Joff Wild

The European Patent Office has put out a press release providing some information on patent filing and awards activity in 2012. It reports all time highs for both applications received (258,000) and grants made (65,700), up 5.7% and 5.8% respectively. According to EPO president Benoît Battistelli: “This new peak in European patent filings for the third year in a row shows that companies from Europe and around the world are continuing to seek protection for their inventions, and that Europe remains an attractive market for new technologies.” It is, he says, “part of a consistent, long-term trend, and is clear evidence of the confidence of industry in the value of European patents".

Alongside the press release, the EPO has provided a table which shows the top 50 countries of origin for filings during 2012. Despite steep rises in applications form Asia, the US keeps its number one slot, with Japan second and Germany, the top European country in third; China follows in fourth and Korea comes fifth. All in all, it is pretty much the same as last year.

What I thought would be interesting would be to look at the top 20 countries of origin and then do a table based on applications and population. So, using the handy country by country population guide, I divided the number of patent applications filed at the EPO from a country by that country’s population. The results see a very different order to the top 20 the office produces:

1. Switzerland (7th in EPO table) – 7.8 million population /953 inhabitants per application

2. Finland (13) – 5.3 million/1,881

3. Sweden (11) – 9.3 million/1,990

4. Germany (3) – 82 million/2,371

5. Japan (2) – 127 million/2,471

6. Denmark (17) – 5.5 million/2,483

7. Netherlands (9) – 16.5 million/2,596

8. Austria (16) – 8.3 million/3,458

9. Korea (5) – 50 million/3,502

10. Israel (19) – 7.6 million/4,316

11. Belgium (15) – 10.8 million/4,417

12. United States (1) – 310 million /4,861

13. France (6)  – 65.5 million/5,471

14. Canada (12) – 34.2 million/8,660

15. United Kingdom (8) – 62 million/9,167

16. Australia (18) – 22.4 million/11,827

17. Italy (10) – 60 million/12,750

18. Spain (14) – 47 million/18,673

19. China (4) – 1.35 billion/71,648

20. India (20) – 1.2 billion/920,245

What does this tell us? Probably not that much. However, it’s worth noting that in the IAM table, the top four countries are all members of the European Patent Organisation, as opposed to just the one (Germany) in the EPO table.

Germany apart, the top European countries all have relatively low (under 20 million) populations, which may indicate how the filing activities of just a few entities affect results. As far as I can see, the EPO has not supplied the company filing figures for last year; but if you look at the numbers for 2011, you’ll see that Ericsson of Sweden filed 1,148 patent applications, Philips of the Netherlands filed 1,759 and Nokia of Finland filed 419. The country totals for Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland in 2012 were 4,674, 6,355 and 2,818 respectively; or put another way, the 2011 Ericsson, Philips and Nokia numbers are 24.5%, 27.67% and 14.86% of the overall Swedish, Dutch and Finnish amounts for 2012. Of course, filing figures for each of the three companies could have been very different last year, but that is unlikely. Looked at in that way, the performance of Switzerland is pretty amazing (though pharma is bound to be a large component of its score); as are the results for Denmark and Austria, neither of which has a dominant industry player.

On the other hand, as a Brit I do not like the look of the UK’s performance at all, especially as the story is a similar one in other parts of the world too. It is hardly consolation that both Spain and Italy are doing even worse. Looking at the bottom two places, the gap that India has to make up on China is vast. And what would happen to the world’s patent offices if the Chinese ever got to, say, Australian or Canadian levels of output? There would be meltdown!!