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EPO annual report: Europe continues strong growth, but UK fails to make its mark


21st May 2015

The European Patent Office (EPO) recently released its Annual Report, which includes European patent filing statistics for 2014. The full report can be found on the EPO website, along with an easier to digest infographic here.

The report is generally encouraging: including applications filed directly at the EPO and international (PCT) applications entering the European regional phase, there were over 274,000 European filings in 2014, which is a new record and a 3.1% increase on 2013.

The USA remains the largest filer, accounting for 26% of all European filings, and China continues its strong growth with an increase of 18.2% compared to last year. Filings from Europe are also up; the 38 member states which make up the European Patent Organisation filed 1.2% more applications in 2014 than the previous year, with 35% of all 2014 European filings originating from one of the states.

At first sight, things also look good for the UK. European filings from UK applicants are up 4.8%; considerably higher than the European average, and higher than both France (up 4%) and Germany (down 0.8%). However, the fact is that the rate of filings from UK applicants remains surprisingly low. The following table shows the number of European filings per capita for a few countries with similarly developed economies and, Italy aside, the UK is well behind:

Country Filings per million Inhabitants
Switzerland 848
Finland 416
Netherlands 406
Sweden 395
Germany 316
Japan 173
France 159
EU Average 131
USA 114
Norway 102
United Kingdom 74
Italy 59

Of course, these statistics do not tell the whole story. There are undoubtedly many possible reasons why the UK underperforms, or at least appears to underperform. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to wonder why a country, which many would say has a proud tradition of science, technology and innovation, files so few patents.

One pertinent question is simply whether the country of the named applicant really reflects where the innovation comes from. According to the EPO, 64% of all European filings comes from “large firms”, and it is possible that the structure of such firms could distort the numbers, making it seem as though some countries are more innovative than they really are.

For example, a large multi-national company, employing inventors worldwide, may file all of its applications in a single name corresponding to one country. This certainly seems to be the case in some of the smaller European counties; 29% of all of the Netherlands’ filings came from a single prolific filer, and it is a similar story for Finland and Sweden. However, while this may go some way to explaining the UK’s low filing rate, it is not immediately clear why the UK would be at such a disadvantage in comparison to the other countries on the list.

Another factor may be the UK’s large service sector, which contributes a significant proportion of the UK’s GDP but does not contribute many patents.

However, the UK’s service sector is actually comparable in size, as a proportion of GDP, to most of the other countries listed above, and according to this press release by CIPA (the UK’s professional body for patent attorneys), the UK is still behind when service GDP is taken into account.

One potentially important factor which is much more difficult to quantify is the UK’s attitude to patents. Perhaps, as the CIPA press release suggests, UK businesses are failing to realise the potential of their innovation, seeing patents as something merely for wild-haired boffins. And as we discussed previously, shows like Dragons’ Den may harm the UK public’s perception of intellectual property.

Whatever the real reasons behind the UK’s low filing rate, if you’re not convinced that patent filings are best for your business contact us.

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking before any action in reliance on it.

Author
Jon Gilbert
Associate
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Would you like to know more? You can talk to Jon Gilbert who will be able to help. Call +44 (0)20 7242 0901

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