On March 16th, European local time, European Patent Office (EPO) released the Patent Index 2020. According to the index, patent applications originating from China at the EPO grew by 9.9% in 2020, the highest growth rate among the ten leading patent filing countries, to 13,432 applications, setting a new record high.
The EPO's Patent Index 2020 shows that despite the pandemic, the overall number of European patent applications filed in 2020 stood at 180,250, which was nearly on a par with the previous year's, decreasing by 0.7%. The U.S. patent applicants, who account for a quarter of all applications at the EPO, filed 4.1% fewer applications in 2020, followed by Germany and Japan. China ranked the fourth place in the ranking, accounting for 7% of the total countries combined.
The top five countries in 2020 were the U.S. (44,293 applications), followed by Germany (25,954), Japan (21,841), China (13,432) and France (10,554), according to the statistics. The applications filed by technical advanced regions were slightly below the level attained in 2019. Patent applications from the U.S., Europe and Japan were down 4.1%, 1.3% and 1.1% respectively on the previous year, while that from China grew by 9.9%.
In 2019, EPO received 12,247 patent applications from China, up 29.2%, biggest margin among all countries. In 2020, China also moved past France to land at the fourth place, in no small part thanks to the palpable growth in digital communications and computer technology.
According to the index, Medical technology accounted for the most inventions in 2020, retaking the top spot from digital communication, which had been the most active field in 2019. In 2020, the top three technology fields with the most European patent applications from China were digital communication, computer technology and electrical machinery, apparatus, energy. The applications filed by China in digital communications accounted for 26.5% of the total. In 2020, China filed 414 patent applications in medical technology at EPO, up 34.4%.
The 2020 top applicant ranking also reflects the sustained growth of patent applications from China and South Korea. Samsung (with 3,276 applications) heads the table, followed by Huawei (3,113), LG (2,909), Qualcomm (1,711), Ericsson (1,634), Siemens (1,625), Robert Bosch (1,579), Sony (1,477), Royal Philips (1,419) and BASF (1,305). The top 10 includes five companies from Europe, two from South Korea, and one from China, Japan and the US respectively. In parallel, OPPO, Xiaomi, BOE and ZTE from China also among the top 50 application filers.
The number and quality of patents is an important standard to measure the power of a company. Take Huawei as an example, as of the end of 2020, the number of R&D workers in Huawei reached 105,000, accounting for 53.4% of the entire workforce. In 2019, Huawei spent 131.7 billion yuan on R&D, accounting for 15.3% of its revenue that year. Huawei is not the only high flyer in patent, noting the entire country's companies trending markedly.
With the society's advent of IP awareness of the society in general, it is not hard to see an increasing number of Chinese companies have gained their ground overseas through specific patent portfolio planning. "Their contributions to the unprecedented surge in applications in digital technologies demonstrate that China is a driver in technical fields that have become the most important area of innovation," EPO President Antonio Campinos said.
"Chinese companies' IP awareness is on the rise, which can be reflected by the fact that patent applications originating from China at EPO grew at a new record high. The companies should also have a full understanding of overseas IP rules and regulations, especially for export destinations and trans-shipmen points, so that they can survive in the fiercely competition," said Li Shunde, the professor of Law Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Top 5 countries of EPO patent applications
Origin of patent applications at the EPO in 2020
Top 10 applicants at the EPO in 2020
(The chart data come from the official website of the European Patent Office)