Comment: EPO report spotlights promising growth in UK-based innovation activity

UK innovators are going from strength to strength according to the latest insight from the European Patent Office (EPO), says Jim Ribeiro, a partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers.


Findings from the EPO’s Patent Index Report 2023, published in March 2024, have shown a significant upturn in patent filing activity across Europe, following the return to growth reported last year.

According to the latest statistics, UK-based innovators filed 5,918 European patent applications in 2023, up 4.2 per cent on the previous year. This increase in filings from the UK contributed to another record-breaking year for the EPO, in which it attracted 199,275 patent applications globally.

Whilst the data shows that the volume of patent applications originating from the leading European countries grew last year, the upturn seen in the UK was strongest. For example, patent applications made to the EPO from innovators in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands increased by 1.4 per cent, 2.7 per cent and 3.5 per cent respectively, whilst those from French innovators fell by 1.5 per cent. This confirms the UK’s strong reputation as a global hub for research science and technological innovation.

The findings illustrate the growing success of innovators in the UK and Europe as they continue producing successful outcomes from research and development (R&D) activities and seek patent protection in the EU; the world’s biggest single market area.

The 4.2 per cent increase in patent applications for UK-based innovators is a healthy sign that the nation’s companies and other publicly funded research organisations and universities are active and generating innovative solutions for key demand-led markets. Over the past decade, the volume of patent applications made to the EPO by UK-based innovators has increased by 24.2 per cent.


Among the top five fields of technology that generated the most European patent applications from UK-based innovators in 2023 were computer technology, medical technology, consumer goods, biotechnology and transport.

Unilever remained the top UK filer; filing 575 patent applications at the EPO in 2023 (+18.3 per cent compared to 2022). British American Tobacco was in second place, with 354 patent applications from the UK, followed by Rolls-Royce, with 251 patent applications from the UK. Other top UK filers included Linde (198 filings), BAE Systems (178 filings) and British Telecommunications (161 filings).

From a global perspective, the growth in patent applications made to the EPO in 2023, and their diversity in terms of origin, shows that innovation activity is buoyant around the world. Much of the growth recorded in 2023 was fuelled by a surge in filings from the Republic of Korea (+21 per cent) and further growth from the People’s Republic of China (+8.8 per cent).

Innovation activity is critical to economic prosperity so it is promising that the UK is gaining recognition as a dynamic place for businesses and scientists to locate their R&D programmes. The EPO’s data also reveals that more SMEs than ever before are filing patents, illustrating the increasing recognition for the important role that patents play in attracting investment and furthering vital research and development activity.

Innovation and patent filing activity are burgeoning; the next crop of pioneering technologies developed in the UK and Europe could be just around the corner. 

Jim Ribeiro is a partner and patent attorney at European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers.