The recently published European Patent Office (EPO) Patent Index 2019 Annual Report contains various headline findings, including:

  • A 4% annual growth in the number of EPO patent applications in 2019.
  • EPO States now account for 45% of patent applications (with Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the UK among the leading countries), followed by the US with 25%, Japan with 12%, China with 7%, and South Korea with 5%.
  • Technologies such as AI and 5G are driving growth in patent applications – digital communications patent applications grew by 19.6%, overtaking medical technology patents.

Commenting on the report, Penny Gilbert, partner at Powell Gilbert and one of Europe’s foremost patent litigators, said:

“It’s perhaps not surprising that we are seeing an increase in AI-driven patent filings. AI is a fast-evolving field and raises relatively untested issues around patentability and ownership. Only recently the EPO rejected applications filed by Dr Stephen Thaler, as part of the Artificial Inventor Project, naming an AI he had developed (‘DABUS’) as inventor, though acknowledging that the EPO Boards of Appeal have yet to give guidance on the issue.

“AI has applications across multiple sectors, including the pharma industry. The proliferation of high-quality clinical and scientific data – so-called ‘big data’ – is ripe for mining for potential new treatments. This was demonstrated quite recently by a team at MIT that identified a potential new antibiotic, which was derived from a database of molecules already being tested for other therapeutic uses.  In the case of the molecule identified by the MIT the team, and christened halicin, it was being tested for use in treating diabetes.

“The question of how AI use may impact on the availability of IP rights is itself an area that is rapidly evolving alongside the growth of AI. WIPO has started a consultation on the issue patentability of AI-implemented and AI-generated inventions and is due to hold a second symposium on the later this year. Practitioners from around Europe will be observing this with great interest.

“With AI set to revolutionize not only countless industries but also how IP itself is being created, we may well see AI-related patent numbers continue to rise in the years to come and have an increasing impact on EPO filing figures.”

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