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What can we take away from the European Annual Report 2017

European patent applications and UK industry

Katherine Wright, European patent attorney, comments on some of the key trends highlighted by the 2017 EPO annual report and in particular how the UK compares with its European neighbours.

The European Patent Office (EPO) has published its annual report, including an analysis of the type and origin of patent applications filed with the EPO during 2017. Patent applications are filed to protect new innovations, and the data provided by the EPO gives an indication of the sectors in which research and innovation are particularly strong.

Steady increase in European patent applications

2017 saw 165,590 European patent applications being filed, with 2.4% of these originating in the UK. Despite some ups and downs, overall the number of European patent applications being filed has increased steadily over the last ten years, as companies increasingly seek to protect their intellectual assets. 

UK patent applicants represent wide variety of industry sectors

The strongest sectors across Europe in 2017 were medical technology, digital communication and computer technology. Some European countries have clear strengths in one or two sectors represented by significantly higher patent filings in those areas compared to others, for example, France is particularly strong in transport, while Germany has peaks in transport and electrical machinery. However, the UK shows a comparatively even spread of patent filings across the different technological sectors, reflecting the breadth and variation of industry and research carried out in the UK.

However, when adjusted for population size, the UK did file significantly less patent applications than many other European countries, including the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Germany and France. While this may reflect a greater emphasis and importance placed on the value of protecting intellectual property (IP) across the rest of Europe than is currently seen in the UK, these figures may be distorted in some cases by the presence of a significant multinational entity responsible for filing an extremely large number of patent applications (e.g. Siemens alone filed 2,220 patent applications in 2017).

Medical technology is the UK sector with the most patent applications filed

As in Europe as a whole, medical technology is now the UK sector responsible for the greatest number of patent filings, with an increase of 6.2% on 2016 and overtaking transport. The medical and life sciences sectors, in general, had a good year, showing significant increases in the number of European patent applications filed during 2017. Organic chemistry saw an increase of 14.4%, pharmaceuticals increased 15.7% and biotechnology increased by a massive 25.3%. This is indicative of the growing innovation in the medical and life sciences within the UK, and perhaps a growing appreciation of the importance of obtaining protection for new developments and the power of intellectual property to protect a company’s position in the marketplace.

Some other areas didn’t fare so well, with significant declines in European patent application filings being seen in digital communications and computer technology in the UK during 2017, although they are still strong areas.

Almost a quarter of European patent applications in 2017 were filed by SMEs

While the majority of European patent applications are, perhaps predictably, filed by large enterprises, almost a quarter of applications during 2017 were filed by SMEs, with a further 7% filed by Universities and public research organisations. It is therefore clear that SMEs are playing an important part in the global economy, contributing significantly to the body of research and the development of new products and innovations. 

The EPO’s annual report is an interesting snapshot reflecting sector performance in the UK and across the globe, the overall message being that the value of Intellectual Property is being increasingly recognised and sought, and is an important part of the progress many businesses are making.

Source: EPO Annual Report 2017 –

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