Trends and main countries of EPO 2020 filings in health technology

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Filing data was recently released by the EPO for 2020. The annual report is always a great opportunity to glean an overview of the economy and trends in Europe, with clues to trends in the rest of the world as well. With 2020 being the first year of the global coronavirus pandemic, it is particularly interesting to observe the trends in light of the major challenges and disruptions we have faced.

The data show an overall drop in deposits of 0.7%, which at first glance seems proportional to recent variations from one year to the next. However, this number masks significant shifts within the sources of these deposits. Compared to 2019, China and Korea increased their EPO filings by around 10% each, while the figures for major EPO member states ranged from -8% in the Netherlands to + 11% in Sweden.

The seemingly insignificant 0.7% overall drop in deposits therefore belies the possible economic ramifications in sectors where deposits are depleted, such as the most depleted transportation sector. However, the feeling is that innovation will return to pre-pandemic levels and continue to address the challenges society faces on an ongoing basis.

As you might expect, innovation in health took center stage. Medical technology was the main field of inventions, with pharmaceuticals and biotechnology being the fastest growing fields. Medical technology took the place of most repositories in 2020 with digital communication in 2019, which has remained consistently strong in 2020.

The biggest globally the countries of deposit in 2020 were the United States, Germany, Japan, China and France. The United States accounted for a quarter of all deposits but was down -4%, China was up 10%, South Korea was up 9%, and Japan was down -1%. All applicants refer to all patent applications in all classes of technology. In contrast, this article only examines types of inventions related to healthcare.

Deposits by EPO member states fell by -1%, with hidden statistics showing -10% in sensor technologies and + 15% in pharmaceuticals. Again, the apparent consistency of the overall picture masks changes in the filing statistics for Member States. The Netherlands saw an overall drop in deposits of 8%, but comes in at no. 4 in medical technology. Belgium is ranked 8th in the ranking according to the number of requests per population.

Figure 1: Evolution of the number of applications filed by country as a percentage from 2019 to 2020

Since innovation in healthcare was so strong, we won’t be looking at general rankings, but rankings in three healthcare-related sectors: pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and medical technology. Dramatic growth has taken place in the top ten filers of these three health sectors mentioned. China’s medical technology deposits grew by 35% and biotechnology by 75%; Denmark’s deposits in pharmaceuticals increased by 42%; and South Korea also posted substantial growth of 31% in biotechnology.

Obviously, companies have focused their work on innovation in healthcare, which has resulted in an increase in the number of patent filings. Medical technology deposits grew 3%, pharmaceuticals 10% and biotechnology 6%. The top 5 depository countries for pharmaceuticals and biotechnology were the same list in different orders of the United States, Germany, France, Switzerland and Japan. Medical technology differs only in the Netherlands, taking Switzerland from top 5 to number 6.

Figure 2: Absolute number of patent applications filed in the top ten countries in each healthcare category in 2019

Figure 3: Absolute number of patent applications filed in the top ten countries in each healthcare category in 2020

If we take a look at the statistics of these countries, we begin to see where these major healthcare economies are directing their investments and interests.

In the United States, the 5 technical fields with the highest number of filings in 2020 were, in order: medical technology, computing, digital communication, pharmacy and biotechnology.

In Germany, the top 5 technical fields with the highest number of deposits in 2020 were, in order: electrical machinery / energy; transport; the measure; other special machines; medical technology.

In France, the top 5 technical fields with the highest number of deposits in 2020 were, in order: transport; medical technology; electrical / energy machines; computer technology; and pharmaceuticals.

In Japan, the top 5 technical fields with the highest number of filings in 2020 were, in order: electrical machinery / energy; transport; digital communication; computer technology; and measure – with medical technology at number 6.

These statistics reveal that industries other than health care are still very active in all of these leading countries. It is interesting to note that transport remains in the lead in France, despite lockdowns, while digital communication – made ever more popular by lockdowns – is still strong in Japan and the United States.

The prevalence of electrical machinery and energy in Germany, France and Japan may also be aided by the challenges of sudden altered demands on national energy grids with populations working from home. The need for automotive fuel has decreased and, as a result, the production of biofuels may have seen a decline in demand. The climate remains a challenge and the effect of the pandemic is unclear, but it seems very likely that the energy source industries have been significantly affected.

There is relatively small number of deposits of pharmaceutical products in relation to medical devices. This may be surprising at first glance when you consider the ubiquitous reporting on vaccine development. Indeed, medical devices have occupied the first place in EPO filings since 2010, being exceeded only once since, in 2019, by digital communications.

We have all seen the sources of the main trends in our daily lives like never before, as travel stopped and we all waited and looked forward to the inventive step of vaccines and ventilators.

Considering the trend of preventive medicine in recent years, this helps to explain why diagnostic and other machines can increase the number of medical device depots despite the undeniable importance and the many efforts invested in a COVID vaccine. -19. The further reason for this is that devices have a shorter journey to market, so there are more incentives to file for each iteration. Biotechnology has also gained prominence in recent years, largely due to the success of gene editing and predictive genetic diagnostics.

Statistics in the pharmaceutical field remind us that it is not just large companies that file patents here. The point is, 1% of claimants accounted for half of all filings, perhaps because pharmaceutical development is so expensive that big companies have the advantage. However, SMEs and public research organizations contributed 5% of all pharmaceutical filings in 2020.

Biotechnology statistics indicate an imminent boom in deposits from Asian countries such as China, South Korea and Japan, with very significant growth rates in deposits. Biotechnological inventions are of particular interest because they can be used at any point on the path from diagnosis to treatment, including in research laboratories as research tools.

We have all seen the sources of the main trends in our daily lives like never before, as travel stopped and we all waited and looked forward to the inventive step of vaccines and ventilators. Many companies have transferred their production in these fields to meet the demands for face masks, disinfectant, ventilators and PPE. The innovators came out strong and, while not on the front lines, have worked tirelessly to provide us with the tools we need to survive this pandemic.

This certainly draws attention to the importance of not only the final product, but also the manufacturing methods. It is questioned whether throughput requirements during the pandemic could have resulted in a higher number of method claims than usual. This would be interesting from a patent drafting perspective, as these are often underestimated or misunderstood in terms of their application. In fact, manufacturing method claims may have different legal consequences in different jurisdictions.

With the increase in the production of face masks and disinfectants, many companies have suspended normal operations to participate. These companies were in fields such as mechanical inventions, being one of the technical fields with less deposits. Perhaps a known sacrifice of time, resources and attention of engineers was made, as the evidence in the decrease in the number of cases.

With the focus on vaccines in the news, there may not be enough credit given to those inventing medical devices, manufacturing blueprints, and any other contribution to the fight against the global pandemic.

Overall, the biotechnology, pharma and medical device sectors offset the slowdown in other sectors.


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