03 March 2015
Last week in Brussels I presented the EPO’s annual results for 2014 at a well-attended conference with many journalists. For the fifth year in a row our growth continued for patent filings (+3.1% and almost 275 000 filings in 2014), representing a new record and confirming a positive trend (+10 000 patent filings each year on average). The share from the EPO member states remained stable (35% of the total), with some noticeable increases from the Netherlands, the UK and France. Among Europeans, German companies are still the main source of filings to the EPO (11% of the total) with a stable volume. Some countries with lower filing levels experienced some remarkable growth: Poland (+21.5%), Greece (+20.8%), Slovenia (+12.6%), Portugal (+7.6%) and Turkey (+6.2%). The remaining 65% of filings coming from outside Europe had four main origins: the US accounted for the largest share with 26%, followed by Japan (18%), China (9%) and Korea (6%). Two of them have significantly increased their volume: US up 6.8% over the previous year, and China up 18.2%. Another interesting indicator is the ratio of European patent applications per million inhabitants. The top 3 is composed of Switzerland with 848 applications per million inhabitants, Finland (416) and the Netherlands (406).
Samsung topped the company ranking for the third year in a row, followed by Philips, Siemens, LG, Huawei, BASF, Qualcomm, Robert Bosch, Ericsson and Intel. But the EPO is not a service provider just for global companies: in 2014 30% of applications came from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and 6% from universities or research institutes. Regarding the different technological fields the volume of applications grew most strongly in 2014 in the fields of biotechnology (+12.1%), electrical machinery (+8%), computer technology (7.8%), digital communication and measurement (+6.6% each).
A total of 64 600 patents were granted by the EPO in 2014, ca 3% fewer than in 2013. This is explained by a higher rate of withdrawal by applicants at a late stage of processing and the stronger focus of resources on the search phase, in particular with the start of the new Early Certainty from Search scheme since July 2014. In response to growing demand the EPO is further modernising its structure and improving its processes and services, The implementation of our Efficiency and Quality strategy is improving productivity and quality, placing emphasis on core activities with the recruitment of 191 examiners in 2014 (total: 4225). Indeed the Office is seen as a very attractive employer, receiving the highest number of applications (almost 20 000) last year. Several business-oriented initiatives taken in 2014 (e.g. PCT Direct, PCT top-up search, freeze of the fees) have been very popular, as seen by the positive trend in demand for our PCT services (the EPO delivers 38.3% of all international search reports and 55.7% of all international preliminary examination reports).
In the coming months, the final decisions regarding the unitary patent package should be taken, notably with regard to the level of the fees. The Global Dossier, launched in June 2014 with SIPO, should be completed with data from the other IP5 partners, making it a truly single entry point for easy access to information on parallel files. The preliminary work concerning the procedural harmonisation is really promising and should bear some fruits soon. To conclude, 2015 will bear witness to significant progress in helping the patent system to better respond to business needs and to improving quality globally.