11 May 2021

EPO 2020 filing trends report confirms strong growth in healthcare technologies

A recent report published by the European Patent Office (EPO) shows that despite the disruption caused by the COVID pandemic, the number of EP applications filed in 2020 remained stable overall, whilst showing growth in healthcare and life sciences

Overall, 180,250 applications were filed at the EPO in 2020, which was 0.7% down on the 181,532 applications filed in 2019. Whilst this is positive given the substantial disruption in 2020, we suspect that with the delays associated with the Paris Convention and the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the true effect of COVID is unlikely to be seen in Europe for another year or two. 

Although the total number of EP applications filed in 2020 was down, filings were up in several technical areas including medical technology, digital communication, computer technology, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. The graphic below (published by the EPO) shows the change in each technical area.

Given the ageing populations in developed countries around the world, it is perhaps unsurprising that healthcare technologies (including medical technology, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology) have increased.

Similarly, given the significant investment in computer and telecoms technologies by Chinese and South Korean firms, it is unsurprising that digital communication and computer technology were also up – a trend that is likely to continue in the years ahead, given the public’s insatiable desire for greater and faster data transfer for smartphones and tablet devices.

Further analysis of the EPO data reveals some interesting filing trends for applicants based in different countries; the tables below show the filing activity for applicants based in Japan, China, South Korea and the US.

As is evident from these graphs, filings from applicants based in Japan and the US were down overall, whilst for applicants based in South Korea and China, the filings were up in nearly all technical fields. Indeed, the number of cases filed by Chinese applicants in the general ‘electrical engineering’ field has now surpassed those filed in the same field by Japanese companies. At this rate of increase, it won’t be long before Chinese applicants are filing more EP applications than US-based applicants in this technical field.

The rate of filing by Chinese companies in this area clearly demonstrates China’s desire to dominate and control digital technologies (such as IoT and 5G) that will underpin the next technology revolution. Given the importance of these technologies to the future economic prosperity of all countries, it is perhaps unsurprising there is significant political unease in the West with Chinese dominance in this area.