More than half of the international patent applications submitted via the United Nations’ patent agency originated in Asia for the first time in 2018, underscoring what the agency’s chief calls a “historic geographical shift in innovation activity.”

Growth in international patent applications from Asia was paced by strong increases from China, India, and South Korea, according to the UN agency, known as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

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“Asia is now the majority filer of international patent applications via WIPO, which is an important milestone for that economically dynamic region and underscores the historical geographical shift of innovative activity from west to east,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry in a press statement.

In all, more than 253,000 Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications were filed in 2018, a 3.9% increase over 2017, according to WIPO. International trademark applications increased by 6.4% to 61,200, and industrial design patent applications increased by 3.7% to reach 5,404, according to the agency.

China’s Huawei Technologies filed a record 5,405 patent applications under the UN’s PCT. International patents make it possible for inventors to seek patent protection for an invention simultaneously across the UN’s 191 member states.

WIPO Patent Top patent applications by firm. (Source: World Intellectual Property Organization)

Other top filers for international patents last year included Japan’s Electric (2,812), the U.S.’s Intel (2,499) and Qualcomm (2,404), and China’s ZTE (2,080). The top 10 applicant list includes six companies from Asia, two from Europe, and two from the U.S.

U.S.-based inventors filed the most international patent applications under the PCT last year, followed closely by China. WIPO said that it expects applications from China to surpass those from the U.S. within the next two years based on current trends.

Meanwhile, the University of California led all educational institutions in published applications (501) for the 26th straight year in 2018, according to WIPO. Other top filers among universities include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (216), Shenzhen University (201), South China University of Technology (170), and Harvard University (169), the agency said.

Chinese universities were among the top 10 in patent applications from educational institutions for the first time last year, said WIPO. In all, the top 10 filers among educational institutions included five from the U.S., four from China, and one from South Korea.

Also last year, the field of digital communication accounted for the most applications, surpassing computer technology, according to WIPO.