The European Patent Office (EPO) has recently published its 2016 Annual Report (Annual Report 2016). The report includes statistics on filings, as well as indicators of the productivity of the EPO in processing applications.
The overall figure
The European patent process has long had a reputation for being relatively slow with the examination procedure taking on average over 30 months. To address this, the EPO launched its Early Certainty initiative in July 2014 with the aim of providing a search report within six months of filing. The EPO extended this to the examination and opposition stages in July 2016. This appears to have already borne fruit with the grant of European patents increasing by an impressive 40% over the 2015 figures – meaning a total of 95940 patents were granted in 2016. This increase appears to be partly due to greater productivity, with a 20% increase in examinations being carried out and only a modest 2% rise in the number of examiners. Our attorneys have also noticed Examiners being increasingly proactive in suggesting amendments to obtain allowance during the examination procedure.
EPO President Benoît Battistelli indicated in the Annual Report that the increase in productivity is without any compromise on quality. It is probably too soon to say whether this is the case; we will have to watch the number of patents which are opposed and revoked over the next few years to form a clearer view on this.
Where are the filings coming from?
Almost 60% of a total of nearly 160 thousand filings at the EPO are from PCT international patent applications. These European regional filings increased by around 6.5% on the 2015 figures which appears to have been spurred on by an almost 25% increase in filings from China. Filings from the US accounted for largest number of filings from a single country at 25% of all filings with China accounting for just 5%. European countries accounted for 48% of all filings.
What industries are filing?
In terms of technology, medical technology, which includes medical instruments, continued to be the sector with the most number of application filed with over 12 thousand applications. The US was the single largest originator of these applications accounting for around 37%.
In the area of digital communication, China showed a significant increase in activity with around 20% of all applications filed (an increase of 10%) behind the US with 26% of all filings in this field. The Chinese company Huawei filed the most applications in this field with 2390 filings and nearly 60% more than Ericsson with the second largest number of filings.
Philips, Huawei and Samsung took the top three places in terms on numbers of applications in 2016 accounting for around 4.5% of all filings between them and demonstrating continued high activity in their technical fields.
Pharmaceuticals showed a drop of around 5% in filings while the area of engines pumps and turbines remained largely stable.
The area of electrical machinery, apparatus and energy showed the greatest increase in filings followed by transport with increases of 5.1% and 3.6% respectively. The increases in these sectors are likely due to increased interest in energy efficiency as well as electric and autonomous vehicles. Our own research in these areas has found that in the field of autonomous car technologies, patent applications have risen significantly, with over 20 thousand applications worldwide in 2015.
We welcome the EPO’s efforts to increase productivity and improve certainly, which we hope will make European patent filings more attractive to applicants. With the examination period being reduced, this should have the benefit of reducing the overall cost of the maintenance fees payable to the EPO by applicants during the prosecution of their cases. We hope that the increased productivity of the EPO will not be to the detriment of quality. We will monitor this closely and continue to work with our clients to provide the best possible outcomes.