Samsung top patent filer in Europe; Switzerland heads patent intensity rankings
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Mar 6, 2014 - 11:35 AM

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Patent filings at the European Patent Office EPO grew by 2.8% last year and hit another all-time high. Samsung of Korea was the top patent filer while Switzerland had the highest applications per million inhabitants. Ireland's filings rose but from a low base given the number of leading foreign companies that operate in the country.

In 2013,  the EPO received 266,000 patent filings, compared to 258,000 in 2012. The EPO granted 66,700 European patents, which was 1.6% more than in 2012 65,600 and the highest number ever. 

"Demand for patent protection in Europe is up for the fourth consecutive year," said Benoît Battistelli, EPO president. "This is proof that companies from around the world continue to see Europe more and more as a premier hub for innovation. The strong position of European companies in patent-intense technologies also underlines the central role these industry sectors play in generating employment and growth in the EU economy."

Annual report 2013

Filings by country and region

With 35% of all filings at the EPO, the 38 EPO member states maintained their share of total filings in 2013. Once again nearly two-thirds of patent filings at the EPO last year came from outside Europe. The most active countries were the US 24% of the total, Japan 20%, Germany 12%, China 8%, South Korea 6%, France 5%, Switzerland and the Netherlands both 3%, and the UK and Sweden both 2% 

Europe: most applications per million inhabitants

The technological strength of the leading European countries is also reflected in the figures for European applications per million inhabitants: With 832 applications Switzerland tops the list, ahead of Sweden 402, Finland 360, Denmark and the Netherlands both 347. A comparison by economic region sees Japan with 177 applications clearly ahead of South Korea and the EU-28 average both 129, the US 107 and China 3. Ireland had a 13th rank in Europe with 115 applications.

Europe stable, with regional differences

European industry maintained its patenting activities at the same level as in the previous year, with marked regional differences, however. Especially the Netherlands +17.2%, Denmark +8.1%, Sweden +7.5% but also member states with lower filing levels, such as Portugal +34.5%, Turkey +31.9%, the Czech Republic +26.5% and Ireland +9.4%, showed marked upward trends over 2012, while filings from France +1.1%, Finland +0.6% and Austria +0.2% grew moderately. Other countries saw a drop in patent filings, in particular Belgium -7.4%, Germany -5.4%, the UK -3%, Italy -2.7%, Switzerland -2% and Spain -1%. 

US with stable increase, Asian countries drivers of growth

Filings from the US +2.8% and Japan +1.2% increased again from high levels. However, China +16.2% and South Korea +14% were once more the strongest contributors to growth: In total, filings from Asia accounted for nearly three-quarters of the increase at the EPO in 2013. This was particularly due to the dominance of Asian firms in the Computers, Electronics and Digital communications sectors.

Five European companies in top ten, Samsung in the lead

This is also reflected in the company ranking, where Samsung was again the top applicant 2,833 applications. With five companies in the top ten, however, European firms stood their ground in their home market, led by Siemens 2nd, Philips 3rd, BASF 5th, Robert Bosch 6th and Ericsson 10th. 

An analysis of a representative sample of services requested from the EPO in 2013 shows that the EPO is also an important service provider for smaller entities: While 65.5% of the applicants were large companies, 29% were SMEs and individual inventors, and 5.5% universities and public research institutes. 

Europe dominant in automotive sector, environmental technologies and medical technology

In nine of the ten top technical fields, Europeans filed the greatest numbers of applications with the EPO. This underlines Europe's balanced and wide-ranging patent portfolio. European companies took over the top spot from US applicants in the field of Medical technology European firms 41%, US 39%, which was again the field with the most applications in 2013. Europeans were also particularly strong in the fields of Transport especially the automotive and aeronautic sectors with 60% of the total applications, Engines, pumps and turbines including clean energy technologies, with 56% of the total, and Measurement, with 54%. 

Computers was the only technology not dominated by Europe with US holding the sway at 34%, EPC 31%. Japan was strong in Electrical machinery 25% and Transport 22%; China led in Digital communication 15%. 

In terms of growth, filings were up in Computer technology +5%, Transport +5% and Electrical machinery +4%, while Pharmaceuticals -14%, Engines, pumps, turbines -8%, Organic fine chemistry -7%, Digital communication -7%, and Biotechnology -4% decreased.

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