Patent filings at the European Patent Office (EPO) grew by 3.1% in 2014, hitting a new record high of over 274,000 (2013: 266,000). Among the 38 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, Spain and Ireland 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.
The EPO handles filings in respect of the 38 member countries including all the EU28 countries; it also handles Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) standard patents that can have validity in up to 148 states.
In the a ranking of EU28 countries, Germany leads with filings of 31,647 followed by France at 12,873, Netherlands at 8,104, the UK at 6,623, and Sweden at 5,132. Finland was at 2,472, Denmark at 2,352, Belgium at 2,264 and Ireland was at 709 down from 718 in 2013. The European applications per 1 million inhabitants was Switzerland at 848 followed by Finland, Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. Ireland's rate was at 126 — a 12th ranking.
Germany was granted 13,082 patents in 2014, Denmark 599 and Ireland 254 — a rise of 36% on 2013.
Ireland had a total of 323 PCT patent applications in 2004 and 432 in 2013 while an inflation-adjusted €24bn was spent in a decade on public science policy to create a "world-class knowledge economy" by 2013. Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) in 2012 published an audacious or delusional new target: "in which Ireland in 2020 is the best country in the world for scientific research excellence and impact."
The Irish patent level is low despite the large presence of significant units of some of America's biggest companies. Patent quality is not reflected in a count of applications but it is still an important trend indicator of a country's intellectual property (IP) capital.
The EPO said today that the European unitary patent, to be granted and administered by it will complement existing routes to patent protection in Europe. It will simplify procedures and lower costs for patent owners, while increasing legal certainty thanks to the introduction of a Unified Patent Court. "Since the 25 participating EU member states reached political agreement in late 2012, steady progress has been made."
Spain and Italy decided to opt out as only 3 languages were allowed to cut translation costs: English, German and French.
"Demand for patent protection in Europe has been growing steadily, and is up for the fifth year in a row," said Benoȋt Battistelli, EPO president . "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%).
EPO annual report
Strong growth from the US and China, drop from Japan
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: most applications per million inhabitants
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).
Samsung again no. 1 in company ranking, five European firms make the Top 10
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). The EPO said 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.
Broad-based patent portfolio in Europe - dominant in transport, medical technology and biotechnology
European companies filed the most applications in nine of the ten most active technology fields at the EPO in 2014. The EPO says 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%).
Separately on Monday China reported 928,000 invention patent applications in 2014, more than that of any other country, for the fourth consecutive year, according to data released by the State Intellectual Property Office.
The office reported that about 663,000 inventions had high quality and market value. About 4.9 patents per 10,000 population were filed, according to the data.
In 2014, about 485,000 invention patent applications were filed by enterprises, more than the number filed by individuals, academies or research institutes.
"It shows that China has already established a new technological innovation system that is strongly bolstered by enterprises," said Gan Shaoning, deputy head of the office.
Huawei Technologies, the world's biggest maker of telecommunications equipment, was granted 2,409 invention patents in 2014, according to the SIPO data.
China's inventors need to raise the quality of their inventions in order to catch up with world's best, Gan said.
The Economist wrote last December that the Chinese government has decreed that local firms will apply for 2m patents by 2015. Thanks to various subsidies and incentives, China looks set to hit that target.
Almost all of the growth in China’s invention patents over the past three years has come from local firms, not from the Chinese divisions of multinationals. That suggests that the bureaucrats’ orders are responsible, rather than the emergence of a local ecosystem of innovation as seen in Silicon Valley. "Intellectual-property rights do matter, but merely churning out patents does little to advance innovation."
The newspaper adds that of the desired 2m filings, many will be for “utility” or “design” patents, which are less substantial than “invention” patents. Critics suggest that even in the latter category, many Chinese filings fall short of global standards.