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The European Patent Index 2020: An insight into European innovation trends

This week the European Patent Office (EPO) has released its much-anticipated European Patent Index (EPI) for 2020.

What is the EPI?

The EPI is a statistical measure of the volume of patent applications filed at the EPO on an annual basis. It provides insight into the companies topping the charts in terms of filing volume in Europe, the proportion of EP filings made by country of origin, and the number of patents granted by the EPO, amongst other valuable indicators.

Trends in patenting 2020

Early data shows that the number of patent applications filed at the EPO saw a 0.7% decrease compared to volume filed in 2019, showing the resilience in European innovation despite the effects of Covid-19.

In addition, the EPI illustrates the growth and decline in the filing activity within each technical field compared to its position on the previous year, which may indirectly show trend shifts in the R&D activity of certain sectors but, especially for 2020, it will certainly give a wider view on the technical fields that are thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic and, conversely, the sectors that may be struggling given the abnormal environment this pandemic has forced on society as a whole.

Unsurprisingly, the EPI shows a growth in patents in medical technology, pharmaceuticals, biotech, computer technology, and digital communication. Sectors that saw a fall in patents were transport and measurement.

What does the EPI tell us about the UK?

What we can see is that the number of UK patents with the EPO in 2020 fell by 6.8% compared with 2019. The EPI will only give us a partial picture as UK innovators have the option to file at the UKIPO or EPO. We have also seen that UKIPO filings have also been decreasing over the years, albeit slightly.

The 38 member states of the EPO account for almost half of all European patent applications. The UK accounting for 3% compared to Germany’s 14%. Whilst US EPO states and Japan saw a drop in patents, Korea and China showed 9.2% and 9.9% growth, respectively.

Why does the EPI data matter?

Crucially, the EPI allows the wider community to monitor these changes, however, it is important to remember that the trends shown by the EPI may not necessarily be indicative of where innovation is headed on a global scale as the data is euro-centric, but the insight is valuable, nonetheless.

This blog is the first in a two-part series that will shed light on the emerging technology spaces for 2020, highlighting the technical fields that thrived despite the socio-economic challenges of the past year, dovetailed with the technical fields most hard-hit by the pandemic, and lastly a broad overview of the UK’s contribution to patent applications at the EPO, and what that may mean for innovation in the UK.

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