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Patent Index 2020

Medical technologies take top spot in European patent applications

  • European Patent Office receives 180 250 applications in 2020
  • Patent applications for medical technologies soar, driven by rising of digital communications and computer technology
  • The top five countries of origin are the US, Germany, Japan, China, and France
  • European companies and inventors account for the largest share of filings
  • Sharpest growth in patent applications from US and Japan
  • Huawei tops the applicant ranking, ahead of Samsung, Qualcomm, Ericsson

Munich, 16 March 2021 - Patent filings at the EPO reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on different technology fields. Sharp falls in some sectors have been countered by surges elsewhere, with medical technologies in the lead and major growth in both pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. According to EPO Patent Index 2020, digital communication was the second most active field overall, up 1.0%, with computer technology in third place, up 1.9%. Between them, they comprised over 15% of all filings to the EPO last year. In 2020, the EPO received 180 250 applications, just 0.7% down on 2019 despite the pandemic. There was growth in most other fields related to electricity and energy, indicating the continuing importance of technologies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution as well as for renewable energy, transmission, and storage.

Demand for European patents stable

In 2020, the EPO received 180 250 applications, just 0.7% down on 2019 despite the pandemic. However, this conceals contrasting trends, with falls in demand for patent applications from some countries and in some technologies offset by growth elsewhere. The picture is complex and deserves closer inspection. One thing is certain: the economic impact of the coronavirus is only beginning to be seen through patent filings.

Top applicants

The 2020 ranking reflects continued growth in demand for European patents from China and South Korea. Samsung tops the table, ahead of Huawei, which led the ranking in 2019, and LG in third place. The top 10 includes five companies from Europe (the highest number since 2014), two from South Korea, and one from China, Japan, and the US respectively.

Top technology fields

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 the 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.

Geographic origin of applications

Europe maintained its share of nearly half of all patent applications. There was an increase in filings from companies in Finland (+11.1%), France (+3.1%), and Italy (+2.9%). Amongst the other countries which filed over 1000 applications, many showed a decline in filings from their native companies, including a fall from Germany (-3.0%) which nevertheless still accounted for 14% of all filings. From outside Europe, US firms filed less than the previous year (-4.1%) but maintained their share of a quarter of all applications, followed by companies from Japan (-1.1%). The major countries that saw the greatest growth in absolute numbers in 2020 were China (+9.9%) and South Korea (+9.2%).

For detailed statistics, see the EPO Patent Index 2020 at epo.org/patent-index2020.