Another peak year for European patent filings

19 January 2012

EPO President Benoît BattistelliOn Tuesday, we published our preliminary figures for patent filings received in 2011. They reached a new peak of 243 000, up 3% on the 2010 figure (235 000), which was itself a record but boosted in part by the one-off surge in divisional applications. One might have expected the financial and economic crisis in Europe and elsewhere to depress patent activity. After all, filings fell by 8% in 2009 following the 2008 “sub-prime” crisis. This time however, fortunately, firms do not seem to have responded by cutting their innovation budgets.

Turning to the breakdown by country, the “top 20” is unchanged compared with 2010, and the main trends observed in recent years continue. First, the Office has a worldwide user base, with most filings (62%) coming from outside Europe. The six leading countries now account for just under three quarters of the total (US: 24%; Japan: 19%; Germany: 14%; China: 7%; Korea and France: both 5%). We are seeing impressive growth from Asia, particularly China (filings up by 27.2% over 2010), and substantial increases (albeit from a lower base) from some European countries (Slovakia: +46.2%; Portugal: +17.2%; Poland: +14.3%; Czech Republic: +12.2%; Sweden: +10.5%; Turkey: +10.1%) and the big emerging ones (India: +13.1%; Russia: +26.2%; Brazil: +11.3%).

Despite processing more incoming filings than ever before, the EPO also succeeded in granting 7% more patents (62 115, compared to 58 200 in 2010) whilst keeping staffing levels stable. My thanks and appreciation go to all EPO staff for this remarkable achievement. We also made sure that the quality of our products and services was maintained, and indeed in 2012 will start implementing an ambitious quality roadmap to ensure that it continues to improve.

What else can we expect in the year ahead? Predicting the future is always a risky business, and firms’ decisions on whether or not to file for patents depend very much on their individual strategies, which can also vary widely in different fields of technology. However, the Battelle Memorial Institute’s recent “2012 Global R&D Funding Forecast” gives grounds for optimism: it expects global R&D investment to rise in 2012 for the third successive year (to a total of US$ 1.4 trillion, 5.2% up on 2011). The figures, with Asia again prominent, may well be a good indication of likely developments in patenting (US: $ 436 billion; China: $ 199 billion; Japan: $ 157 billion; Germany: $ 90 billion; South Korea: $ 56 billion; France: $ 51 billion; UK: $ 42 billion). Northern European countries are also well to the fore in terms of R&D investment as a percentage of GDP.

There is of course no automatic cause-and-effect relationship between higher R&D budgets and growth in patent filings. But we can safely say that without the former, the latter is highly unlikely.

Benoît Battistelli

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