Sumair Riyaz and Sundararajan Kumar dig deep into the numbers behind Europe’s patent leaders
The main table for the IAM/Dolcera Euro Patent 100 depicts the largest owners of European patents ranked by active granted patents.
The grants counted are those that were issued by the EPO and that claim priority in an EPO member state. The table also includes grants that were issued by the IP offices of individual European countries, including those that are not members of the EPO. Where the same patent has been issued in multiple countries, it has been counted once, classing it for these purposes as a European patent family.
German conglomerate Robert Bosch leads the top 100 players in terms of active number of granted patents. With the likes of Siemens, Volkswagen and Schaeffler Group also featuring in the top 10, it is clear that companies from Europe’s largest economy are key drivers of the continent’s innovation engine.
But that is only part of the story. Further analysis of the key players, industries and technology trends shows that in many cases, US and Asian players are dominating the European patent landscape.
US companies are prolific filers in Europe, followed closely by German companies. To underline the extent to which US businesses dominate the rankings, companies from France – the European Union’s second largest economy – have 1.6 times fewer granted patents than those from the United States. In fact, Figure 1 shows that South Korea, Japan and the United States make up three of the top five countries for grants.
Figure 1. Overall granted patents based on country of origin of the filing entity for the top 100 players
Although China – which has in many ways emerged as a global superpower to rival the United States over the past decade – appears further down the list, it is clearly a jurisdiction on the rise.
For the most part, that push has been led by Huawei, which has been filing patents across various industries as it looks to build its IP protections beyond China. What is unclear is whether Huawei’s patent filing strategy has changed in light of the various moves made by European countries – precipitated by geopolitical tensions between the United States and China – to seek alternatives to telecoms equipment manufactured by the Chinese tech giant.
The investments made by foreign firms across various industries affirm the fact that Europe remains an attractive marketplace for innovation, where companies seek to protect their technologies beyond their country of origin. This is also pushing European firms to compete in the invention space with much of this innovation focused around companies headquartered in Germany and France.
Statistically, it may be encouraging to some that foreign entities view Europe as a market to tap into. However, it raises the question of whether local players can respond or whether they will continue to be eclipsed by US entities and Asian IP superpowers.
Figure 2 represents the number of players in each sector from their respective geographies. In terms of sheer numbers, it is evident that Europe does not have entities to boast about in electronics and computing and software. The United States, on the other hand, has Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Apple, while in East Asia, Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu lead the way.
Figure 2. Industry breakdown: European versus non-European-based players
Considering the extent of their operations and market capitalisations, these tech firms have been expanding their reach across various industries, including into new areas such as automotive and healthcare. They control the next big thing – user data – and Europe lacks a formidable competitor that can take on these giants. Fintech and blockchain are also areas in which the United States and China are active, but again, Europe lacks a fierce player or presence in the top 100.