New EPO-EIB study: EU single market is a key catalyst for scaling clean and sustainable inventions

Financing and commercialisation of cleantech innovation study

On the occasion of World Intellectual Property Day, the EPO has published a study with the EIB on the commercialisation of clean and sustainable technologies. It finds that cleantech inventions surged by 33% from 2016 to 2021.

More than 750 000 inventions were published for clean and sustainable technologies between 1997 and 2021, accounting for almost 12% of all inventions during this period. These findings feature in the latest EPO-EIB joint report “Financing and commercialisation of cleantech innovation". From 2016 to 2021, clean tech inventions surged by 33%, with almost 55 000 inventions recorded in 2021 alone. The report also includes a comprehensive survey of Europe's cleantech innovators, highlighting their activities in the domain of clean sustainable technologies and the support they need to bring their inventions to market. 

EPO President António Campinos said: “The report is welcome reading against a backdrop of record-breaking temperatures and increasingly urgent sustainable development goals. A proliferation of clean and sustainable technologies holds the key to securing a better future. While it’s encouraging to see inventors in the EU leading the way in patenting green technologies, it’s vital that the global IP landscape continues to deepen its collaboration. The EU’s legal framework for protecting innovation was strengthened last summer when the EPO was entrusted to administer the new Unitary Patent system, providing cheaper and simpler patent protection in 17 EU member states as a single right.”

EIB President Nadia Calviño said: “Europe is at the forefront of cleantech innovation, and a fully functioning single market in the European Union is a catalyst for scaling this up. The EIB Group is committed to supporting Europe’s competitiveness by investing in net-zero technologies and resource efficiency. By providing venture capital and strategic financing to cleantech innovators, we can foster the development and adoption of cutting-edge technologies that will allow for greener, fairer growth and a sustainable future.”

The transition to a cleaner, more sustainable economy is fuelling a race for innovation in which Europe is among the main contenders

Between 2017 and 2021, the EPO member states contributed 27% of all high-value cleantech inventions worldwide, as measured by the number of international patent families (IPFs), with Germany, France and the UK the top regional contributors. Globally, Japan, the United States and China remain significant players, with China rapidly growing its clean tech sector in recent years.

Over 70% of companies patenting clean and sustainable technologies in the EU have fewer than 5 000 employees. Even though 29% of these companies currently prioritise the national market, 61% view the EU as their key future market. In terms of a legal framework to boost business, 43% of medium and 55% of large companies with fewer than 5 000 employees cite consistent regulation in the EU as their most desired form of policy support. Micro and small cleantech innovators see access to financing as their main business barrier.

Low-carbon energy tech leading the field

Clean and sustainable technologies encompass a diverse array of solutions, aimed at improving energy efficiency, using sustainable resources, reducing pollution and waste, and mitigating the adverse impacts of climate change. Low-carbon energy technology leads the field and clean mobility solutions rank second. Alternatives to plastics follow closely, with significant patent filings. Clean manufacturing, along with building, ICT, and climate change adaptation technologies, also show substantial patent activity, with varying growth trajectories across sectors.

Linking investors with high-tech startups

Last autumn the EPO launched its Deep Tech Finder, a tool that blends the business profiles of around 9 000 investment-ready European startups with information on their patent portfolios. The Deep Tech Finder has a dozen filters for different sustainable technologies linked to about 300 such startups, making it easier for investors to find promising startups and vice-versa. The tool was recently upgraded with improved features to display startups matching query criteria, a simple download function, and refined patent status information.