27 March 2012
Back in January, we published a general summary of our preliminary filing figures for 2011. We have now consolidated those figures, giving us a more detailed picture of last year’s main trends and rankings. The data first of all confirms the positive filing results initially reported: the EPO received a total of 244 437 applications in 2011, an increase of 3.7% over 2010, which had itself been a peak year. This suggests to me that firms are reacting differently in the currently difficult economic climate than in similar conditions in the past: whereas European patent filings dropped by 7% in 2009 following the credit crunch, this time firms appear to have decided to maintain or even increase their R&D and patent investments. And, so far, the 2012 trend has mirrored the 2011 situation. Another factor to bear in mind is that, because our users are based all over the world (62% are non European), this may help to shield us from some of the impact of any regional crisis.
As far as the origin of filings is concerned, the trends we observed in 2010 have continued: Asia again contributed the most to the increase in filings, with Japan, China and Korea accounting for 31% of total applications. Similarly, the US remains our top country of origin, although its share has fallen slightly (24% of the total compared to 26% in 2010). The top three European countries are Germany (14%), France (5%) and Switzerland (3%). We can also see that there is no shortage of European users in the list of top applicants: of the top 25, five are from North America, nine from Asia (six from Japan, two from Korea and one from China) and 11 from Europe (two more than in 2010). Indeed, as many as five of the top ten filing companies, including the top two, are European. For the second year in a row, Siemens came first, with 2 235 applications, and so reinforces its leading position in industry. I had the great pleasure of congratulating Siemens CEO Peter Löscher on that at our joint press conference in Munich last Friday. The event was also a good opportunity for us to look back on the instrumental part played by Werner von Siemens some 135 years ago in setting up the German patent system, which served as a model for today’s European patent system.
As for the technological sectors in which applications are filed, medical technology continues to top the table. The figures in this sector have doubled over the last ten years, and are up by 5.1% compared with 2010 alone. All in all, technologies in the electronics sector have gained in importance over the last ten years (+5% compared to 2010), while the traditionally significant chemicals sector is experiencing a decline (-2%). Filings in the fields of electrical machinery, energy and computer technology have all grown over the past few years, and are up by 5% over 2010. By contrast, the number of applications in telecommunications has fallen, and this sector no longer features in the top ten.
Finally, in 2011, the EPO granted a record 62 515 patents (+6.9% compared to 2010). Our grant rate rose from 43% to 47%, but this was mainly down to a drop in the number of withdrawals. Nevertheless, it is perhaps interesting to note that, of the patents resulting from the granted 47% of applications, two thirds had a reduced scope of protection as compared to what the applicant had initially requested, and this is a direct effect of the rigorous standards applied in our examination procedure. We have maintained our high level of overall quality and are set to improve it still further, thanks to the quality roadmap we adopted last December and the investments we have made in our HR and IT structures.
Obviously, when looking at all these indicators (filing figures, grant rate, etc.), we have to bear in mind that they are relative and therefore limited as a measure of quality and economic dynamics. But comparing successive annual figures does allow us to identify trends. There can be no doubt about our priority: to grant patents of the highest possible quality as a legally sound basis for protecting innovation.