The World Intellectual Property Organization says China cranked out patent applications at a record pace last year. Its total of just under a million outstripped the U.S. and Japan combined.

WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry marveled at China's "extraordinary" numbers.

The Geneva-based body stopped short of drawing firm conclusions about China's 12.5 percent increase from 2013, to 928,000 patents. But Gurry noted strategic decisions by Chinese leaders supporting patent applications in areas like telecommunications and solar power.

The U.S. had the second-most patent applications at 578,000 while Japan came in third with 325,000. Japanese companies, led by Panasonic, made up seven of the top 10 applicants. Korea's Samsung was third and U.S.-based IBM eighth.

Numbers don't tell the whole story though. Gurry said: "We don't have an accepted metric for quality."