EPO records drop in UK patent applications

UK businesses have filed fewer patent applications in Europe for the second year running, according to new data from the European Patent Office (EPO).

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

According to the Patent Index Report 2021, patent applications made by UK businesses to the EPO last year fell by 1.2 per cent to 5,627, down from 5,698 in the previous year. This dip was recorded despite an overall increase in the volume of European patent applications, which rose to a new high of 188,600.

Commenting on the findings, Karl Barnfather, partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers, said: “The slight dip in European patent filings originating in the UK in 2021 is not as marked as that seen in 2020, suggesting that the situation is stabilising, and we are expecting to see a return to growth in next year’s data. Crucially, the UK’s share of European patent filings has remained at three per cent.


“The pandemic has continued to have a considerable impact on the performance of many businesses over the past year. For some this has resulted in a slowdown or pause in innovation activity. However, for UK-based businesses in sectors such as consumer goods, medtech, computer technologies, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and transport, innovation activity has remained strong.”

Consumer goods manufacturers and transport businesses were responsible for increases in European patent filing activity, with the volume of patent applications to the EPO from these sectors of UK industry rising by 55.5 per cent and 31.6 per cent respectively. The third biggest growth in European patent applications came from the pharmaceuticals sector (11.9 per cent).

Unilever was the top UK filer, filing 524 patent applications at 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 filings to the EPO were fuelled by China (+24 per cent) and the US (+5.2 per cent). Applications from South Korea were also up in 2021 (+3.4 per cent), while Japan experienced a slight drop in filings (-1.2 per cent).

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

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