EPO records drop in UK patent applications

According to new data from the European Patent Office (EPO), British companies have filed fewer patent applications in Europe for the second year in a row.

UK patent applications
European Patent Office (Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay)

According to the Patent Index Report 2021, patent applications from UK companies at the EPO fell 1.2 percent last year to 5,627, from 5,698 in the previous year. This dip was recorded despite an overall increase in the volume of European patent applications, which reached a new all-time high of 188,600.

Commenting on the findings, Karl Barnfather, partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogerssaid: “The slight decline in European patent applications from the UK in 2021 is not as clear-cut as that in 2020, suggesting the situation is stabilizing and we expect a return to growth in next year’s data. Crucially, the share of the UK in European patent applications has remained at three percent.


“The pandemic has had a significant impact on the performance of many companies over the past year. For some, this has resulted in a slowdown or interruption of innovation activity. However, for UK-based companies in sectors such as consumer goods, medical technology, computer technology, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and transport, innovation activity has remained strong.”

Consumer goods manufacturers and transport companies were responsible for the increase in European patent applications, with patent applications to the EPO from these sectors of UK industry increasing by 55.5 per cent and 31.6 per cent respectively. The third largest growth in European patent applications came from the pharmaceutical sector (11.9 percent).

Unilever was the largest UK applicant, with 524 patent applications to the EPO in 2021, followed by Nerudia with 218 patent applications. Other UK highlights came from British American Tobacco (216), Linde (196) and BAE Systems (178).

Non-European EPO deposits were fueled by China (+24 percent) and the US (+5.2 percent). Applications from South Korea also rose in 2021 (+3.4 percent), while the number of applications from Japan fell slightly (-1.2 percent).

Barnfather said: “China has excelled in its approach to sponsoring innovation activities in recent years and has won the respect of investors and companies in the West. The Chinese government’s focus on intellectual property has created a platform for enterprises that has led to the emergence of some highly successful entrepreneurial companies.

“We can achieve something similar here in the UK if the government puts a greater focus on stimulating R&D activity and promoting intellectual property. It is significant that one in five patent applications submitted to the EPO by European companies comes from individual inventors or small and medium-sized companies. More innovation incentives at this level could make a big difference to the UK economy.”

Abhishek Maheswari
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