- Patent applications at the European Patent Office (EPO) up 2.5% despite global uncertainties
- Record demand for patents reflects attractiveness of European market
- Digital and clean-energy technologies on the rise
- China and US are main engines of growth in patent filings
- Top 5 countries of origin are US, Germany, Japan, China and France
- Patent applications from the UK grew by 1.9%
- Biggest growth for the UK in inventions for computer technology & transport
- Greater London is No. 7 region in Europe, with patent applications up 9.6%
- Unilever is the No. 1 company with most patents applications in the UK
Munich, 28 March 2023 – The European Patent Office (EPO) received 193 460 applications in 2022, an increase of 2.5% on the previous year and a new record.
The EPO’s Patent Index 2022, published today, shows that patent filings continued to grow last year, after an increase of 4.7% in 2021 that followed a small dip (-0.6%) in 2020. Companies from the UK filed 5 697 applications at the EPO, an increase of 1.9% following two years of consecutive decline (-1.9% in 2021; -7.0% in 2020).
The number of patent applications – an early indicator of companies’ investments in research and development – underlines that innovation remained robust last year despite economic uncertainties around the globe.
“When it comes to the promise of green innovation, there has been solid, sustained growth in filings related to clean technologies and other means that create, transfer and store electricity,” said EPO President António Campinos. “It’s this ongoing boom that is navigating the energy transition. Innovators are also working towards a smarter future, as the fourth industrial revolution takes hold of our lives, sectors and industries – and spreads far into other areas from transport to healthcare. We can see this in the relentless growth in patent applications in digital technologies and semiconductors.”
Innovation boom in digital technologies, batteries and semiconductors
Digital communication (+11.2% from 2021) was once again the field with the highest number of patent applications last year, followed closely by medical technology (+1.0%) and computer technology (+1.8%). The big increase in patent applications in digital technologies spreads far into other areas such as healthcare, transport and agriculture.
Electrical machinery/apparatus/energy (+18.2%), a field that includes inventions related to clean energy, was the fastest growing among the top ten technology fields, driven in part by the boom in battery technologies. The areas of semiconductors (+19.9%) and audio-visual technology (+8.1%) also grew strongly, albeit from a smaller base. Patent activity in pharmaceuticals continued its steady rise (+1.0%), squeezing past transport (-2.6%) to break into the top five technology fields for the first time in the past decade. Biotechnology (+11.0%) also continued to boom.
Strong growth from China and the US
The top five countries of origin for patent applications at the EPO in 2022 were the United States (accounting for a quarter of the total), Germany, Japan, China and France (see graph Origin of applications). The growth in applications in 2022 was mainly fuelled by filings from China (+15.1% compared with 2021), which have more than doubled in the past five years, and to a lesser extent by filings from the US (+2.9%) and the Republic of Korea (+10%).
Although the number of patent applications originating from the 39 European Patent Organisation countries, which includes the UK, was at the same level as in 2021 (+0.1%), their share of the total shrunk by a percentage point to a record low (just below 44%). The growing share of applications to the EPO originating from outside Europe highlights the attractiveness of the European technology market for companies from around the world.
In terms of technology trends, patent applications from the US were up sharply in digital communication and electrical machinery/apparatus/energy. European companies filed fewer applications in digital communication, but considerably more applications in computer technology, medical technology and biotechnology. Patent applications from China grew in most major technology fields.
Germany, Europe’s leading country in terms of patent applications, dropped by 4.7% last year, largely due to declines in areas such as transport (which includes automotive), electrical machinery/apparatus/energy and organic fine chemistry. Applications from most other leading European patent filing countries were up, including France (+1.9%). Among countries with larger patenting volumes (over 1 000 applications), the biggest increases were seen from Ireland (+12.3%), Switzerland (+5.9%), Belgium (+5.0%) and the Netherlands (+3.5%). With respect to patent applications per capita, Switzerland was again the leader, followed by some of the Nordic countries (see graph Patent applications per million inhabitants).
Focus on the UK: No. 9 for patent applications in Europe
The United Kingdom remained in 9th place among the EPO’s top filing countries with 5 697 applications (+1.9%) in 2022. The top five technology fields for patent applications from the UK in 2022 were computer technology (increasing by 10.2% compared to 2021), medical technology (+4.9%), consumer goods (-21.7%), transport (+16.9%) and biotechnology (+1.8%). Unilever was once again the top UK company for patent applications in Europe in 2022, with 486 applications filed, which represents 8.5% of all patent applications at the EPO from the UK.
Greater London is No. 7 among leading European regions
Patent applications from Greater London accounted for almost a third of all applications at the EPO from the UK, followed by the East, North West and South East of England as the next biggest regions for applications. Greater London (with growth of 9.6%) was also ranked No. 7 among the leading European regions for patent applications (Graph: Top European regions at the EPO in 2022). In the European city ranking by patent applications, London was in fourth place, after Munich, Paris, Eindhoven and Stockholm.
Huawei tops EPO’s global applicant ranking
The leading patent applicants at the EPO in 2022 were Huawei (No. 1 in 2021), followed by LG (up from 3rd in 2021), Qualcomm (jumping from 7th to 3rd), Samsung and Ericsson. The top ten includes four companies from Europe, two from the Republic of Korea, two from the US, one from China and one from Japan.
Every fifth patent application filed by a small company
Patents are not only of interest to large companies. A significant proportion of the EPO’s applications come from smaller entities: in 2022, one in five patent applications to the EPO originating in Europe came from an individual inventor or a small or medium-sized enterprise (fewer than 250 employees). A further 7% came from universities and public research organisations (see graph Breakdown of applicants by category).
Explore the Patent Index 2022 in full at epo.org/patent-index2022.
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Patents in action
Patents help companies protect and market their inventions. They also enable them to license their technology, establish collaboration agreements with partners and attract investors. Here are a few examples of outstanding inventions from the 2022 European Inventor Award:
- Robotic exoskeleton: This invention by Spanish engineer Elena García Armada helps children in wheelchairs walk again. View one of the patents granted by the EPO on which she is named inventor: EP3225363B1and EP3009240B1.
- Metal-eating plants to clean up polluted soils: French researcher Claude Grison developed and patented a smart natural solution for cleaning up ecosystems and founded several companies to commercialise the process. View the patent: EP2504096B1.
- Green hydrogen from sunlight and air: A team of Belgian inventors invented a solar panel that can produce clean hydrogen fuel anywhere. See the patents: EP3027788and EP3452638.
- Fishing hook cover to save seabirds: Two brothers invented a simple solution: a pod that covers baited hooks and only opens once 20 meters underwater, out of reach of most seabirds. See the patent: EP2731423.
What’s the next big invention?
Patents can be filed for technical inventions in any field of technology, from mobile phones to children’s toys and energy production to medical diagnostics. It can take several years from the filing of a patent application before a product is launched in the market. But patent applications are published 18 months after filing, so public patent databases provide insight into the latest inventions. The EPO’s free Espacenet database contains over 140 million patent documents from around the world from 1782 to today.
A look back at 50 years of European patents
In 2023 the EPO celebrates the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European patent system. When 16 countries signed the European Patent Convention in Munich on 5 October 1973, they ushered in a new era of co-operation on patents. This laid the ground for a patent system supporting economic and technological developments that have shaped our lives and continue to do so today. Find out more about the history of the EPO and anniversary events planned in 2023.
About the EPO
With 6 300 staff members, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Headquartered in Munich with offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna, the EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO’s centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in up to 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. The EPO is also the world’s leading authority in patent information and patent searching.