U.S. companies are leading the world in patent applications, which last year hit a record high 156,100, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.

American-based businesses and investors accounted for 33.5 percent of total patents filed internationally in 2007, the U.N. agency reported. The total number of patents filed worldwide was up by 4.7 percent over the previous year. Northeast Asia was the fastest growing region in terns of patent applications, making up 24.8 percent of the total.

Among all businesses, Matsushita, Philips and Siemens individually filed the largest number of patent applications last year. The largest sectors for patents were telecommunications, information technology and pharmaceuticals, the report said.