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Technology Industry News

Report reveals a dip in patent applications in Europe but a rebound is likely


The volume of patent applications filed by UK businesses in Europe fell slightly in 2020, cancelling out the strong growth recorded in the previous year, according to fresh data published by the European Patent Office.

Report reveals a dip in patent applications in Europe but a rebound is likely


"It is good to see the UK in the top ten list of filing nations again this year, which is an indication of the focus placed on innovation activity."
Karl Barnfather



The volume of patent applications filed by UK businesses in Europe fell slightly in 2020, cancelling out the strong growth recorded in the previous year, according to fresh data published by the European Patent Office.

The dip in patent filing activity in the UK has been mirrored by many other Western countries and is of course most likely due to the pandemic. Significantly however, strong growth can be seen in the importance of European patents for Chinese and South Korean innovators who both filed over 9% more applications than in the previous year, in spite of COVID. The UK has nevertheless retained a 3% share of the total number of patent applications received by the EPO in 2019/20 – which is largely the same as in the previous year.

Karl Barnfather, chairman of European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers, said:

“This data confirms that the volume of patent applications originating in the UK dipped slightly last year, but this is not unexpected and many businesses were forced to slow down innovation due to health and safety measures and focus on managing the pandemic.

“At an advisory level, many of the UK-based businesses that we worked with over the course of last year have been pressing ahead with their R&D programmes, and we are expecting the volume of patent applications to rebound this year and next.”

The Patent Index 2020 report shows that patent applications originating in the UK fell from 6,129 in 2018/19 to 5,715 in 2019/20 – a fall of 6.8%. In recent years, the number of applications originating in the UK has grown strongly, with an increase of 6.4% in 2018/19 and 8.3% in 2017/18.

Unilever was the top UK filer; filing 528 patent applications at the EPO in 2020. Rolls Royce was in second place, filing 299 patent applications. Other top UK filers included Advanced New Technologies (282 filings), Linde (182 filings) and BAE Systems (159 filings).

Karl Barnfather added: “It is good to see the UK in the top ten list of filing nations again this year, which is an indication of the focus placed on innovation activity. However, there is always room for improvement and some businesses are still not taking full commercial advantage of IP protection.

“The Government’s recent decision to increase Corporation Tax could help to persuade more businesses to invest in patent protection in the future, in order to take advantage of Patent Box tax relief, which applies to profits generated from the sale of patented inventions. The 10% reduced rate of Corporation Tax that applies to these profits has now become all the more attractive.”

The EPO’s report reveals some significant variations in the innovation activity underway in different sectors of industry. Overall, there has been a surge in European patent applications for life sciences inventions and digital technologies, which includes technologies enabling 5G networks, and computer technology, including AI-related inventions. The top filing UK sectors were computer technology and medical technology.

Karl Barnfather concluded: “Overall we can see that life sciences innovation has been in the spotlight globally for obvious reasons in 2020. The UK has a strong global reputation for research and development in this field and the ongoing research linked to Covid-19 will continue to generate European patent applications in the future.

“The UK’s excellence in computer and telecoms tech, as well as software innovation, is also globally recognised and activity levels over the past year have been on a par with those we have seen in other global innovation centres. This suggests the slowdown in patent filing activity seen at the EPO this year, is not likely to continue.”

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