7 March 2017Patents

EPO grant rate up 40% as US leads way for applications

The European Patent Office (EPO) granted a record number of European patents in 2016, while the US led the charge for applications.

According to a report released today, the EPO granted 96,000 European patents in 2016, an increase of 40% year-on-year, which is due to “effective measures” to improve the EPO’s productivity.

“The figure is an indicator of the growing demand for patent protection from businesses worldwide,” said the EPO.

It also recorded an “unprecedented” level of patent filings in 2016, reaching more than 296,000, an increase of 6.2% compared with 2015.

The five countries of origin with the largest numbers of European patent applications were the US (25%), Germany (16%), Japan (13%), France (7%) and Switzerland (5%).

Patent applications from the US had an “unusual surge” in 2015 because of the one-off effect of a change in US patent law (America Invents Act of 2013), the EPO said.

Now, the results have normalised—down 5.9% on 2015 at 40,076, which is still 9.3% up on 2014 (36,668).

Nearly half of the overall patent filings originated from the EPO’s 38 member states, and there was also strong growth again in applications from China (+24.8%) and Korea (+6.5%).

Chinese applications exceeded ones from Korea for the first time, while applications from Japan declined slightly (-1.9%), continuing the trend of the past few years.

Benoît Battistelli, EPO president, said: “The 2016 results confirm Europe’s attractiveness as a leading global marketplace for innovation.”

He added: “In a rapidly changing political and economic landscape, companies from around the world have kept up their demand for patent protection in Europe.”

Battistelli said that the EPO has responded to this “sustained strong demand” for patents by significantly increasing its performance and maintaining quality standards.

“These results clearly show that the reforms introduced at the EPO in the past five years are effective and reflect the needs of the European economy,” he said.

Morag Macdonald, head of Bird & Bird's international IP group, said: "The significant increase in granted patents suggests that there has also been at least a reasonable increase in applications a couple of years ago at the start of the grant process.”

She explained that this was probably caused by two things: an increase in patent applications across the board in a whole range of industries and the change in the rules which, for a period, caused a very high level of filings in a relatively short period of time.

The other interesting thing to note is the EPO's reference to improved efficiency in examining and granting patents, according to Macdonald.

“Only time will tell if this improved efficiency has been at the expense of the quality of examination and therefore whether new granted patents are more liable to be invalid,” she said.

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More on this story

7 March 2018   A Chinese company has filed the most European patent applications over the course of a year for the first time, according to a report from the European Patent Office.