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Healthcare innovation main driver of European patent applications in 2020


16 Mar 2021


Innovation & Enterprise
  • Steady demand for patent protection at the EPO despite pandemic
  • Data shows stark contrasts among technologies and countries of origin
  • Healthcare inventions on the rise, transport sector decreases
  • Strong growth from China and South Korea; European, Japanese and US inventors file fewer patent applications
  • Samsung, Huawei and LG top the applicant ranking

Munich, 16 March 2021 – Statistics published today by the European Patent Office (EPO) show that innovation in healthcare drove patenting activity in 2020: Medical technology was the leading field for inventions in terms of volume, while pharmaceuticals and biotechnology were the fastest-growing areas.

Despite the pandemic, the overall number of European patent applications filed in 2020 was nearly on a par with the previous year’s, decreasing by 0.7%. The EPO received 180 250 patent applications in total last year, which was slightly below the record level attained in 2019 (181 532).

“The EPO’s Patent Index for 2020 shows that demand for patent protection has remained high. Overall, patenting activity has been robust, even though it fluctuated across technology sectors and economic regions. While this is a conclusive set of results for the year, it is far from presenting a complete picture of the longer-term effects of the pandemic. Those, I’m sure, are yet to be seen. And although we can’t predict with any certainty the patent trends that will emerge in the coming months or years, we do know that it is innovation, research and science that will lead to a healthier world, and to stronger and more sustainable economies. Because innovation, supported by a strong IP system, is the motor of recovery, in every sense of the word,” said EPO President António Campinos.

Life sciences inventions surge, digital technologies remain strong, transport down
Among the leading technical fields, pharmaceuticals (+10.2%) and biotechnology (+6.3%) showed the biggest increases in terms of patent filings. Medical technology (+2.6%) accounted for the most inventions in 2020, retaking the top spot from digital communication, which had been the most active field in 2019.

The previous growth champions, digital communication (which includes technologies enabling 5G networks) and computer technology (including AI-related inventions), continued to show strong patenting activity, ranking second and third respectively, and growing by 1.0% and 1.9% on 2019. Meanwhile, transport showed the largest drop (-5.5%), especially in the sub-fields of aviation and aerospace (-24.7%), and to a lesser extent automotive (-1.6%).