April 14, 2024

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British Innovation Growing Strongest among big European Economies

British companies and inventors filed 5,918 patent applications at the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2023, up 4.2% compared to 2022. According to the EPO’s Patent Index 2023 published today, the UK came 9th place in the country ranking which is led by the US, Germany, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea. Growth from the UK surpassed that of all the other top 10 European countries in 2023, and over the past decade has grown by 24.2%. This demonstrates the strong presence of UK companies and research institutions in the European technology market. Overall patent applications at the EPO grew by 2.9% to 199,275, mainly fueled by filings from the Republic of Korea (+21%) and China (+8.8%).

The number of patent applications is an early indicator of companies’ investments in research and development. As patent applications are often filed before inventions appear on the market, patent data can reveal emerging technology trends.

“Our latest Patent Index shows that innovation remained vibrant around the world in 2023,” said EPO President António Campinos. “The EPO was entrusted with examining more applications than ever before, attesting to both the attractiveness of the European technology market and the high quality of our products and services. Europe’s small and medium-sized enterprises are making ever-increasing use of patents, with the share of applications from SMEs at its highest level yet last year. These businesses can also now benefit from the new Unitary Patent, which significantly improves the environment for innovation in Europe, providing a simpler and more cost-effective option for innovators to protect their inventions and bring them to the vast EU market.”

Unilever remains No. 1 UK patent applicant at the EPO

Unilever remained the UK’s top patent applicant at the EPO, filing a total of 575 European patents last year (+18.3% compared to 2022), accounting for just under 10% of all UK patent applications and leading in the organic fine chemistry sector, dethroning BASF, which has held the no. 1 spot since 2019. Unilever was also positioned as No. 32 in the overall EPO global top applicant ranking in 2023, moving up from No. 42 in 2022. In the UK rankings, British American Tobacco came second once again with 354 applications and Rolls-Royce third with 251 applications.

For the UK, the five leading technology fields with the most European patent applications in 2023 were:

  1. Computer technology: UK companies filed 518 European patent applications, coming in 7th place globally.
  2. Medical technology: UK businesses filed 465 patent applications with the EPO, making the UK 9th globally.
  3. Other consumer goods: British inventors filed 435 patent applications in this field, growing by 11.8%.
  4. Biotechnology: UK companies filed a total of 371 patent applications in the field (+8.8%), putting the UK in joint 7th place globally.
  5. Transport (which includes technologies related to automotive, aircraft, aerospace, rail and ships): UK businesses filed 362 patent applications with the EPO in patents relating to transport, putting the UK 8th globally in terms of patent applications in this field

The technology fields with the highest growth in European patent applications in 2023 from UK applicants were Engines, pumps and turbines (+33.5% compared to 2022), followed by Handling (+23.7%), a field which encompasses many inventions in the parcel, packaging and delivery sector.

London continues to lead

As a county, Greater London continues to lead with 2,017 patent applications, accounting for a 34% share of all UK applications, coming 5th among European regions (EPO member states), behind Stockholm (2 287), Eindhoven (2,561), Paris (3,119) and Munich (3,441). London also came in 12th globally, where Tokyo (Japan) led the ranking. London was followed by the East of England with 847 holding a 14.3% share and the North-West of England with 677, holding an 11.4% share, the three regions alone accounting for over 60% of all UK patent applications. In the city rankings, London is also leading, Cambridge followed with 384 applications, followed by Bristol with 207 applications and Oxford with 175.

Women Inventors active in the field of chemistry

This year’s Patent Index also shows that 25% of all patent applications at the EPO from the UK in 2023 named at least one woman inventor. This was slightly below the average of 27% of the 39 EPO member states.

Among the technical fields and looking at the European average, Chemistry stands out for the highest frequency of women inventors, with 50% of European patent applications in Chemistry in 2023 involving a woman inventor. In some fields regrouped under chemistry, such as biotechnology (66%) and pharmaceuticals (63%) the figure was even higher These statistics underscore the crucial role women play in advancing innovation. Moreover, in electrical engineering and instruments, women inventors are named on only 23% and 27% of patent applications, respectively.

British patent owners welcome the new Unitary Patent

Since 1 June 2023, inventors have been able to benefit from the Unitary Patent system – a new option for simpler and cheaper patent protection in the participating EU member states. Unitary Patents are delivered on the basis of a newly granted European patent having unitary effect in at present 17 EU member states. They can be centrally enforced or litigated before the newly established Unified Patent Court. With 770 requests for unitary effect filed for patents granted in 2023, British patent owners have demonstrated significant interest in the advantages offered by the Unitary Patent. The 24.8% uptake rate of the Unitary Patent by British patentees for patents granted in 2023 significantly exceeds the global average of 17.5% (and average of 22.3% for patents granted in the second half of 2023).