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Forget the US, when it comes to patents per person Switzerland rules the roost in Europe

The European Patent Office has put out a press release providing some information on patent filing and awards activity in 2012. It reports all time highs for both applications received (258,000) and grants made (65,700), up 5.7% and 5.8% respectively. According to EPO president Benoît Battistelli: “This new peak in European patent filings for the third year in a row shows that companies from Europe and around the world are continuing to seek protection for their inventions, and that Europe remains an attractive market for new technologies.” It is, he says, “part of a consistent, long-term trend, and is clear evidence of the confidence of industry in the value of European patents".

Alongside the press release, the EPO has provided a table which shows the top 50 countries of origin for filings during 2012. Despite steep rises in applications form Asia, the US keeps its number one slot, with Japan second and Germany, the top European country in third; China follows in fourth and Korea comes fifth. All in all, it is pretty much the same as last year.

What I thought would be interesting would be to look at the top 20 countries of origin and then do a table based on applications and population. So, using the handy WorldAtlas.com country by country population guide, I divided the number of patent applications filed at the EPO from a country by that country’s population. The results see a very different order to the top 20 the office produces:

1. Switzerland (7th in EPO table) – 7.8 million population /953 inhabitants per application

2. Finland (13) – 5.3 million/1,881

3. Sweden (11) – 9.3 million/1,990

4. Germany (3) – 82 million/2,371

5. Japan (2) – 127 million/2,471

6. Denmark (17) – 5.5 million/2,483

7. Netherlands (9) – 16.5 million/2,596

8. Austria (16) – 8.3 million/3,458

9. Korea (5) – 50 million/3,502

10. Israel (19) – 7.6 million/4,316

11. Belgium (15) – 10.8 million/4,417

12. United States (1) – 310 million /4,861

13. France (6)  – 65.5 million/5,471

14. Canada (12) – 34.2 million/8,660

15. United Kingdom (8) – 62 million/9,167

16. Australia (18) – 22.4 million/11,827

17. Italy (10) – 60 million/12,750

18. Spain (14) – 47 million/18,673

19. China (4) – 1.35 billion/71,648

20. India (20) – 1.2 billion/920,245

What does this tell us? Probably not that much. However, it’s worth noting that in the IAM table, the top four countries are all members of the European Patent Organisation, as opposed to just the one (Germany) in the EPO table.

Germany apart, the top European countries all have relatively low (under 20 million) populations, which may indicate how the filing activities of just a few entities affect results. As far as I can see, the EPO has not supplied the company filing figures for last year; but if you look at the numbers for 2011, you’ll see that Ericsson of Sweden filed 1,148 patent applications, Philips of the Netherlands filed 1,759 and Nokia of Finland filed 419. The country totals for Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland in 2012 were 4,674, 6,355 and 2,818 respectively; or put another way, the 2011 Ericsson, Philips and Nokia numbers are 24.5%, 27.67% and 14.86% of the overall Swedish, Dutch and Finnish amounts for 2012. Of course, filing figures for each of the three companies could have been very different last year, but that is unlikely. Looked at in that way, the performance of Switzerland is pretty amazing (though pharma is bound to be a large component of its score); as are the results for Denmark and Austria, neither of which has a dominant industry player.

On the other hand, as a Brit I do not like the look of the UK’s performance at all, especially as the story is a similar one in other parts of the world too. It is hardly consolation that both Spain and Italy are doing even worse. Looking at the bottom two places, the gap that India has to make up on China is vast. And what would happen to the world’s patent offices if the Chinese ever got to, say, Australian or Canadian levels of output? There would be meltdown!!

Joff Wild
IAM Magazine
17 January 2013

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RE: Forget the US, when it comes to patents per person Switzerland rules the roost in Europe

If you do the exercise on the entire top 50 list and start to look at inventor residence some interesting trends emerge.

Firstly if the entire top 50 list is recategorised by population* per application the top five jurisdictions are Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Barbados and Finland. Interestingly the top four have quite friendly tax regimes. While one cannot draw conclusions about tax effects from this data alone there is a strong suggestion that tax does play a role in patenting dynamics around the world.

Ireland is a good example and is a jurisdiction where we track patent publications in some detail. It comes 26th by number of applications and 20th by population per application putting it between Singapore and Canada on the latter measure.

Obviously we don't have application data for 2012 but we can look at the number of European patents granted to Irish resident applicants in 2012 and we find that of these only 45% had any Irish resident inventors. There is strong evidence based on the identity of the applicants to support the assumption that the 55% of patents with Irish resident applicant but foreign resident inventors reflect a tax driven assignment of patent ownership. If we strip this proportion out of the equation, Ireland moves back down the list to 26th with roughly 16,000 persons per application putting it between New Zealand and Cyprus.

Fred Logue, New Morning IP on 20 Jan 2013 @ 11:12

RE: Forget the US, when it comes to patents per person Switzerland rules the roost in Europe

Joff, I have always looked at the per capita figures and on this basis I have been flagging for years that the UK is going backwards not forwards as is often the spin. These observations hardly create a ripple of interest. If you look at the trend since the EPO opened its doors for business and look at PCT statistics you see that the UK stands out as the single Western economy that is in significant innovation decline. This has fundamental implications for the UK now and in the future but our politicians are blind to this.

It reminds me of the World War II anecdote. The designs for the fuse mechanism used in German bombs that were difficult to diffuse was freely available in the specification of a published UK patent application filed by the German inventor before the war. Nobody had the gumption to look at patents so many brave men needlessly perished. Not much has changed today frankly.

I agree with Fred's analysis. Having looked at this in some detail over the years I have come to the conclusion that one needs to focus on inventor residence to get an accurate picture.

One of the sad things is that patent data is pregnant with information if only one asks the right questions or is bothered to ask any question. But if the answer is an inconvenient truth the questions don't get asked.

Nick White

Tangible IP

Nicholas White, Tangible IP on 21 Jan 2013 @ 23:32

RE: Forget the US, when it comes to patents per person Switzerland rules the roost in Europe

We carried out more analysis of inventor residence over the set of 2012 granted US patents and they reveal some interesting trends. The first is that there is a higher proportion of resident inventors for assignees in "industrialised" countries (UK included) when compared with "financialised" countries. This is a strong indication of the use of patent assignments for tax planning.

Our results for selected countries are summarised here:


So in the case of German, US and UK resident assignees 90% of grants had resident inventors whereas for countries such as Ireland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein the proportion was 30% or less. Barbados is a stark example where not one US granted patent to a Barbados resident had a Barbados resident inventor. In fact the vast majority of Barbadian invention was due to a single well known medical device manufacturer. However this was sufficient to propel this small Caribbean island into the top 50 filers of European patents.

In Ireland in 2012 Irish resident inventors were granted 40% more US patents were assigned to US firms than were assigned to Irish firms.

While Nick notes that the UK is in decline in terms of numbers of grants at least the IP produced by UK inventors remains by and large in UK ownership. The picture in Ireland is slightly more complex since it seems that the ownership and control of a large proportion of the IP resulting from R&D is leaving the state.

Overall it cannot be denied that there may be unique factors at play in different countries, but my sense of it is that patent grants to residents of countries such as Ireland need to be studied carefully before conclusions are drawn about the state of innovation there.

Fred Logue, New Morning IP on 22 Jan 2013 @ 22:39

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