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EPO reports increase in patent filings in 2019 – life sciences innovation on the rise

Statistics published by the European Patent Office (EPO) show that the number of patents filed by companies and researchers in the life sciences sectors has grown over the past year. According to the EPO Patent Index 2019, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology fields both saw an increase in the number of patent applications, rising by 4.4 percent and 1.7 percent respectively over 2018, their third consecutive year of growth.

The geographic origin and share of the European patent applications – direct European applications (Direct) and international (PCT) applications that entered the European phase during the reporting period (PCT regional) – filed with the European Patent Organisation (EPO) 2010 – 2019. The geographic origin of the file is determined by the country of residence of the first applicant listed on the application form (first-named applicant principle). The 38 member states of the EPO includes the 28 states of the EU (graphic courtesy EPO).

Across all fields of technology, the EPO received a record 181 406 patent applications in 2019, a 4 percent increase on 2018. This year’s index was particularly marked by a sharp increase in patenting activity in digital technologies, with applications in the fields of digital communication and computer technology showing the steepest growth (+19.6 percent and +10.2 percent respectively), highlighting their key role in driving the digital transformation that is permeating all sectors and industries.

The top three fields of technology at the EPO were digital communication, medical technology, and computer technology. Pharmaceuticals were the seventh largest field at the EPO (7 697 applications), and biotechnology the eighth (6 801 applications).

Growth in the number of patent applications 2019 at the EPO in life sciences (graphic courtesy EPO).

The steady growth of patent applications in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals demonstrates that Europe is an environment in which first-class innovation in the life sciences can flourish. Through our robust and thorough patenting system, the EPO supports companies and inventors so that they can continue to develop inventions that improve both health and quality of life, said EPO President António Campinos.

The 2019 index also underlines the attractiveness of the European market to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). An analysis of the patent applications originating from European countries shows that every fifth application comes from an SME, which demonstrates that patent protection is of importance to smaller organisations and individual inventors, too (Graph: Breakdown of applicants by category).

European companies maintain a lead, despite strong growth from the US and Asia

European innovators continued to lead in filing for life science-related patents in their own market, with 41 percent of all applications in pharmaceuticals at the EPO in 2019 originating from the EPO member states, and a growth rate of 2.5 percent over 2018.

The US was close behind with a 39 percent share of pharmaceutical patent applications, and a stronger growth rate of 14.1 percent. Japan had a 5 percent share, while China and the Republic of Korea each accounted for 3 percent.

In biotechnology European firms had a strong lead, accounting for 47 percent of all applications at the EPO, with the US making up 32 percent. Continuing a trend from 2018, patent applications from Asian companies in the biotechnology industry have continued to rise dramatically. China (+63.5 percent), the Republic of Korea (+47.8 percent) and Japan (+19.3 percent) all saw steep growth.

Despite the countries’ relatively low patenting volumes (Japan’s share of 8 percent, China’s 4 percent and the Republic of Korea’s 3 percent), the increase is indicative of the growing presence of Asian companies and inventors in the biotechnology area.

Germany, Switzerland, and France lead in life sciences

Within the European life sciences industry, German firms accounted for the largest share of patent applications at the EPO in 2019. In pharmaceuticals, 8 percent of the patent applications came from German companies, who posted 2.8 percent growth over 2018.

Germany was followed by Switzerland (6 percent share, +5.4 percent), France (6 percent share, -6 percent), the UK (4 percent share, +9.3 percent) and the Netherlands (2 percent share, -1.0 percent).

Similarly in the biotechnology field, Germany leads with an 11 percent share (although applications dropped by -3.5 percent over 2018), followed by France (7 percent share, +12.4 percent), Switzerland (7 percent share, -4.4 percent), the Netherlands (4 percent share, -22.6 percent), and the UK (4 percent share, +5.5 percent).

INSERM and Hoffmann-La Roche maintain top applicant status

The top applicants at the EPO in the life sciences have maintained their top spots, with the French Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) and Swiss firm Hoffmann-La Roche remaining at the top of the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology sectors respectively.

In the biotechnology sector, Hoffmann-La Roche led with 226 applications and Dutch nutrition multinational DSM again in second place (112 applications). With 91 applications in 2019, INSERM moved up into third place (table courtesy EPO).

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