Space-borne sensing on the rise for green applications


A new joint study by the EPO, ESA and ESPI reveals rapid growth of patent filings (2001-2021) in space-borne sensing and green applications. Remote sensing can be broadly defined as gathering data on an area or phenomenon via a remote device. Remote sensing via satellites in space can reveal long-term environmental trends, detect illegal activities, monitor industrial and agricultural production, and provide early warning in support of national security.

This study spotlights the use of space-borne sensing as an indispensable tool for effectively implementing green policies and objectives. These range from applications of remote sensing data to support the mitigation of climate change, forecast weather, detect pollution, protect biodiversity, and monitor the environment. The analysis of global patent filing statistics highlighted the following key trends:

  • Filings in green applications of space-borne sensing increased by 1 800% in 2020 versus 2001 (cf. 400% growth in global patent filings in all technology fields).
  • Chinese applicants submit the highest number patent filings (mainly domestic), while U.S. applicants lead in international filings.
  • Majority of patent applications related to signal processing (software rather than hardware).
  • Patenting in Europe is stagnating, with most filings from France, Germany, and the UK.


Space-borne sensing technologies also play a crucial part in supporting the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. By tracking patenting activity relating to 10 selected sustainable development goals (SDGs), the study offers an indicator of how innovation is helping society to meet these goals. The US leads the innovative contribution to SDGs for internationally filed patent families.


Driven by sustained public and private investment, the widespread use of space-borne sensing to tackle major social challenges looks set to fuel continued growth in patent filings in the future.

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