The volume of patent applications filed by UK businesses in Europe fell by 6.8 per cent in 2020, according to data from the European Patent Office.
The fall in UK patent filing activity to 5,715 applications has been mirrored by other Western countries, notably the Netherlands (8.2 per cent) and Spain (five per cent). Strong growth can be seen in the importance of European patents for Chinese and South Korean innovators who filed 9.9 per cent and 9.2 per cent more applications respectively compared to the previous year. The UK does, however, retain a three per cent share of the total number of patent applications received by the EPO in 2019/20.
In recent years the number of applications originating in the UK has grown with an increase of 6.4 per cent in 2018/19 and 8.3 per cent in 2017/18.
Unilever was the top UK company; filing 528 patent applications at the EPO in 2020. Rolls Royce was in second place, filing 299 patent applications. Other top UK filers included Advanced New Technologies (282 filings), Linde (182 filings) and BAE Systems (159 filings).
Commenting on the findings, Karl Barnfather, chairman of European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers, said: “It is good to see the UK in the top ten list of filing nations again this year, which is an indication of the focus placed on innovation activity. However, there is always room for improvement and some businesses are still not taking full commercial advantage of IP protection.
“The government’s recent decision to increase Corporation Tax could help to persuade more businesses to invest in patent protection in the future, in order to take advantage of Patent Box tax relief, which applies to profits generated from the sale of patented inventions. The 10 per cent reduced rate of Corporation Tax that applies to these profits has now become all the more attractive.”
The EPO’s report reveals a surge in European patent applications for life sciences inventions and digital technologies, which includes technologies enabling 5G networks, and computer technology, including AI-related inventions. The top filing UK sectors were computer technology and medical technology.
Barnfather said: “Overall we can see that life sciences innovation has been in the spotlight globally for obvious reasons in 2020. The UK has a strong global reputation for research and development in this field and the ongoing research linked to Covid-19 will continue to generate European patent applications in the future.
“The UK’s excellence in computer and telecoms tech, as well as software innovation, is also globally recognised and activity levels over the past year have been on a par with those we have seen in other global innovation centres. This suggests the slowdown in patent filing activity seen at the EPO this year, is not likely to continue.”