UK businesses continued to file a large and growing number of patent applications with the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2017.
Patent applications from the UK keep growing
Published this week, the EPO’s Annual Report 2017 shows that with 5 313 patent applications, the UK posted an increase of 2.4%, the fourth consecutive year of growth, and an upward trend on a par with the EU28 average growth of 2.6%. (Fig.: Growth of UK patent applications at the EPO).
The UK maintained its 3% share of total European patent applications and ranks ninth in all (Fig.: Origin of applications). The number of European patents granted to British companies and inventors by the EPO also increased last year by 6.3% to 3 116 (Fig.: Growth of patents granted by the EPO to UK applicants). (Patents are granted by the EPO after a detailed examination process of the patent application ensuring it fulfils all the requirements of patent protection.)
Overall, the EPO received some 166 000 European patent applications in 2017, an increase of 3.9% and an all-time high (Fig.: Growth of European patent applications).
The five most active countries of origin were the US, Germany, Japan, France and China, which posted another double-digit increase (+16.6%) and overtook Switzerland to make it into the top 5 for the first time. Growth was back from Japan, with 3.5% more applications in 2017 after several years of declining figures, and also from the US, which saw a 5.8% increase in 2017 after a drop the previous year. The main exception to the upward trend among the largest patent filing countries was South Korea, which saw applications drop by 8.2% in 2017 after two consecutive years of growth.
“In terms of patents, 2017 was a positive year for Europe," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. “The growing demand for European patents confirms Europe's attractiveness as a leading technology market. European companies, too, filed for more patents than ever before – evidence of their strength in innovation, and of their confidence in the EPO’s services.”
Rolls Royce no.1 UK patent applicant for the third consecutive year
With 372 applications, Rolls Royce was the UK’s most active patent applicant at the EPO in 2017 for the third year in a row, followed by Unilever with 222 applications, BAE Systems and British Telecom, both with 170 applications, and Glaxo Smith Kline with 110. The University of Oxford was once again the highest-ranked academic institution, climbing to tenth position with 49 patent applications (up from 12th in 2016 and 15th in 2015). Vodafone dropped out of the top ten of the UK’s most active patent applicants to number 15 with 34 applications, while British American Tobacco climbed from number 16 to a top ten spot at number 9 with 51 patent applications (Fig. Top UK applicants at the EPO in 2017).
Medical technology and Measurement biggest UK technology fields
Medical technology took over from Transport as the UK’s main technology field with 364 patent applications at the EPO in 2017, an increase of 7.1% over 2016. Measurement, with 325 patent applications (+2.2%), moved up from third to second place. Transport saw a decrease of 9.3% in 2017 and is now the UK’s third most important technology field at the EPO. Within the ten most active technology fields, Mechanical elements (+50%), Biotechnology (+25.3%), Civil engineering (+20.2%), Pharmaceuticals (+15.7%) and Organic fine chemistry (+14.4%) all saw a double-digit increase in applications.
Greater London and North East England with strongest growth
Greater London leads the regional ranking with a 32.6% share of all UK patent applications at the EPO (Fig.: Leading UK regions for European patent applications) and also climbed up one place to number 8 in the ranking of leading European regions for patent applications (Fig.: Leading European regions for patent applications at the EPO).
It is followed by the East of England (11.8% share), North West England (10.9% share), South East England (9.6% share) and West Midlands (9.1% share). North East England (+15.8%), Greater London (+10.6%), Scotland (+9.7%) and Wales (+7.4%) recorded the strongest growth at the EPO among all UK regions. Applications from South East England fell by 12.4% in 2017.
Most European countries filing more
Most European countries filed more patent applications at the EPO in 2017 than in the previous year (Fig.: Top 50 countries for applications). Besides the UK, among the countries with larger volumes, Italy (+4.3%), the Netherlands (+2.7%) and Germany (+1.9%), Europe’s largest patent filing country, all showed growth.
After a drop of 2.4% in the previous year, applications from France were up again slightly (+0.5%) in 2017. Belgium (-1.9%) was the only one of the larger European economies to have fewer patent applications in 2017 after its strong increase in 2016 (+7%). Among the economies with lower patenting volumes, Denmark (+13.1%), Austria (+8.2%), Spain (+7.4%), and Sweden (+4.9%) led the board. There was also significant growth in European patent applications from Turkey (+74.9%), Poland (+14.1%) and the Czech Republic (+7.9%), albeit from a smaller base.
Most patents at the EPO filed in Medical technology
Medical technology remained the field with the greatest number of patent applications at the EPO overall in 2017 and was up by 6.2%, again followed by Digital communication and Computer technology (Fig.: Technical fields with most applications). The strongest growth (of the top ten fields) was recorded in Biotechnology (+14.5%), followed by Pharmaceuticals (+8.1%) and Measurement (+6.6%).
Europeans with a wide diversity of technologies
The analysis of the origin of patent applications in the largest fields of technologies shows that some countries such as China and South Korea are progressing strongly in specialised areas, in particular in the ICT field. Other economies, such as most EPO member states and the US and Japan, showed a greater diversity in applications across technical fields. This pattern is clearly reflected in a dedicated EPO patent landscaping study of technologies related to the fourth industrial revolution: European companies were found to be particularly well represented in key areas with a greater diversity, such as artificial intelligence and smart applications in vehicles, while Asian companies dominate in the ICT field. The study also established that within Europe, the UK is one of the foremost countries in 4IR innovation. Up to 2016, the UK posted 2 000 4IR patent applications, coming in behind board leader Germany (with approximately 4 000 applications and Europe’s largest share) and France (with more than 2 400). The study further reveals that the UK is relatively strong in power supply, position determination and artificial intelligence.
Huawei first Chinese company to head EPO company ranking
For the first time in the history of the EPO, a Chinese company – Huawei – ranks first for filing the most European patent applications last year. Siemens moved up from sixth to second place, followed by LG, Samsung and Qualcomm. The top ten list of applicants is made up of four companies from Europe, three from the US, two from South Korea and one from China (Fig.: Top ten applicants in 2017).
For detailed statistics, and a review of activities in 2017, see the EPO's Annual Report at: www.epo.org/annual-report2017
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 centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in the 38 member states of the European Patent Organisation. The EPO is also considered the world's leading authority in patent information and patent searching.