Between 2000 and 2012, 2768 pharmaceutical inventions originated from Australia, ranking us 13th in pharmaceutical patents globally. Pharmaceutical patents are a focus for Australia.

The number of PCT applications filed in the pharmaceutical industry by Australian inventors or applicants (purple line) and the worldwide number of pharmaceutical PCT applications (grey line) is shown in Figure 1. Australian applications generally mirror the world trend, with a decline in applications from 2007 onwards. Whilst we cannot confirm the drop in applications is entirely due to global financial crisis, it does coincide with similar drops in patent applications across other technologies.  Unlike other technologies and patent applications in general, the industry appears not to have returned to early-2000s levels. Prior to 2000 there was a steady increase in patent applications from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, followed by a steep increase in applications from 1995 to 2000. It may be that the decline in applications seen from 2007 onwards is a reversion to a more sustainable level of applications.

Figure 1: PCT applications by priority year in Australia and worldwide



Domestic focus

Civil engineering and medical technology are the only technology areas with more PCT applications than pharmaceuticals in Australia. Pharmaceuticals accounted for 10.3 per cent of all Australian PCT applications between 1 January 2000 and 31 March 2013.

Figure 2: Share of pharmaceutical inventions compared to other technology areas in Australia


Target markets

In order to determine the target markets of these pharmaceutical technologies, we can look at the countries where applicants elected to enter national phase. Figure 6 demonstrates the countries with the most prevalent national phase entry and the resultant proportion of grants from these family members.

The predominant jurisdiction of national phase entry is the US, followed by Australia, the European Union, Canada and Japan. The fact that more applicants choose to prosecute their inventions in these jurisdictions is an indication of favourable markets for pharmaceutical products in these countries and the prevalent attitude of that jurisdiction to intellectual property rights. The top three ranked jurisdictions are the same preferred filing jurisdictions in other Australian industries such as the medical device industry.  It is interesting to note that China did not rank in the top five jurisdictions for national phase entry, which can again be compared with the medical device industry where China ranked 5th.

Figure 3: Applications and granted patents resulting from national phase entry of pharmaceutical applications


Key applicants

The major of applicants of pharmaceutical patents in Australia are research organisations, such as universities, medical research institutes and the CSIRO, making up 40 per cent of applications, followed by small-to medium enterprises (21 per cent) and foreign corporations (19 per cent)

This is a reflection of the focus that Australian research organisations place on pharmaceutical research. Universities and research institutes are conducting most of the basic research and filing PCT applications to cover foundational technologies.

Figure 4: Top Applicants by number of applications


Pharmaceutical technologies originating from Australia

Australia has a slight focus on biologics (43 per cent of applications) when compared with small molecules (37 per cent of applications). This is in contrast with the rest of the world during the same period in which small molecules made up 49 per cent of applications compared with 29 per cent for biologics (data not shown). This indicates that Australia has a particular strength on the development of biological therapeutics. The other categories were similar to the rest of the world. It should be noted that 282 applications were not included in this breakdown as they fell into other categories including diagnostics.

Figure 5: Australian PCT applications by technology category



Collaboration between applicants

Of the 2768 PCT applications identified only 421 applications (15 per cent) have multiple applicants. A summary of different collaboration modes is shown in Figure 21. Australian applicants were slightly more likely to collaborate with another Australian applicant (205 applications or seven per cent), compared with 159 applications (six per cent) that contained a foreign co-applicant. There were 57 applications (two per cent) that contained only foreign co applicants. These applications appear in the data set as they contain an Australian inventor working for a foreign entity.  

Figure 6: Applicant collaboration modes



International focus - Relative Specialisation Index

The Relative Specialisation Index (RSI) is a measure to account for how specialised a country is in a particular technology area. The RSI compares a country’s fraction of the total number of pharmaceutical patents filed across all countries, with its fraction of the number of patents across all technologies. 

The RSI accounts for that fact that some countries, like US and Japan, file more patent applications than others. The effect of this is to highlight countries that have a greater level of patenting in the searched area than expected from their overall level of patenting, and which would otherwise languish much further down in the lists, unnoticed. The index is equal to zero when the country’s share in a given technology field is equal to all patents filed in all fields (no specialisation), and positive when a specialisation is observed.

Figure 7 shows the RSI values by country. Australia exhibits a relative specialisation in pharmaceuticals and ranks in 22nd place.

The formula for RSI is given below:


  •  = number of pharmaceutical patents from country i
  •  = number of total pharmaceutical patents over the time period 
  •  = total number of patents across all technologies from country
  •  = total number of patents across all technologies over the time period