March 4. 2024. 7:35

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Innovation stays strong: Patent applications in Europe continue to grow in 2022

The number of patent applications – an early indicator of companies’ investments in research and development – underlines that innovation remained robust last year despite economic uncertainties around the globe. “When it comes to the promise of green innovation, there has been solid, sustained growth in filings related to clean technologies and other means that create, transfer and store electricity,” said EPO President António Campinos.

“It’s this ongoing boom that is navigating the energy transition. Innovators are also working towards a smarter future, as the fourth industrial revolution takes hold of our lives, sectors and industries – and spreads far into other areas from transport to healthcare. We can see this in the relentless growth in patent applications in digital technologies and semiconductors.”

Innovation boom in digital technologies, batteries and semiconductors

Digital communication (+11.2% from 2021) was once again the field with the highest number of patent applications last year, followed closely by medical technology (+1.0%) and computer technology (+1.8%). The big increase in patent applications in digital technologies spreads far into other areas such as healthcare, transport and agriculture. Electrical machinery/apparatus/energy (+18.2%), a field that includes inventions related to clean energy, was the fastest growing among the top ten technology fields, driven in part by the boom in battery technologies. The areas of semiconductors (+19.9%) and audio-visual technology (+8.1%) also grew strongly, albeit from a smaller base.

Patent activity in pharmaceuticals continued its steady rise (+1.0%), squeezing past transport (-2.6%) to break into the top five technology fields for the first time in the past decade. Biotechnology (+11.0%) also continued to boom. Strong growth from China and the US The top five countries of origin for patent applications at the EPO in 2022 were the United States (accounting for a quarter of the total), Germany, Japan, China and France (see graph Origin of applications). The growth in applications in 2022 was mainly fuelled by filings from China (+15.1% compared with 2021), which have more than doubled in the past five years, and to a lesser extent by filings from the US (+2.9%) and the Republic of Korea (+10%).


Although the number of patent applications originating from the 39 European Patent Organisation countries, which includes the UK, was at the same level as in 2021 (+0.1%), their share of the total shrunk by a percentage point to a record low (just below 44%). The growing share of applications to the EPO originating from outside Europe highlights the attractiveness of the European technology market for companies from around the world. In terms of technology trends, patent applications from the US were up sharply in digital communication and electrical machinery/apparatus/energy. European companies filed fewer applications in digital communication, but considerably more applications in computer technology, medical technology and biotechnology. Patent applications from China grew in most major technology fields.

European Trends Germany, Europe’s leading country in terms of patent applications, dropped by 4.7% last year, largely due to declines in areas such as transport (which includes automotive), electrical machinery/apparatus/energy and organic fine chemistry. Applications from most other leading European patent filing countries were up, including France (+1.9%). Among countries with larger patenting volumes (over 1 000 applications), the biggest increases were seen from Ireland (+12.3%), Switzerland (+5.9%), Belgium (+5.0%) and the Netherlands (+3.5%). With respect to patent applications per capita, Switzerland was again the leader, followed by some of the Nordic countries.

Focus on the UK: No. 9 for patent applications in Europe

The United Kingdom remained in 9th place among the EPO’s top filing countries with 5 697 applications (+1.9%) in 2022. The top five technology fields for patent applications from the UK in 2022 were computer technology (increasing by 10.2% compared to 2021), medical technology (+4.9%), consumer goods (-21.7%), transport (+16.9%) and biotechnology (+1.8%). Unilever was once again the top UK company for patent applications in Europe in 2022, with 486 applications filed, which represents 8.5% of all patent applications at the EPO from the UK. Greater London is No. 7 among leading European regions Patent applications from Greater London accounted for almost a third of all applications at the EPO from the UK, followed by the East, North West and South East of England as the next biggest regions for applications.

Greater London (with growth of 9.6%) was also ranked No. 7 among the leading European regions for patent applications. In the European city ranking by patent applications, London was in fourth place, after Munich, Paris, Eindhoven and Stockholm. Huawei tops EPO’s global applicant ranking The leading patent applicants at the EPO in 2022 were Huawei (No. 1 in 2021), followed by LG (up from 3rd in 2021), Qualcomm (jumping from 7th to 3rd), Samsung and Ericsson. The top ten includes four companies from Europe, two from the Republic of Korea, two from the US, one from China and one from Japan.

A significant proportion of the EPO’s applications come from smaller entities: in 2022, one in five patent applications to the EPO originating in Europe came from an individual inventor or a small or medium-sized enterprise (fewer than 250 employees). A further 7% came from universities and public research organizations.

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