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Summary of the EPO’s 2018 Annual Report

By William Dearn, Associate

However, the number of completed examinations is up an impressive 18.8%, along with a 20.8% increase in granted patents. In fact, compared to 2014, there were almost double the number of completed European examinations in 2018 and double the number of patent grants. In 2018 the number of completed European examinations was greater than the number of new applications filed, which is unusual – particularly since not all applications proceed as far as examination.

Interestingly, from 2014 to 2017 the number of EPO Examiners increased very modestly, from 4221 to 4378 (an increase of 150 Examiners, or 3.7%). A significant change in the number of EPO Examiners in 2018 seems highly unlikely. To enable only a slightly higher number of Examiners to complete so many more European examinations and grants in 2018 suggests that there may have been fundamental changes in the way applications are processed at the EPO. The EPO estimated that at the end of 2014 it had a stock of work for 26.6 months. It estimates that at the end of 2018 the stock of work was 18.3 months.

Turning to subject-matter areas, the top five technical fields for new applications (by total number of applications filed) were the same as those for 2017: medical technology (with a 5% increase from 2017), followed by digital communication (with a modest 0.7% increase), closely followed by computer technology (up by 3.3%), with electrical machinery, apparatus, energy coming in fourth (4.7% increase), followed by transport in fifth (5.9% increase). Of the top ten technical fields, pharmaceuticals experienced the most growth compared to 2017 in terms of new applications, with a 13.9% increase, followed by biotechnology with a 12.1% increase; these two technical fields also experienced the most growth of the top ten fields between 2016 and 2017. So although electronics-related fields still dominate the top five technical fields for new applications, fields related to life sciences are showing the most growth by a rather large margin.

As in 2017, most applications originate from EPO states, followed by the US and then Japan. Interestingly, comparing the origin of applications in particular technical fields, the only technical field in which more applications originated from the US than EPO states in 2018 was computer technology; this was also the case in 2017, perhaps suggesting that European innovation in this area is lacking when compared to the US. Transport, the fifth most popular technical field for new applications in 2018, saw the biggest difference between the number of applications originating from the US and the number of applications originating from EPO states.

In summary, the situation in terms of top technical fields and the geographical origin of European applications has seen little change in 2018 compared to 2017. However, as mentioned above the number of granted patents and completed examinations has seen a notable increase, especially when compared to the change in the number of European Examiners.