UK-based innovation activity is growing at a healthy rate, according to the latest European filing data

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After a return to growth reported this time last year, UK innovators have continued to go from strength to strength; reporting a significant upturn in patent filing activity in Europe, according to the latest Patent Index, published by the European Patent Office (EPO).

The EPO’s Patent Index Report 2023 reveals that UK-based innovators filed 5,918 European patent applications last year, up 4.2% on the previous year. This increase in filings from the UK contributed to another record-breaking year for the EPO, in which it attracted 199,275 patent applications globally.

Whilst the data shows that the volume of patent applications originating from the leading European countries grew last year, the upturn seen in the UK was strongest. For example, patent applications made to the EPO from innovators in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands increased by 1.4%, 2.7% and 3.5% respectively, whilst those from French innovators fell by 1.5%. This confirms the UK’s strong reputation as a global hub for research science and technological innovation.

Jim Ribeiro, partner and patent attorney at European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers, said: “It is great to see that innovators in the UK and Europe are continuing to produce successful outcomes from their research and development activities and are seeking patent protection in the EU; the world’s biggest single market area.

“For the UK, the 4.2% increase in patent applications is a healthy sign that companies and other publicly funded research organisations and universities are active and generating innovative solutions for key demand-led markets. Over the past decade, the volume of patent applications made to the EPO by UK-based innovators has increased by 24.2%.”

The top five fields of technology that generated the most European patent applications from UK-based innovators in 2023 were computer technology, medical technology, consumer goods, biotechnology and transport.

Unilever remained the top UK filer; filing 575 patent applications at the EPO in 2023 (+18.3% compared to 2022). British American Tobacco was in second place, with 354 patent applications from the UK, followed by Rolls-Royce, with 251 patent applications from the UK. Other top UK filers included Linde (198 filings), BAE Systems (178 filings) and British Telecommunications (161 filings).

From a global perspective, the growth in patent applications made to the EPO in 2023, and their diversity in terms of origin, shows that innovation activity is buoyant around the world. Much of the growth recorded in 2023 was fuelled by a surge in filings from the Republic of Korea (+21%) and further growth from the People’s Republic of China (+8.8%).

Ribeiro added: “Innovation activity is critical to economic prosperity and it is good to see that the UK is gaining recognition as a dynamic place for businesses and scientists to locate their R&D programmes.

“The EPO’s data also reveals that more SMEs than ever before are filing patents, which means that they increasingly recognise the important role that patents play in attracting investment and furthering vital research and development activity.”