Renewable energy remains a key sector as EPO releases patent trends report

Each year the European Patent Office (EPO) releases its Patent Index reviewing the last year’s patenting trends and key innovation areas.

In 2022 overall EPO filings continued to increase, with 193,000 patent applications filed throughout the year, a 2.5% growth compared to 2021. For the first time applications from the EPO’s 39 member states fell below 44%, whilst applications from the US, China and South Korea grew to 24.9%, 5.4% and 9.8% respectively. Germany, the top EPO member state, accounted for well over double the applications from its closest competitor France, despite a 4.7% decrease in filings compared to 2021.

Yet again the top technology field was digital communications, with over 16,700 applications filed from companies within this sector alone. The top applicants were Huawei and LG filing a staggering 4,505 and 3,510 European patent applications in 2022 respectively. Medical technology and pharmaceuticals filings, a previously dominant sector in innovation, grew by less than 1%.

Whilst the number of filings relating to fossil fuel energy have been continuously declining since 2018, the past year saw a major increase in innovation for many renewable energy related technologies.

As the impact of climate change becomes increasingly evident, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference and subsequent international agreements provide the context for the critical change needed in European energy innovation. The energy sector currently accounts for three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions, and since the European Green Deal was approved in 2020, setting a legally binding target of net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, renewable energy has become a key sector in European innovation.

One of the greatest challenges faced by the renewable energy sector is the intermittency in its innovation. Fluctuating market trends have a significant impact on the industry’s capacity to innovate. For example, in recent years the rapidly growing electric vehicles market has catapulted energy storage technologies to the forefront of renewable energy innovation. In 2022, 4,541 patent applications relating to batteries were filed at the EPO, an increase of 48% from 2021. Not only is this growth greater than any other renewable or fossil fuel energy technology, but it is one of the biggest increases in filings across all sectors.

The past year saw applicants from Asia file more than two thirds of all energy storage related patent applications at the EPO, with the EPO member states responsible for only 21% of battery related applications. The top applicants in this area included Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL), which opened the first large-scale production plant for Lithium-ion batteries in western Europe.

However, as the market trends fluctuate and innovation in one renewable technology sector rises, another falls. Both photovoltaic solar and thermal solar related energy innovation peaked in 2012 and have been declining ever since, with only 668 and 328 European patent applications filed in 2022 for each technology area respectively.

Hydrogen electrolysis is another technology area that began to grow in recent years, with 454 European patent applications filed in 2022. More information on hydrogen energy related innovation and patenting trends can be found here.

Electrical machinery, apparatus and energy witnessed the largest increase in EPO filings among the top ten technology fields in 2022. This is mostly being driven by the rapid growth in battery related innovation, with companies such as LG developing closed-loop systems for reusing and recycling waste batteries. A decade ago, medical technology led the way in innovation, however now many of the world’s largest technology companies are focusing their efforts towards energy.

Reaching net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 may currently seem out of reach for Europe. However, the landscape for innovation in the energy sector can quickly evolve, and there are some encouraging patenting and innovation trends occurring across different renewable sectors, which may yet pave the way towards a cleaner more sustainable future.

Barker Brettell has a dedicated energy sector group that can assist and advise you. If you have an invention you would like to protect, do not hesitate to contact the author or your usual Barker Brettell attorney.