The European Patent Office's annual report was presented yesterday by its president, António Campinos. It records nearly 5% more patent applications and a 21% increase in patent grants in 2018. Unlike his predecessor Benoît Battistelli the president did not hold an elaborate press conference in Brussels, instead presenting the key data in a press release. Campinos also broadly refrained from making political statements on the future of the Unified Patent Court, or the quality of patent grants.
With a total of 174,300 patent applications, the EPO recorded an increase on the previous year by 4.6%. The total number of patents granted has also risen significantly, by 21% to 127,600; in 2017 the figure rose by almost 10% to 106,000 patents granted.
Furthermore, almost half (47%) of the applications came from companies in the EPO’s 38 member states. Outside the EPO region the US continues to lead (25%), followed by Japan, China and South Korea with around 22%.
From the South East Asia region, at 13% South Korea records the strongest increase in patent applications in Europe. China, on the other hand, only filed 8.8% more patent applications. This is the lowest rate of increase in the last five years. In 2017, China recorded an increase of just under 17%.
In the 2018 report Siemens replaces Chinese electronics group Huawei as the strongest single applicant. The top five applicants to the EPO include the Korean companies Samsung and LG, as well as the US group United Technologies. The drop in applications by China from 2017 to 2018 may have had an impact on those recorded as being the most registration-friendly companies.
Within Europe, Germany remains the number one patent filing nation, followed by France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
In his first year as EPO president, Campinos expressed his satisfaction with the development of the number of applications and the work of the EPO. He took over from Battistelli in the summer of 2017.
Campinos said of the latest figures, “The results are good news for the European economy. Demand for patent protection continues to grow, which means inventors and businesses see Europe as an attractive and valuable technology market to innovate and invest.”
“Europe therefore needs a competitive and robust patent system, especially given that in the EU, IP-intensive industries account for around 38% of jobs, 42% of GDP and 90% of external trade.”
The authority experienced turbulent times under Battistelli. Campinos declared on the EPO website that 2018 was a successful year for the EPO. “Our production was up and there was a significant increase in the volume of granted patents,” he said.
But he also added, “Performance isn’t just about granted patents and productivity. We’ve kept our focus on quality with new initiatives and improved timeliness.”
With the sharp rise in the number of patents granted, the authority’s critics are likely to resurface. There is simmering concern that the quality of patents will suffer, given the drive to grant more patents quicker.
Last year, a number of patent firms expressed their displeasure in an open letter to Battistelli and the Administrative Council. Campinos has since spoken to the firms several times. Speaking to JUVE Patent, representatives from the firms recently described the atmosphere at the EPO as open and constructive. However, specific proposals have not yet been made.
Regarding the future direction of the EPO, Campinos has so far played his cards close to his chest. He intends to present his strategic plan to the Administrative Council in June. In the meantime, Campinos seems to be exchanging information intensively with EPO employees and other stakeholders.
Nevertheless, on the EPO website Campinos states, “In 2019, we’re going to be developing and starting to implement a new multiannual work plan designed to make a whole host of improvements across the board. We’re confident that those changes will result in better services for our users.”
The new European patent court – a favourite project of the EPO and its former president Battistelli – is not present in this year’s EPO annual report. Should the UPC and the new Unitary Patent come into force, the EPO would be responsible for the filing. The EPO is also involved in the training of UPC judges.
But, even 17 days before the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the future of the UPC remains uncertain. The German Federal Constitutional Court has still not ruled on the appeal against the German ratification laws. It is also unclear how the UK can participate in the UPC despite leaving the EU.
Just over a year ago, Battistelli had hopes for the first unitary patent applications to appear at the end of 2018 or beginning of 2019.
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