Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University achieved 81st with 42 patents. These rankings underscore the collaboration between the Kingdom’s institutions of higher education and industry on IP-related issues.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) is instrumental in supporting scientific research and innovation in public universities, in accordance with the objectives outlined in Vision 2030. The MoE, represented by the Agency for Research and Innovation, promotes a culture of research and innovation in universities and research institutions by enabling scientists, inventors and innovators to transform their ideas into projects that support economic growth to achieve sustainable development. In addition, the MoE markets intellectual property, grants external scholarships, and links the research community and universities in an effective partnership with the public and private sectors.