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UK companies file more European patents in 2014

26 February 2015
by EPO -- last modified 26 February 2015

Patent filings at the European Patent Office (EPO) grew by 3.1% in 2014, hitting a new record high of over 274 000. Companies from the UK filed 6 823 patents at the EPO last year (2013: 6 510): with +4.8% the highest growth rate for the UK since 2011, and well above the 1.2% average increase of the 38 EPO member states.


"Demand for patent protection in Europe has been growing steadily, and is up for the fifth year in a row," says EPO President Benoi(t Battistelli. "Europe continues to strengthen its key role as a global hub of technology and innovation for a growing number of companies from around the world. The rise in patent filings originating from Europe underlines the importance of patent-intensive industries as a solid base for the European knowledge economy: they foster Europe's competitiveness, economic strength and employment."

Shifts in leading fields of technology

The leading fields of technology (sectors in which most patents are filed) for European patent applications from the UK in 2014 were: Electrical machinery, apparatus and energy (7% of all UK filings), Measurement (6%), Medical technology (6%), Transport (6%), Organic fine chemistry (5%), Digital communications (5%), Engines, pumps and turbines (5%), Biotechnology (4%) and Pharmaceuticals (4%).

Within these leading fields there were some major shifts: Electrical machinery grew by 14%, Digital communications by 23%, Engines, pumps and turbines by 17%, whereas Organic fine chemistry decreased by 11% and Pharmaceuticals by 8%.

Unilever, Rolls Royce, British Telecom: top three UK patent applicants

Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever was still the UK's most active patent applicant at the EPO in 2014 with 226 applications (a drop of -19% over 2013), plus another 167 applications filed from the Netherlands making it No. 5 in that country. Rolls Royce moved up to 2nd place (182 applications, +37%), followed by British Telecom in 3rd (141) and BAE Systems in 4th (96), down from 2nd last year. Tata jumped from 9th to 6th, Dyson from 10th to 8th, and the University of Oxford from 14th to 9th, whereas Glaxo Smith Kline dropped from 8th to 13th.

Looking at European patent applications per million inhabitants, the UK, with 74 applications/million inhabitants, ranked 16th, just behind the US and Norway and ahead of Singapore, but below the EU-28 average of 131 applications/million inhabitants.

Regional differences in Europe, strong growth from China and US

The 1.2% growth in the volume of filings from the 38 EPO member states in 2014 was based on varied trends in individual countries. Besides the UK, other countries with a strong growth in filings compared to the previous year were the Netherlands (+9.1%) and France (+4%). Stable developments were noted from Belgium (+1.8%), Italy (+0.5%), and Germany (-0.8%), while there was a drop in the number of filings from Finland (-9.3%), Switzerland (-3.1%) and Spain (-2.1%). Filings from the US grew significantly in 2014, by 6.8% over the previous year. With an increase of 18.2% China continued its spectacular rise in filings. Korea maintained its growth, albeit at a much slower rate (+2.3%), in contrast to Japan which – in spite of a high volume of filings – showed a decrease of -4.4%.
(Fig: Top 50 countries of origin)

Samsung still no.1, five European companies make the Top 10

European companies maintained their strong presence among the top 10 in terms of applications filed at the EPO in 2014, with no less than five firms represented. Philips advanced to 2nd in the list, followed by Siemens (3rd), BASF (6th), Robert Bosch (8th) and Ericsson (9th). Samsung once again headed the ranking with 2 541 applications in 2014. Another Korean company, LG, was 4th. With Huawei in 5th, a Chinese company entered the EPO's top 10 for the second time ever (ZTE was 10th in 2012). The US firms Qualcomm (7th) and Intel (10th) rounded out the list. (Fig: Top 10 applicants)

Contrary to expectations that the EPO is predominantly used by large corporations, a breakdown by category of applicants shows that 30% of applications in 2014 came from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This underlines the important role the EPO plays as a service provider for smaller entities. Some 6% of the applications were filed by universities or research institutes, and 64% came from large firms.

The European Patent Organisation is an intergovernmental organisation that was set up on 7 October 1977 on the basis of the European Patent Convention (EPC) signed in Munich in 1973. It has two bodies, the European Patent Office and the Administrative Council, which supervises the Office's activities.

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