• For sixth year in a row, UK businesses post growth in number of applications filed at the European Patent Office (EPO)
• Consumer goods, computer technology and medical technology are UK’s leading technology fields
• Greater London is top UK region for European patent filings, while North East England and North West England were fastest growing
• Rolls-Royce is top UK applicant
• EPO received more than 181 000 applications in total, with a surge in digital technologies, driven by 5G and AI
Munich, 12 March 2020 – The European Patent Office (EPO) today announced that patent applications from the UK have risen significantly for the sixth year in a row. According to the EPO Patent Index 2019, UK companies and inventors filed 6 156 European patent applications in 2019, almost 7% more than in the previous year (Fig: Growth of UK patent applications at the EPO). This rise is mainly attributed to a very strong increase in applications related to consumer goods as well as double-digit growth in the computer technology, engine/pumps/turbines, and chemical engineering sectors. The UK ranks ninth among the filing countries at the EPO (Fig.: Top 50 countries for applications).
The total number of patent applications at the EPO climbed to a new all-time high of over 181 000 applications in 2019, fueled by growth in the fields of digital communication and computer technology, and a strong increase in filing volumes from China, the US and South Korea.
“The solid growth in European patent filings from companies and researchers in the UK over the past few years is testimony to the strength of UK innovation across a diverse range of technologies,” said EPO President António Campinos. “It is a reflection of continued long-term investments into R&D and the key role of patents in boosting the capacity of UK businesses to innovate, create jobs, and stay competitive.”
Re-shuffle in UK’s top 5 technology fields
The UK’s new leading technology field for patent applications in 2019 was consumer goods, moving up from 12th place with 514 patent applications and an increase of 123.5%. This growth was largely driven by e-cigarette company Nerudia. Computer technology remained at number two with 467 patent applications (+24.5%), posting growth in all sub-categories, including machine learning and pattern recognition, image data processing and generation, and data retrieval. Companies leading in computer technology applications from the UK are BT, Imagination Technologies, DeepMind and ARM. Medical technology, the top field of 2018, is now at number three (+3.1%). Transport (including vehicles, aviation, trains and vessels) remains the fourth most active UK technology field (+9%) while engines/pumps/turbines are a new entrant in the top 5 (2018: 10) with 325 applications and growth of 34.9%.
Rolls-Royce again leads UK applicant ranking, but several new entrants
Changes in the main technology fields are also reflected in the ranking of UK patent applicants at the EPO. While Rolls-Royce remained the UK’s most active patent applicant for the fifth consecutive year with 494 applications, Nerudia came in second with 335 applications, followed by 2018’s runner-up Unilever with 246 applications and ahead of British Telecom (178) and Linde (172). Also new to the top twenty ranking is Cambridge Enterprise Limited (26), the University of Cambridge’s entity supporting students and staff to commercialise inventions, at number 19 (Fig: Top UK applicants at the EPO in 2019).
UK regions: North East England and North West England with strongest growth
Within the UK, Greater London leads the regional ranking with a 34.1% (+8.1%) share of all UK patent applications filed at the EPO, followed by North West England with a 16.6% share and growth of 34.9%. While the East of England is the third most active region with a 12.7% share in European patent applications coming from the UK, North East England displayed the biggest growth in 2019, filing 49.3% more applications than in 2018 (Fig: UK regional breakdown). Greater London is also the only UK region to appear in the list of the ten leading European regions in patent applications (Fig: Leading European regions for patent applications at the EPO).
Patent applications at the EPO: 5G and AI drive growth
Turning to the top technical fields at the EPO overall, the Patent Index 2019 shows that digital communication saw by far the strongest growth in patent applications in 2019 (+19.6% over 2018) (Graph: Leading technical fields). This field, which lies at the intersection of telecommunications and computers, includes the technologies that are crucial to implementing 5G wireless networks. Posting an increase of 64.6%, Chinese companies contributed most to the growth in digital communication patent applications, with US (+15%) and South Korean firms (+36.1%, albeit from a smaller base) following suit. By comparison, digital communication filings from Europe grew moderately (+3.1%), with the UK showing above average growth of 7.1%. In terms of share, China, the US and Europe are now the joint leaders, each accounting for roughly a quarter of all patent applications filed with the EPO in this field.
The second fastest-growing field at the EPO in 2019 was computer technology (+10.2%). Here the driving factor for growth was the increase in patent applications in artificial intelligence, especially in the areas of machine learning, data retrieval and pattern recognition. Overall, US companies (+13.6% over 2018) accounted for nearly 40% of all patent applications at the EPO in computer technology, followed by EPO states (+9.3%) with almost 30% of the total. Applications from China (+18.7%) made up just over 10%.
Huawei top applicant
The overall company ranking in 2019 also reflects the growing importance of digital technologies: Huawei topped the table of patent applicants at the EPO in 2019 with 3 524 applications. Samsung moved up to second place and LG gained a position to take third. The two South Korean firms were followed by US company United Technologies and the top applicant of 2018, Siemens, which dropped to fifth despite filing more applications than in 2018. Altogether, the top 10 includes four companies from Europe, two from South Korea, two from the US, and one from each of China and Japan (Fig: Top 10 applicants in 2019).
Notes to the Editor
For detailed statistics, see the EPO Patent Index 2019 at www.epo.org/patent-index2019.
Media contacts European Patent Office
Luis Berenguer Giménez
Principal Director Communication
EPO press desk
Phone: +49 89 2399 1820
Mobile: +49 163 8399527
Contact in the UK:
Phone: 07983 242 195
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