12 March 2014
Last week in Brussels, I was particularly pleased to see the strong attendance of journalists and press agencies at the presentation of our annual results for 2013, despite the heavy international agenda on the day. This is surely a sign of growing interest in innovation and patents, which are increasingly in the public eye.
The filing figures for 2013 confirm the trends of the past few years, with an overall increase (266 000 filings, +2.8% versus 2012) resulting once more in an all-time high. The biggest users – European countries, the US and Japan – maintained their shares of the total, with 35%, 24% and 20% respectively. The “newcomers” China and South Korea, starting from a lower baseline, show a very strong increase (around +15%), which comes as no surprise, since they are especially active in fiercely competitive fields such as IT and telecommunications. Among the 38 EPO member states, the picture is varied, with four different patterns of growth and decline. Some of the larger European countries show significant growth rates: this is the case in the Netherlands (+17.2%), which after a dip during the crisis came close to its record level of 2008, Denmark (+8.1%) and Sweden (+7.5%). Modest increases also occurred in a number of countries (the Czech Republic, Ireland, Portugal and Turkey) with lower filing volumes. A third group of countries (Austria, Finland and France) are stable with a positive trend. Finally, the totals for Belgium, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the UK are lower than in the previous year. The figures indicate that one of the possible explanations for the fall in these countries could be the declining number of applications in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
Looking at the ten technological fields that have generated the most applications, two aspects stand out. First, the top five are Medical technology, Electrical machinery, apparatus, energy, Digital communication, Computer technology and Transport, all of them increasing, apart from Digital communication. Second, European countries are leading in nine of the top ten fields, the only exception being Computer technology. Among the top 25 applicants, Samsung is ranked first, as in 2012, followed by Siemens and Philips. Eleven of these applicants are European, eight Japanese, three American, two Korean and one Chinese.
These general statistics need to be completed by more specific indicators. For the first time we have published the numbers of European patent applications per million inhabitants. Among the top ten are nine European countries plus Japan, the first three being Switzerland, Sweden and Finland. Applying this indicator to the biggest economies in terms of GDP, the following ranking emerges: Germany, Japan, South Korea, the US, France, the UK and Italy.
We have also included in our annual report the shares of filings from different categories of applicants. In contrast to what I continually read, SMEs, universities, publicly funded research centres and individual inventors are important users of the EPO’s services, accounting for 35% of applications in 2013.
Patent filings are not the sole gauge of innovation, but they have a strong indicative value. It is interesting to see that the figures published a few days ago by the European Commission under the Innovation Union Scoreboard 2014 point to similar trends. However, numbers do not provide the whole picture. The quality of granted patents is our key priority, and I am happy to say that the EPO was ranked first for the quality of its products and services in the latest poll among users.