FRANKFURT (Reuters) -- The auto industry's international patent filings jumped 18 percent in 2013, the World Intellectual Property Organization said today, in part reflecting a push for new technologies to lower exhaust emissions.
"In line with growing investments in research and development, the automobile industry has seen a sharp increase in international patent filings over the last three years," WIPO said in a statement.
In 2013, 4,275 patents were filed by auto manufacturers, compared with 3,606 in 2012. Patent applications jumped 84 percent from 2010, when 2,322 were filed, WIPO said.
Regulators across the world are demanding that automakers increase fuel efficiency and lower carbon dioxide pollution levels, a challenge that has forced manufacturers to invest in more efficient engines and new lightweight technologies.
The Obama administration in the United States finalized gas mileage standards in 2012, calling on automakers to boost their corporate average fuel economy.
Last month, the European Parliament tightened carbon dioxide pollution standards.
The rise in patents comes as car companies are increasingly relying on software and powerful computers to help make cars safer, more entertaining, more fuel efficient and better at solving problems.
The need to lower C02 emissions has been particularly tough for German manufacturers, who have relied on making high-powered limousines, forcing them to develop new technologies.
BMW today said operating profit at its core automotive division fell 14 percent in the last three months of 2013, despite higher vehicle sales, due to spending on fuel-efficient technology and new model launches.
With 1,696 published patent applications, Toyota Motor Corp. ranked highest among the automakers that make use of the Patent and Cooperation Treaty, followed by Nissan Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., Daimler AG and Volkswagen unit Audi AG, WIPO said.
The ranking is not a definitive indication of which companies are most innovative, said Carsten Fink, chief economist at WIPO. It is, however, a reflection of which companies make most use of the PCT, which allows firms to get protection in multiple jurisdictions by filing a single international patent application.
Some automakers prefer to file for patent protection only in their home countries. General Motors Co. for example, filed no patents via the PCT in 2013.
However, according to The Patent Board, a consultancy which pulls together patent grants and application data from the United States Patent and Trade Office, the European Patent Office and WIPO, General Motors received 1,672 U.S. patents in 2013.
China's automakers, too, are using of international tools to protect intellectual property, the filings show.
Qoros Automobile Co., an automaker controlled by China's Chery Automobile Co. and Israel Corp., filed seven international patents, WIPO said. And Zhejiang Geely Holding filed one patent, WIPO said.
The rise in the automotive sector echoes a trend toward filing more patents across all industries as products grow in technological sophistication and firms seek to prevent innovations from being copied by rivals across the globe.
The total number of filings made under WIPO's Patent and Cooperation Treaty rose 5.1 percent to 205,300 in 2013. The United States remains the most-active user of the system, with 57,239 applications in 2013 followed by Japan.
China surpassed Germany to become the third largest user of the PCT system, WIPO said.
The largest share of patent applications was filed in the area of electronic machinery, representing 7.8 percent of the total, followed by computer technology and digital communications with 7.7 percent and 7.3 percent, respectively.
Panasonic Corp., Toyota Jidosha KK, Robert Bosch and Siemens AG were the top applicants in the field of electronic machinery.
Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp., Qualcomm Inc., and NEC Corp. were the top applicants for computer technology, WIPO said.