By Alex Polyansky Feb. 23, 2019

A Comparative Analysis of the Patenting Trends in the US and Europe


The United States and Europe have a complicated relationship, falling somewhere in between rivalry and partnership. Admittedly, their liaison differs from any other in history as at one point, they shared half of the global economy. Interesting insights about their unique correlation emerge from the patenting trends of the two countries. Take a look at some of them:

Patent Applications

Europe is far behind the US in terms of the total number of patent applications. In 2016, Europe had a total of 159,358 applications and took the fifth position globally. The US, on the other hand, came in second with 605,571 applications. Similar trends prevailed in 2017, with Europe submitting 167,000 applications and the US, 606,956. Both remained in the same positions as the previous year.

International Filings

When it comes to international patent filings, the US once again prevails over Europe as it has traditionally taken the lead position globally. In 2017, it had a total of 215,918 international applications while Europe only had 98,000.

Notably, the number of international applications in Europe exceeds domestic ones which were around 68,000. However, US trends differ remarkably as the number of domestic applications is almost twice that of international ones.

US Patent Applications Growing in Europe

According to an announcement by the European Patent Office (EPO), the number of US applications in Europe increased significantly from 2016 to 2017. US companies and inventors in 2017 filed a total of 42,300 applications in 2017, compared to 39,998 in 2016. That difference marked an increase of 5.8% year-on-year.

At the same time, the US was the top filing country at the EPO, with a 26% share from the 2017 total. Comparatively, the share of applications from EPO states was less than half of the total, at 47%. The 2016 trend was more or less the same, with Europe getting 48% of all applications and the US having 25%.

Conversely, only about 46,000 of the more than 600,000 applications made in the US in 2016 originated from Europe. But just like in Europe, more than half of the patents filed in the US have foreign origins.

One of the advantages of filing in Europe is that successful patents are considered valid in more than 40 European countries. This might probably explain US companies’ high affinity for European patents.

Insights from the US and European Patenting Trends

Small Businesses and Startups Filing Patent in Europe

In Europe, large enterprises are not the only ones applying for patents. From the total number of applications in 2017, 24% were from small and medium-sized enterprises as well as individuals. A further 7% came from public research institutes and universities. This goes against the general perception that only large conglomerates file for intellectual property (IP) protection.

Approval Rates

The approval rate for patent applications in Europe is considerably higher than that of the United States. Members of the general public have the option to oppose an application within nine months from the date of grant publication. In 2017, only 3.7% of all applications were opposed under this context. Furthermore, the EPO approved 73% of all applications, rejecting only 4,072 applications.

In the US, the situation is vastly different, with only about half of all applications emerging successful. Considering the high cost and complexity of the process, this is a worrying fact. However, innovators can still protect their IP by filing a provisional patent to get patent pending status. This process is a lot less cost-intensive and offers a procedure that is easy to follow for entrepreneurs looking to benefit from IP protection.

Interestingly, the US is the global leader with the highest number of pending applications, a total of 1.1 million in 2016, against Europe’s 668,000.

Lessons the US Can Learn from Europe

Looking at the statistical aspects of comparison between the two countries, it is clear that the US has an advantage in terms of numbers. However, inventors and innovators can glean lessons from European trends. First, even SMEs and startups can benefit from IP protection. Second, given the high cost and low approval process in the US, they can take advantage of the patent pending process in the US first, then file a PCT in Europe. This strategy affords them time to get the resources needed to apply for a filing of a PCT in Europe or a non-provisional in the US while enjoying protective features and working on project development.

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