Digital technology, pharmaceutical and green transport patent applications increase as the EPO’s latest figures confirm European patent applications return to growth

Posted on

The European Patent Office’s latest patent index shows that patent applications filed at the EPO hit a record number in 2021. The number of applications originating from China increased by an astonishing 24% from 2020 (reflecting the significant investments made in R&D over recent years), while those originating from the US and Sweden rose by 5.2% and 12% respectively. After a drop in filings in Covid-hit 2020, it is encouraging to see a return to growth as European patent application filings increased by 4.5% in 2021, with nearly half of all filings originating from European Patent Convention member states.

The top five patent applicants are electronics and telecoms companies, all of whom increased their number of applications from 2020. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top three fields are digital communication, medical technology and computer technology. In terms of applications at the EPO, China tends to dominate in the digital communications, computer technology and electrical machinery, apparatus and energy fields; while Europe and the US dominate in the pharmaceutical, chemistry, engineering, and transport sectors.

The movement towards greener transport and the boom in electric vehicle usage has driven advancements in batteries and battery charging technologies. This is reflected in the increase in applications in the fields of electrical machinery, apparatus and energy. The trend towards vehicle automation is also evident in the increase in applications relating to digital technologies: the change to 5G has spurred innovation in cryptography to facilitate secure interconnectivity of devices, along with AI and machine learning for environment mapping and object and event recognition. There has also been an increase in applications relating to e-bikes, e-scooters and step scooters to service ever-growing urban environments. Applications in the field of transport are also up, driven in part by the rebound of the aviation industry after the effects of the pandemic.

In a year marked by a global pandemic, pharmaceutical filings were up, by 6.9%. The biggest growth among EPO states was the UK, which increased applications in the field of pharma by 11.9%, with a 4% share of overall filings in the sector. The speed at which vaccines for COVID 19 developed is in part due to the technology on which they are based; there were notable spikes in coronavirus related inventions at the EPO following the SARS outbreak in 2002 and the MERS outbreak in 2012. The effect of the COVID 19 pandemic on patent filings is likely to be seen in the data for 2022. In any case, the role of patents to incentivise research and development of new vaccines is likely to continue.

Use of the Patent Cooperation treaty remains popular, with an increase to nearly two thirds of all applications filed at the EPO in 2021 deriving from international applications. The EPO renown for high quality patent searches is reflected in the fact that it carries out 29% of all international searches, with 98% being completed in time for publication. Further details of the EPO’s statistics can be found here

Barker Brettell can assist and advise you on how to achieve the best protection for your invention. To continue the conversation, please contact the author or your usual Barker Brettell attorney.