European companies drive growth in number of #PatentApplications

| March 12, 2019

Companies and inventors from all over the world filed 174,317 patent applications with the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2018, an increase of 4.6% compared to the previous year. The EPO also published 127 625 granted European patents last year, 21% more than in 2017 and the largest number to date date (Fig.: Growth of patent applications).

The rise in European patent applications highlights the global attractiveness of the European market and indicates a strong position for European companies operating in their home territory. Indeed, 47% of patent applications at the EPO last year came from firms based in the 38 EPO member states (Fig.: Origin of patent applications 2018).

European companies were at the centre of the increase in patent applications, filing 3.8% more applications in 2018 – their highest growth since 2010. Firms from the 38 EPO member states were responsible for nearly 40% of the total growth registered at the EPO – more than China, Japan and the Republic of Korea combined.

“The good results are a very positive message for the European economy,” said EPO President António Campinos. “The growth in applications across the majority of leading technology sectors is proof that European innovation can rely on a competitive and effective patent system. Innovative companies need a robust patent system so they can build strong patent portfolios. In the EU alone, industries with a high use of patents, trademarks and registered designs employ around 60 million people, accounting for 42% of its economic turnover and over 90% of its external trade. This greatly supports our economy.”

European country trends

European countries exhibited an overall positive trend, with most of them filing more patent applications at the EPO than in 2018 (Fig.: Top 50 countries for patent applications). In Europe, German companies filed 26,734 patent applications, the largest number overall and approximately 1,200 more than in 2017. This represents a 4.7% increase, their steepest rate since 2010. This was mainly due to an upward trend in the automotive sector and related technologies, such as sensors and other measuring devices.

Other countries that saw significant growth compared to the previous year were Switzerland (+7.8%), the UK (+7.8%) and Sweden (+7.1%). The Netherlands (+1.4%) and Italy (+0.9%) achieved growth rates similar to last year.

Among the European economies with mid-range patenting volumes, Denmark (up +14.4%), Belgium (+9.7%), Spain (+6.3%), and Austria (+3.8%) registered the highest growth, continuing their overall upward trends of the previous years.

European countries with smaller patenting volumes also saw strong growth last year. Thanks to a drive in patenting activity in the pharmaceutical and medical technology sectors, as well as areas connected to smart vehicle technology, applications from Ireland grew by 21.4%. Portugal also saw a 46.7% increase as a result of growth in the transport and civil engineering sectors. Applications from Poland (+19.7%), the Czech Republic (+17.5%) and Norway (+14.9%) also grew significantly.

France saw a 2.8% decrease in patenting activity in 2018, attributable to a change in patenting strategy of several prominent French firms. Despite this, France still saw growth in the transport and life sciences sectors, spearheaded by companies and institutes such as Valeo, INSERM and Sanofi. Finland was the only other country in the EPO’s top 20 countries of origin that saw a decrease (-3.8%).

European companies take the top spots

With 2,493 European patent applications filed, Germany’s Siemens was the top patent applicant at the EPO in 2018, leading the company ranking for the first time since 2011 and switching positions with Chinese technology firm Huawei, which came in second. Four of the EPO’s top 10 applicants were European, including Royal Philips, Ericsson and Robert Bosch, demonstrating their strength in innovation. The remainder of the top 10 was made up of three firms from the United States, two from the Republic of Korea and one from China, which shows that as a technology market, Europe is as attractive globally as it is to European firms (Fig.: Top 10 applicants at the EPO).

European companies fuel patent growth in transport and life sciences

Medical technology was again the sector in which the most patent applications at the EPO were filed, with companies from the 38 EPO member states and the US each accounting for roughly a 38% share (EPO: 5 332 applications, US: 5 175) (Fig.: Top technical fields). Applications from several countries saw a significant growth in this field, in particular Switzerland (+24.5%) and, albeit with a smaller share, China (+32%) and the Republic of Korea (+14.6%).

It was again in the transport field, which includes the road, rail, and aerospace sectors, that European firms had the largest share of patent applications at the EPO (59%, compared to 16% from the US and 15% from Japan). European firms in this sector filed 11.6% more applications in 2018 than in 2017. The increase is due, in part, to the filing activities of German firms, which posted a growth of 15% in patent applications in 2018 (after several years of stagnation) and now hold a 24% share of patent applications in transport at the EPO. German companies saw the biggest increases in the areas of brake control, tyres and electric vehicles, the latter increasing by 71% in 2018. Seven of the leading ten companies in the transport sector were European, including Airbus, who lead the field with 253 applications, and Continental (no. 3 with 207 applications). These results confirm the findings of a recent EPO study on the patent landscape in self-driving vehicles which sees Europe and the US in the lead, each accounting for around a third of all European patent applications since 2011, some way ahead of Japan (13%), the Republic of Korea (7%) and China (3%).

The life sciences sector saw the fastest growth at the EPO overall, with the areas of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology together increasing by 13% in 2018. European companies were driving this growth as 8 out of the top 10 companies at the EPO in biotechnology were European (including the top 5 spots), as were 7 of the top 10 companies in the pharmaceutical sector (including the top 2 spots).

Europe offers opportunities to businesses of all sizes

The EPO 2018 Annual Report also shows that Europe offers a favourable environment for innovation to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and academic institutions. One in five applications at the EPO from Europe was filed by an SME or individual inventor, and 9% of all applications came from universities and public research organisations. This shows that the European patent system is used not only by large corporations and multinationals, but also by smaller entities and academia (Fig.: Breakdown of applicants by category).

For detailed statistics, and a review of our activities in 2018, see the EPO’s Annual Report.

About the EPO

With more than 7 000 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Its headquarters are in Munich and it also has offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna. The EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO’s centralized patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in the 38 member states of the European Patent Organization. The EPO is also the world’s leading authority in patent information and patent searching.


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