Patent statistics published by the European Patent Office (EPO) shows that, in 2019 digital technologies, with over 181 000 patent applications, became more prevalent for the first time. The EPO report revealed that the number of patent applications has increased by 4 % from 2018 to 2019.
The rise in patent applications has been fueled by increased research and development of digital communications and computer technologies according to the EPO Patent Index 2019. Digital communication (+19.6%) and computer technologies (+10.2) have been one of the fastest growing areas of digital technologies and is becoming more widespread across all sectors and industries.
Fig.1 Technical fields with most patent applications 2019
Fig. 2 European patent applications in digital communication by country of origin
Chinese companies contributed almost 65% to the growth in digital communication patent applications, while US companies accounted for just 14.6% of the growth. Although South Korean companies had a relatively smaller share of patent applications compared to China, they received a significant share of the growth in digital communication patent applications (+36.1%). EPO member states saw an increase of 3.1% in digital communication patent applications, which had been significantly smaller compared to China, despite its strong share of patent applications on digital communications with the US and China.
Huawei, Ericsson and Qualcomm were among the top 3 companies in terms of share of patent applications in digital communication in 2019.
Fig. 3 Top 10 applicants at the EPO in digital communication-2019
Statistics show that transmission of the digital information and wireless communication networks were the primary drivers of this growth.
Fig. 4 European patent applications in the subfields of digital communication
The United States had the highest percentage of all patent applications in transmission of digital information, with 31% of applications filed in the EPO. EPO member states (27%) and China (24%) also participated in the application, at least as much as the United States.
China had the highest share of patent applications in wireless communication networks, accounting for 30%, while EPO member states and the US shared of patent applications in wireless communication networks, representing 23% and 21 %, respectively.
Computer technology has also contributed to growing the number of patent applications in digital technologies with 10.2% growth at the EPO in 2019. Patent applications for artificial intelligence are more prevalent and therefore the main driver for the growth.
Fig. 6 Top 10 applicants at the EPO in computer technology-2019
Machine learning and pattern recognition; image data processing and generation; and data retrieval has surged substantially on an increasingly rapid, rapidly rising level. Between 2018 and 2019, patent applications in machine learning and pattern recognition have increased by 29%. Applications in image data processing and generation have also jumped, with about 11% in 2019 compared to the previous year. Data retrieval has seen a 4% increase in patent applications from 2018 to 2019.
These data confirm that investment in the digital technologies is strong and that innovation in this area is the focus of the US, China and the European Union in particular. The fourth industrial revolution will include this innovative technological area, and this gives a fundamental insight to why there is more investment with this sector than previous decades.