Innovation process survey

For years, it has been an accepted, if unproven, fact for many people that patent information supports innovation. In 2015 and 2016, the EPO conducted qualitative and quantitative research to prove that assertion, and to find out how patent information ranks as a source of information in the innovation process, i.e. whether patent information supports innovation, in Europe.

The innovation process

The study set out to show how patent information contributes to each phase of the innovation process, using a model based on four phases.

Survey methodology

Over six weeks between October and November 2016, the EPO conducted an online survey. One of the survey goals was to find out which sources of information innovators use to do their work in each phase of the innovation process.

One challenge in the project was to avoid bias in the survey through having patent information specialists among the respondents. In other words, it was important to avoid having respondents who would naturally regard patent information as important. For this reason, the survey was not branded as a "patent information" survey in order to avoid any bias in its results. Furthermore, the survey was not hosted on the EPO website but by an external consultant. Also, it was not promoted by the EPO but by EU trade federations and associations.


Main findings of the survey

  • 70% of the innovators who took part in the survey use patent information as a source of information.
  • 72% of them rate patent information as important or very important for their innovation work.
  • The EPO is by far the preferred source of patent information, confirming its position as leading provider: 75% of respondents use EPO products including Espacenet, followed by DPMA/ DEPATISnet 30%, USPTO 21% and WIPO/PATENTSCOPE 17%.
  • Of the four phases in the innovation process, innovators use patent information the most in the applied research and development/prototyping phases, and the least in the fundamental research phase.
  • Patent information is predominantly used as a source of technical and legal information but lags behind with business information.
  • Large enterprises use patent information more than SMEs.
  • The three main barriers that deter innovators from using patent information are:
    • lack of awareness of its benefits
    • lack of knowledge of where to access it
    • its perceived complexity.

Implications for the EPO

The results of the study are very promising and show not only that patent information does indeed support innovation, but also that the EPO plays the leading role Europe-wide as a patent information provider.

It is clear that the EPO must pursue its efforts to increase awareness and understanding of patent information in Europe, especially among SMEs. It cannot do this alone, and the use of multipliers such as the PATLIB network will be one of the keys to success. The EPO will also continue to develop and enhance its patent information tools so that they make patent information more accessible to new users, with an increased focus on patent information for business use.

Implications for the patent information community

These results are more than just the results of an EPO survey; they are relevant for anyone who works in patent information. They indicate that such work, the collective efforts of the patent information community, plays a role in innovation in Europe. The results allow us to say with confidence that patent information supports innovation.