If there was a Patent Olympics focused just on UK patent filings, which countries would come out on top? This [very] contrived question is answered by some data released in August 2017 by the UK Intellectual Property Office about UK patent filings in 2015 and 2016. The patents spreadsheet gives a breakdown of the number of patent applications according to the country of residence of the applicant. Equivalent data was also released a few years ago for UK patent filings in 2013 and 2014.
On the basis that a patent application is a good indication of the market potential in a particular country, this data arguably gives a snapshot into the extent of expected trade in innovative technology in the coming years between the UK and various countries around the world.
Which countries are in the lead?
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Unsurprisingly, the USA, China, Japan and Germany all feature in the top 5 for filing patent applications in the UK in 2016. In fact, from 2013-2016, the total number of UK patent applications filed by US-resident applicants exceeds the UK patent filings of the next seven countries combined. There would certainly seem to be a special patent relationship between the UK and the USA.
However, digging deeper into the data, the patent filings from European Union countries can be aggregated. The highest numbers of EU-based filings come from Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, France and Finland. Once the data has been aggregated, then UK patent filings from EU-resident applicants are in second place behind the USA for 2013-2016, with around 8600 applications to the USA’s 11,100 or so*. This reinforces the idea that the EU is a key trading partner for us, given that a significant number of UK patent filings originate from the EU.
Other interesting points to note:
- Norway and Switzerland both place highly, with honourable mentions to Canada and Taiwan.
- There were nearly 2.5x as many patent filings from applicants based in China in 2016 relative to 2013 (which is small fry compared to recent Chinese patent filing figures);
- Out of the blue, Antigua and Barbuda went from zero filings (2013-2015) to 83 UK patent filings (2016). Coincidentally, it appears that personal income tax in that country was abolished as of April 2016. Must be paradise over there…
The UK is still on course to leave the EU by March 2019 (the EU Withdrawal Bill has cleared its second reading and is currently being considered by a Committee of the whole House), seemingly regardless of whether negotiations with the EU yield a positive outcome. It remains to be seen whether leaving the EU will have a cooling effect on the number of UK patent filings by EU-resident applicants.
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Given the long pendency of EU trade negotiations, the UK is naturally looking to re-establish independent trading relationships with non-EU countries. Since taking office in July 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May has conducted overseas trips to a number of countries.
Leaving aside the EU countries, her destinations have included the USA, China, Switzerland, India, Turkey, and Japan. From a patents perspective, trips to Norway, Canada, Taiwan and Australia should also be near the front of the queue. Nonetheless, it is clear that the USA is the biggest overseas player as far as UK patent filings are concerned, so another visit to see Donald Trump should not be avoided.
*Although there were more than 11,000 UK patent applications from US-resident applicants, UK-resident applicants accounted for the vast majority of UK patent applications from 2013-2016, with nearly 59,000 applications filed.