5 April 2022Alex Baldwin

EU patent filings soar after 2020 dip

Patent applications in Europe reached record levels in 2021 despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report by the European Patent Office (EPO).

The EPO has confirmed that it had received a milestone 188,600 patent applications last year in a “significant rebound” compared to 2020, which saw 180,417 filings.

The EPO’s Patent Index 2021, published today, April 5, recorded an uptick in patent applications across nine of the top 10 most patent active fields, with digital communication and computer technology recording the strongest growths.

Overall, filings at the office grew 4.5% year-on-year following a dip of -0.6% in 2020, compared to 2019 during which the EPO recorded  181,532 filings.

EPO president António Campinos said: “The strong demand for patents last year shows that innovation has remained robust. It highlights the creativity and resilience of innovators in Europe and worldwide.

“They have filed higher numbers of patent applications and the strong growth in digital technologies provides compelling evidence of the digital transformation taking place across all sectors and industries.”

Patent applications in Europe are growing, but not from UK

However, the volume of patent applications filed by UK businesses in Europe fell slightly for the second year in a row in 2021, in part due to a pandemic-related hangover in research and development activity affecting some industry sectors. According to the report, patent applications made by UK businesses to the EPO last year fell by 1.2% 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.

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 3%.

“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.”

Unilever was the top UK filer, filing 524 patent applications at the EPO in 2021. Nerudia was in second place, filing 218 patent applications. Other top UK filers included British American Tobacco (216 filings), Linde (196 filings) and BAE Systems (178 filings).

Filing breakdown

Digital communication was the largest growth area for patent filings over 2020, up 9.4% year-on-year and narrowly overtaking medical technology as the technical field with the most patent filings. Computer technology was the third strongest field with a 9.7% increase in filings.

The largest growth areas were audio-visual technology and semiconductors, which saw a 24% and 21% uptick in patent applications over 2020, but did not break the top ten technological fields.

Patent activity for pharmaceuticals and biotechnology also saw a boom, with an increase of 6.9% and 6.6% each.

The US continues to hold the top spot of patent filing countries at the EPO, having filed 46,533 patents in 2021, a 5.2% climb year-on-year. Germany and Japan took the second and third spots with 25,969 and 21,681 filings respectively.

China saw a substantial increase in the number of patent applications, taking the fourth spot with 16,665, a 24% increase compared to its filings in 2020. This continues the country’s trajectory for the past few years, with the number of patent applications from China quadrupling in the past decade.

Chinese telecom giant Huawei also filed the highest number of patent applications in 2021, overtaking last year's most prolific filer Samsung. LG and Ericsson made up the third and fourth largest filers respectively.

“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," said Barnfather.

There was also marked growth for Swedish, Finnish and Danish companies, which increased their number of patent applications to the EPO by 12%, 11.2% and 9.2%, respectively.

The EPO also noted that a “significant proportion” of filers last year were small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which filed one in every five patent applications last year.

Did you enjoy reading this story?  Sign up to our free daily newsletters and get stories sent like this straight to your inbox

Today’s top stories

Peloton gets USITC probe into rival's exercise machines

Penja pepper’s GI: a major step forward for African IP

Already registered?

Login to your account

To request a FREE 2-week trial subscription, please signup.
NOTE - this can take up to 48hrs to be approved.

Two Weeks Free Trial

For multi-user price options, or to check if your company has an existing subscription that we can add you to for FREE, please email Adrian Tapping at

More on this story

12 February 2021   An EU expert group on standard-essential patents has failed to reach a consensus on the future of SEP licensing, drawing criticism from both sides of the debate between SEP owners and implementers.
3 March 2022   In a loss for The EU Intellectual Property Office, an EU general court has overturned a decision cancelling a word sign for ‘Mood Media’, first registered by a Dutch company more than a decade ago.