26 February 2015
Patent filings at the EPO grew by 3.1% in 2014, hitting a new record high of over 274 000 (2013: 266 000). Among the EPO member states, the Netherlands, France and the UK showed significant growth, some countries like Germany and Sweden remained stable, while filings from countries such as Finland, Switzerland and Spain declined. The number of filings from China and the US grew strongly, while the number of filings from Japan fell. A total of 64 600 patents were granted by the EPO in 2014.
"Demand for patent protection in Europe has been growing steadily, and is up for the fifth year in a row," says EPO President Benoȋt Battistelli. "Europe continues to strengthen its key role as a global hub of technology and innovation for a growing number of companies from around the world. The rise in patent filings originating from Europe underlines the importance of patent-intensive industries as a solid base for the European knowledge economy: they foster Europe's competitiveness, economic strength and employment."
The 38 member states of the European Patent Organisation consolidated their share of 35% of the total filings at the EPO last year. Filings from Germany accounted for 11%, followed by France (5%), Switzerland and the Netherlands (3% each), the UK, Sweden and Italy (2% each). As in previous years, around two-thirds of the filings at the EPO in 2014 were from non-European countries. The US accounted for the largest share with 26%, followed by Japan (18%), China (9%) and Korea (6%).
For Europe, the 1.2% growth in the volume of filings coming from the 38 EPO member states in 2014 was based on varied trends in individual countries. There was major growth in filings from the Netherlands (+9.1%), the UK (+4.8%) and France (+4%), and also some countries with lower filing levels such as Poland (+21.5%), Slovenia (+12.6%), Portugal (+7.6%), Turkey (+6.2%) and Austria (+4.5%). A stable development was noted from Denmark (+2%), Belgium (+1.8%), Italy (+0.5%), Sweden (0%) and Germany (-0.8%). There was a drop in the number of filings from Finland (-9.3%), Switzerland (-3.1%), Spain (-2.1%).
Filings from the US increased significantly in 2014, by 6.8% over the previous year, from a very high volume of filings already. With an increase of 18.2%, China continued its spectacular rise in filings from previous years. Korea maintained its growth, albeit at a much slower rate (+2.3%), in contrast to Japan which - in spite of a high volume of filings - showed a decrease of -4.4% in 2014.
Europe's strength in terms of innovation and technology is also highlighted by the number of applications filed with the EPO relative to the population of a country. Switzerland headed the ranking in 2014 with 848 applications per million inhabitants. Second and third place went to Finland (416) and the Netherlands (406), followed by Sweden (395) and Denmark (354). The first non-European country was Japan in ninth place (173). Korea (125) and the US (114) were both below the average for the 28 EU member states (131).
European companies maintained their strong presence among the top 10 in terms of applications filed at the EPO in 2014, with no less than five firms represented. Philips advanced to 2nd in the list, followed by Siemens (3rd), BASF (6th), Robert Bosch (8th) and Ericsson (9th). Samsung once again headed the list of top applicants at the EPO with 2 541 applications in 2014. Another Korean company, LG, ranked 4th. With Huawei in 5th, a Chinese company entered the EPO's top 10 for the second time ever (ZTE was 10th in 2012). The US firms Qualcomm (7th) and Intel (10th) rounded out the list.
Contrary to the expectations that the EPO is predominantly used by large corporations, an analysis of a representative sample of services requested from the EPO in 2014 shows that 30% of applications came from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This underlines the important role the EPO plays as a service provider for smaller entities. Some 6% of the applications were filed by universities or research institutes, 64% came from large firms.
European companies filed the most applications in nine of the ten most active technology fields at the EPO in 2014. This confirms the strength of the European economy when it comes to the development of innovative technologies and also highlights Europe's balanced and wide-ranging patent portfolio. In Medical Technology, the field with most applications, there was further growth for the Europeans (+3.3%), bringing their share of total applications in that area to 41%, ahead of US companies (with 39%). The biggest growth by European companies was seen in the Biotechnology sector (+15.9%), where they hold a share of 56%, Digital Communication (+12.5%, share of 38%), and Measurement (+9.8%, share of 55%). European companies also dominated in the Transport technology sector, with a share of 59% (+2.4% growth in applications), especially the automotive and aviation sectors, as well as Electrical Machinery with a 47% share (+6.9%). Only in Computer Technology were European firms, with their share of 29%, behind the US (38%).
Overall, the volume of applications at the EPO grew most strongly in 2014 in the fields of Biotechnology (+12.1%), Electrical Machinery (+8%), Computer Technology (7.8%), Digital Communication and Measurement (+6.6% each). The downward trend noticed in the past in the Biotechnology and Digital Communication sectors was thus reversed in 2014. However, applications at the EPO went down in 2014 in the fields of Machinery, Pumps and Turbines (-3.2%), Pharmaceuticals (-5.4%) and Organic Chemistry (-1.3%).
In order to efficiently manage the growing demand for its products and services, the EPO has initiated an ambitious programme of reforms and modernisation in a number of key areas. Projects include, amongst other things, cooperation with the member states, the EPO's IT infrastructure and human resources policy. These projects are key to controlling costs and the efficient delivery of high-quality services to the economy. To secure patent quality in the long term, the Office, as the first among the large patent offices, had its internal processes related to the grant procedure ISO 9001 certified in 2014. The continued improvement of services such as the automatic translation of patents (Patent Translate) and the enhancement of the collection of prior art with some 30 million documents from Asia are further important measures to provide the European economy with the most up-to-date strategic instruments for its innovation needs. In 2014, the programme already yielded significant gains in productivity over 2013.