British innovation continues to grow in Europe

Published: 7 March 2018

British businesses are increasingly recognising the importance of protecting their innovations with patents in European markets. 

The European Patent Office’s Annual Report 2017, published today (March 7), shows that UK companies filed 5,313 patent applications - an annual increase of 2.4%. 

This is the fourth consecutive year of growth, showing the UK on an upward trend and keeping pace with the European average patent application growth of 2.6%. 

The number of European patents granted to British companies and inventors by the EPO also increased last year by 6.3% to 3,116. 

CIPA President Stephen Jones said: “The UK is a centre for innovation and creativity and it is good to see this reflected in an increase in European patent applications filed by UK companies. UK patent attorneys are proud to play their part in helping those companies obtain protection for their inventions via the European patent system. The UK has been part of that system since its inception, and it will be unaffected by the UK leaving the EU.”

The five most active countries at the EPO were the US, Germany, Japan, France and China. The UK maintained its 3% share of total European patent applications and ranks ninth overall. 

For the third running Rolls Royce was the UK’s most innovative company at the EPO (372 applications), followed by Unilever (222), BAE Systems and British Telecom (both with 170), and Glaxo Smith Kline (110). 

The University of Oxford was again the highest-ranked UK academic institution, up from 12th position last year to tenth in 2017. 

Medical technology took over from Transport as the UK’s main technology field with 364 patent applications at the EPO in 2017, an increase of 7.1% over 2016. Measurement tech rose from third to second place with a 2.2% increase. Transport saw a decrease of 9.3% in 2017 and is now the UK’s third most important technology at the EPO. 

Within the ten most active technologies, mechanical elements (+50%), biotechnology (+25.3%), civil engineering (+20.2%), pharmaceuticals (+15.7%) and organic fine chemistry (+14.4%) saw the largest increases in applications.

Greater London topped the UK regional ranking with a 32.6% share of all patent applications at the EPO and also climbed one place to number 8 in the ranking of leading European regions for patent applications.

The next most innovative regions were East of England (11.8% share), North West England (10.9% share), South East England (9.6% share) and West Midlands (9.1% share). Strongest growth was recorded in North East England (+15.8%), Greater London (+10.6%), Scotland (+9.7%) and Wales (+7.4%).

“In terms of patents, 2017 was a positive year for Europe," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. “The growing demand for European patents confirms Europe's attractiveness as a leading technology market.”