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Latest European patent data reveals UK’s research science strength

Published on 15/03/2019
Latest European patent data reveals UK’s research science strength

The volume of patent applications filed by UK businesses in Europe has risen, according to the latest data from the European Patent Office (EPO), and the top-performing fields of R&D are ‘medical technology’, ‘computer technology’ and ‘organic fine chemistry’ 

The Annual Report statistics released by the European Patent Office (EPO) show that patent applications originating in the UK rose by 7.8 percent to 5,736 in 2018; building on growth of 2.4 percent in 2017.  The UK has also retained its 3 percent share of total European patent applications.  

The volume of patents filed by UK businesses related to R&D in the field of medical technology rose by 11.5 percent to 417. Those related to organic fine chemistry also rose by 15.8 percent to 359. 

The increase in the volume of patent applications originating in the UK is above average compared to the overall increase in filings at the EPO, which rose by 4.6 percent to 174,317 in 2018. However, the largest number of applications originated in the US, Germany and Japan and the UK came 9th in the EPO’s list of top-filing nations.  

This data reveals the strength of the UK’s research science in some particularly fast-paced fields of innovation and it is good to see that businesses are continuing to invest in this way, despite the challenging trading conditions. 

Whilst the headline figures are positive, there is still some room for improvement, however. Businesses in Germany are filing four times as many patent applications in Europe as businesses in the UK and businesses in France are filing double. 

Underlying the EPO’s statistics, there is a significant disparity in UK investment in R&D, compared to other nations. In the UK, investment in R&D equates to 1.7% of GDP  - significantly lower than in Germany, where it is 2.9% of GDP, the US where it is 2.7% of GDP and France where it is 2.2% of GDP. The UK Government’s commitment to raise R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 is an attempt to close the gap, but the UK is playing catch up. 

Further investment in R&D is needed to place the UK at the forefront of these important pillars of R&D. In this week’s Spring Statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed plans to invest £200 million in a series of cutting-edge scientific research programmes – among them a genetic research project in Cambridge. He also confirmed plans to publish a long-term plan for research and innovation infrastructure, which is due to be published in the autumn. 

Based on the latest data from the European Patent Office, we can celebrate the achievements of the UK’s biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers. By continuing to invest in research and development activity, we can build on this position of strength in the future. 

Dr Joanna Thurston is a partner and patent attorney at intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers LLP 

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