OECD Factbook 2013: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics
branch Science and technology
branch Research and Development
    branch Patents

Patent-based indicators provide a measure of the output of a country's R&D, i.e. its inventions. The methodology used for counting patents can however influence the results, as simple counts of patents filed at a national patent office are affected by various kinds of limitations (such as weak international comparability) and highly heterogeneous patent values. To overcome these limits, the OECD has developed triadic patent families, which are designed to capture all important inventions and to be internationally comparable.


A patent family is defined as a set of patents registered in various countries (i.e. patent offices) to protect the same invention. Triadic patent families are a set of patents filed at three of these major patent offices: the European Patent Office (EPO), the Japan Patent Office (JPO) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Triadic patent family counts are attributed to the country of residence of the inventor and to the date when the patent was first registered.

Triadic patent families are expressed as numbers and per million inhabitants.


The concept of triadic patent families has been developed in order to improve the international comparability and quality of patent-based indicators. Indeed, only patents registered in the same set of countries are included in the family: home advantage and influence of geographical location are therefore eliminated. Furthermore, patents included in the triadic family are typically of higher economic value: patentees only take on the additional costs and delays of extending the protection of their invention to other countries if they deem it worthwhile.


About 49 000 triadic patent families were filed in 2010, compared to over 45 000 registered in 2000. The United States accounts for 28.1% of patent families, a lower share compared to the one recorded in 2000 (30.5%). The share of triadic patent families originating from Europe has also tended to decrease, losing almost 1 percentage points between 2000 and 2010 (to 28.6% in 2010). The origin of patent families has shifted towards Asian countries. The most spectacular growth was observed by Korea, whose share of all triadic patent families increased from 1.6% in 2000 to 4.4% in 2010. Strong rises are also observed for China and India, with an average growth in the number of triadic patents of more than 28% and 15% a year respectively between 2000 and 2010.

When triadic patent families are expressed relative to the total population Japan, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany were the four most inventive countries in 2010, with the highest values recorded in Japan (118) and Switzerland (109). Ratios for Austria, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Korea, the Netherlands and the United States are also above the OECD average (39). Conversely, China has less than 0.7 patent families per million population.



Further information
Analytical publications
Methodological publications
Indicator in PDF Acrobat PDF page

Triadic patent families
    Table in Excel

Share of countries in triadic patent families Figure in Excel
Share of countries in triadic patent
Triadic patent families Figure in Excel
Triadic patent families

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