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Life sciences sector records strongest patent application growth at the EPO

The number of patent applications filed with the European Patent Office (EPO) in the life sciences sector has grown faster than applications in any of the other ten largest fields, the European Patent Office’s 2018 Annual Report shows. Taken together, the fields of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology grew by 13 percent, with more than 14 000 European patent applications filed in 2018. Across all sectors, the EPO received 174 317 applications in 2018, up 4.6 percent compared to 2017.

The number of patent applications filed with the European Patent Office (EPO) in the life sciences sector has grown faster than applications in any of the other ten largest fields, the EPO’s 2018 Annual Report shows. Taken together, the fields of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology grew by 13 percent, with more than 14 000 European patent applications filed in 2018. Across all sectors, the EPO received 174 317 applications in 2018, up 4.6 percent compared to  2017 (graphic courtesy EPO).

Across all sectors, the European Patent Office (EPO) received 174 317 applications in 2018, an increase of 4.6 percent compared to the previous year. The EPO also granted 127 625 European patents, up 21 percent on 2017 numbers.

Growth fuelled by European companies

In 2018, businesses and inventors continued to file large numbers of patent applications at the EPO, with the five top filing regions – Europe, the US, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea – all showing increases (Fig.: Top 50 countries for applications).

Companies from the EPO member states filed 3.8 percent more European patent applications in 2018, their strongest growth since 2010. Indeed, European companies accounted for almost 40 percent of the overall growth in filings – more than China, Japan and the Republic of Korea combined.

European companies accounted for almost 40 percent of the overall growth in 2018 EPO patent filings - more than China, Japan and the Republic of Korea combined (graphic courtesy EPO).

European companies accounted for almost 40 percent of the overall growth in 2018 EPO patent filings – more than China, Japan and the Republic of Korea combined (graphic courtesy EPO).

This year’s report 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 EPO says demonstrates that patent protection is of great importance to individual inventors and smaller organisations.

This year’s annual results are good news for the European economy: Demand for patent protection continues to grow, which means inventors and businesses see Europe as an attractive and valuable technology market to innovate and invest. Europe, therefore, needs a competitive and robust patent system, especially given that in the EU, IP-intensive industries account for around 38 percent of jobs, 42 percent of GDP and 90 percent of external trade. The patent system helps businesses build a strong technology portfolio to boost economic growth, said EPO President António Campinos.

Pharma and biotech show the strongest growth

The top three fields of technology at the EPO were medical technology, digital communications, and computer technology. Pharmaceuticals is now the seventh largest field at the EPO (7 441 applications), and biotechnology the eighth (6 742 applications).

Medical technology remains the field with the greatest number of patent applications at the EPO (up +5%), again followed by digital communication and computer technology. The strongest growth (of the top 10 fields) was recorded in pharmaceuticals (+13.9%), followed by biotechnology (+12.1%) and other special machines (+10.9%). With -3.6% decline, organic fine chemistry was the only top 10 sector with negative year-on-year development (graphic courtesy EPO).

Medical technology remains the field with the greatest number of patent applications at the EPO (up +5%), again followed by digital communication and computer technology. The strongest growth (of the top 10 fields) was recorded in pharmaceuticals (+13.9%), followed by biotechnology (+12.1%) and other special machines (+10.9%). With -3.6% decline, organic fine chemistry was the only top 10 sector with negative year-on-year development (graphic courtesy EPO).

The number of patent applications from Europe accounts for much of the growth at the EPO in the life sciences area. European companies filed 3 156 patent applications related to pharmaceuticals in 2018. This compares with 2 797 patent applications from the United States (US), 423 from Japan, 227 from China and 194 from Korea.

In biotechnology, European firms filed 3 269 patent applications, compared to 2 173 applications originating from the US, 515 from Japan, 191 from Korea and 185 from China. The 38 EPO member states filed 48 percent of the European patent applications in biotechnology and 42 percent in the pharmaceutical sector, and patenting activity by European firms grew significantly in both sectors in 2018.

This is a trend reflected in other sectors; 40 percent of the overall increase in patent filings at the EPO in 2018 can be attributed to applications filed by European firms – more than China, Japan and the Republic of Korea combined.

Germany, Switzerland, and France lead in life sciences

Within the European life sciences industry, German firms are responsible for the largest share of patent applications at the EPO in 2018. In biotechnology, 11 percent of the patent applications came from German companies, who posted a 15.1 percent growth since 2017.

Germany was followed by Switzerland (7 percent share, +11 percent), France (6 percent share, -23.9 percent), the Netherlands (6 percent share, +23.2 percent) and Denmark (4 percent share, -4.2 percent).

Similarly, in the pharmaceutical sector, Germany leads with an 8 percent share (although the number of applications dropped by -4.3 percent over 2017), closely followed by France (6 percent share, +6.7 percent), Switzerland (6 percent share, +29.6 percent), the UK (4 percent share, +20.3 percent) and the Netherlands (3 percent share, +11.1 percent).

"The rapid growth of the number of patent applications in the life sciences area is highly indicative of the sheer amount of R&D work being undertaken in this field. It is encouraging to see that firms in this dynamic sector value the strength of the European market. Europe provides an encouraging environment for ambitious and entrepreneurial firms, and we will continue to deliver the best possible services to ensure that we have a competitive and effective patent system so that life sciences companies can keep up their research and innovation," said EPO President António Campinos (photo courtesy EPO).

“The rapid growth of the number of patent applications in the life sciences area is highly indicative of the sheer amount of R&D work being undertaken in this field. It is encouraging to see that firms in this dynamic sector value the strength of the European market. Europe provides an encouraging environment for ambitious and entrepreneurial firms, and we will continue to deliver the best possible services to ensure that we have a competitive and effective patent system so that life sciences companies can keep up their research and innovation,” said EPO President António Campinos (photo courtesy EPO).

About the EPO

With more than 7 000 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Its headquarters are in Munich and it also has offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague, and Vienna. The EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe.

Through the EPO’s centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in the 38 member states of the European Patent Organisation. The EPO is also the world’s leading authority in patent information and patent searching.

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