The EPO has recently issued its annual report for 2020, a difficult year for most by all accounts. However, despite the challenges of the pandemic, demand for European patents remained strong.
The overall number of new filings was stable, down just 0.7% from 2019, and in many areas patent activity increased.
In particular, the medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals sectors saw significant increases in the number of patent filings in 2020 as compared with 2019. This is unsurprising, given the global effort to assist the healthcare sector during the pandemic. However, it also reflects a longer term trend of investment. An increasing and aging population presents many opportunities for combining traditional medicine and technological advance and, as identified in the report, “Healthcare is no longer just about medicines and vaccines (i.e. the pharmaceutical sector). Advances in diagnostic devices like X-ray machines and MRI scanners, as well as prosthetic implants and surgical tools, has led to a boom in patenting in the field of medical technology”.
Other areas of growth included digital communication, computer technology, electrical machinery, apparatus, and energy. Again, this is unsurprising given the digital industries have been central to the transition to online working, and maintaining contact with friends and family despite restrictions on social mixing. In the longer term, the report identifies innovation in 5G communication and artificial intelligence as on the rise, and, despite the digital communication and computer technology sectors impressively accounting for over 15% of all European patent applications filed last year, patent activity in these sectors is expected to increase further over the coming years.
As the digital transformation of the economy accelerates, Europe remains a robust technology market. Having soared in 2019, digital communication and computer technology made more modest gains last year. Medical technology returned to top spot (+2.6%), while pharmaceuticals and biotechnology surged, up +10.2% and +6.3% respectively. In 2020, the top ten fields accounted for almost 55% of all European patent applications