The European Patent Office announced today that the number of patent registrations reached its highest point ever in 2001. The majority of patents were submitted in the fields of information science and technology.
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Never before have businesses and private inventors been as active in applying for European patents as they have in the past year, said Ingo Kober, President of the European Patent Office (EPO) on Thursday. In 2001, the number of inventions submitted to the EPO in Munich for patent protection increased by nine percent for an all-time record of 158,200 applications in fields ranging from information science, electronics, medical technology and genetic engineering.
Even the number of actual granted patents increased significantly compared to previous years. In 2001, the EPO recognized 34,700 patents, a 26 percent jump from the year before.
According to the statistics, European inventors were especially industrious this past year. Nearly half of all the patent applications came from the 20 member states participating in the European Patent Organization, Kober said during a press conference on Thursday.
An individual breakdown by countries, however, shows that the largest single applicant for European patents was the United States with 8,600 registrations. Germany followed up a close second with 8,100 registrations, and Japan came in third with 6,600. Japan actually had the largest increase in patent applications compared to the previous year. The Netherlands, Great Britain, Sweden and Finland also recorded significant increases in patent applications for 2001.
Increase in high-tech patents
As in the previous year, the fields of high-tech and electronics registered the most patents. Approximately 54 percent of all applications submitted to the EPO came from 10 especially patent-active technical fields.
Inventions in information technology accounted for the most applications (10,800) followed by medical technology (10,200) and electric engineering (7,600). The most significant growth was recorded in data processing, which grew 25 percent to 6,300 applications.
Patent applications in the dual field of biochemistry and genetic engineering increased by nearly 19 percent for 4,200 submissions. Here, member states in the European Patent Organization were especially active, having topped the United States in the number of genetic engineering patents for the first time since 1997.
More work for patent office
Each invention submitted to the EPO for an official patent must be reviewed by a panel of employees in order to ensure the authenticity of the invention and the inventor’s claims for patent protection. In order to handle the significant increase in patent applications for the year 2001, the EPO had to hire considerably more employees to check the validity of all submissions. According to Kober, 5,100 people were employed by the EPO in 2001, 3,00 of whom were patent reviewers. In the previous year, 4,700 people worked for the patent office.
The European Patent Office is not an institutional component of the European Union. It is financially and administratively independent of Brussels and the EU Commission. The EPO’s yearly budget is derived from required patent fees paid by each applicant. A European patent costs roughly 30,000 euro ($28,725), including the price of yearly fees and the one-time sum for receiving the patent.
Because the EPO registered a record budget surplus of 157 million euro ($150 million) this past year, Kober announced on Thursday that his office would consider lowering the patent fee for next year. But a decrease in price might just lead to a further increase in applications and even more work for the patent office.