China Gains on Top Filers at European Patent Office

“The number of patent applications…underlines that innovation remained robust last year despite economic uncertainties around the globe.” – European Patent Office

U.S. companies and inventors still filed more patent applications with the European Patent Office (EPO) than any other country, according to its Patent Index 2022, which was released today. The index showed that U.S. patent applications numbered 48,088, a 2.9% increase from 2021. However, China’s filings jumped by 15.1% over 2021, keeping it in fourth place out of the top five countries of origin for applications and narrowing the gap between it and Japan, the number three filer.

The EPO classified patent applications by country, company, technology field, and region. California was the region with the most patent applications, accounting for one-third of U.S. applications.

Overall, EPO patent applications were up by 2.5%, and the biggest increases came from China (15.1%) and South Korea (10%). Semiconductors and digital communications were the biggest growth areas in terms of technology.

According to the EPO, “the number of patent applications, an early indicator of companies’ investments in research and development, underlines that innovation remained robust last year despite economic uncertainties around the globe.”

Leading Technology Fields

According to the EPO, U.S. companies filed the most patent applications in medical technology, computer technology, digital communication, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology. In medical technology, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology, the United States was head and shoulders ahead of other countries.

Germany filed the second most patent applications in these three categories, but German companies paled in comparison to patent applications from the United States. U.S. companies filed 5,866 European patent applications, over 4,000 more than Germany.

Pharmaceutical patent applications were a particular stand out for U.S. companies, who accounted for 40% of the patent applications in this category. These companies filed 3,692 pharmaceutical patent applications, a 5.5% yearly increase and over 3,000 more than Germany.

The United States was also a clear leader in biotechnology applications with 2,756 about 2,000 more than Germany.

“Innovators are… working towards a smarter future, as the fourth industrial revolution takes hold of our lives, sectors and industries – and spreads far into other areas from transport to healthcare,” said EPO President António Campinos.

Growing Trends

While the EPO saw large growth in U.S. companies applying for pharmaceutical companies, some of the biggest increases were in digital communications and the field of electrical machinery, apparatus, and energy.

U.S. companies filed 35.5% more patent applications in digital communications technology than in 2021. This made the United States the leader in this category with 5,020 patent applications with China close behind at 4,705.

The category electrical machinery, apparatus, and energy is a field consisting of inventions in clean energy technologies. U.S. companies filed 18.1% more applications in this technology than they did in 2021.

“When it comes to the promise of green innovation, there has been solid, sustained growth in filings related to clean technologies and other means that create, transfer and store electricity,” said Campinos.

The Battle over Semiconductors

The growing battle over the semiconductor supply chain is also reflected in the EPO’s 2022 Patent Index.

Both the United States and China increased semiconductor European patent applications by just over 50%. Austria, Chinese Taipei, and the Netherlands also had large increases in semiconductor patent applications. Campinos referred to the growth in this sector as “relentless.”

The United States has been working on a deal with Japan and the Netherlands to impose export controls on semiconductor technology to China. Politicians in the United States have also been keen to increase domestic semiconductor manufacturing.

Leading Companies and Regions

The growth in U.S. patent applications was fueled by Qualcomm, which nearly doubled its European patent applications to 2,966 in 2022. It became the top U.S. filer with the EPO and led patent applications in digital communication, ahead of competitors like Huawei and Samsung.

Raytheon was the second-highest U.S. patent filer with the EPO at 1,539 patent applications. The third-highest U.S. filer was Alphabet, which increased its filings by 10%.

Other U.S. companies that increased their patent applications include Johnson & Johnson (30.1% increase), Intel (29.9), and Apple (55.4%).

And in terms of region, California was the clear winner with 16,139 European patent applications. Companies and inventors from California filed for nearly the same amount of patent applications as those originating from China. California patent applications were 85% of China’s volume and 75% of Japan’s.

California accounted for 33.6% of U.S. patent applications with the EPO. The next highest states were Massachusetts (7.3% share), New York (5.4% share), and Texas (4.8% share).



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