European patent filings are greatly on the rise, according to data from the 2012 annual report of the European Patent Office (EPO).

Some interesting trends and facts emerge from the data published by the EPO.

In terms of residence of applicants, about 25% of all filings at the EPO (European applications and PCT applications) made in 2012 are owned by US residents, while 20% are owned by Japanese residents, 7% by Chinese residents and 6% by Korean residents.

The biggest group of filings is still those owned by residents of the member states of the European Patent Convention. In fact, this group owns about 36% of such filings. This can be easily explained by the fact that of course applicants that reside in the territory of the EPC member states normally have their primary interest in protecting their inventions in their own territory.

However, the figures also show a significant interest from non-European applicants in protecting their inventions in the territory of the EPC, including, as said, US applicants and applicants of the Far East countries (Japan, China and Korea), which together make up about 32.5% of the filings. Indeed, since 2008 the applications filed by Japanese, Chinese and Korean residents have risen virtually constantly, and have increased by 9.6%, a significantly higher increase than that of the US applicants (5.6%) or of European applicants (2.3%).

Among the EPO top filers, almost all applicant companies are in the field of electronics, with the notable exception of one company which is in the field of chemistry. The #1 filer at the EPO in 2012 was Samsung, with 2,289 filings, followed by Siemens (2,193 filings), BASF (1,713 filings) General Electric (1,702 filings) and LG (1,635 filings). The top 20 filers include a majority of companies active in the field of electronics as well (e.g. Qualcomm, Mitsubishi, Ericcson, ZTE, Huawei, etc.), with the notable exception of Bayer as the only pharmaceutical company in the top 20 filers.

In 2012 ,the EPO granted a total of about 65,000 patents. Of these, about half were granted to residents of the EPC states. Once again, the second largest group of grants was for patents owned by the prominent Far East countries (Japan, Korea and China), which received more than 23% of the patents granted by the EPO. The proportion of patents granted to US applicants was slightly more than 22%.

The statistics regarding oppositions (an opposition being the procedure whereby any third party may request that the EPO revoke a patent granted by the EPO itself) are also quite encouraging. In fact, in 2012 only slightly less than 3,000 oppositions were filed. This means that only about 0.05% of the patents granted by the EPO are actually challenged at the EPO by third parties.

The above shows that European patents are evidently becoming an more and more interesting tool for protecting important technological developments in the European territory. This is not surprising, given the evident advantages of European patents over national patents in Europe, the main advantages lying in a single, centralized procedure, carried out in a single language (mostly English), with the patent applications being reviewed by highly specialized Examiners and the resulting patents conferring protection in more than 30 countries at once. European patents should therefore rightly be viewed as the tool of choice for protecting valuable research results and gaining a competitive advantage in the European market.

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