Patent filings in Europe have leapt to a record high with the majority coming from outside the continent as US and Asian tech companies seek protection for telecoms and biotechnology innovations.

In 2014, filings from the US, Japan and China accounted for 53 per cent of the 274,000 new patents in Europe, according to data from the European Patent Office. Samsung, the South Korean telecoms and technology group, was the most prolific single company, taking top spot with 2,541.

Only one European country made it into the top five for patents: Germany was ranked at number three behind the US and Japan.

In a further sign of the intense competition European innovators face from overseas, China was the highest climber in the rankings, reaching fourth spot after an 18 per cent year-on-year increase in patent filings. Huawei, the telecoms company, was indicative of Chinese companies’ bid to catch up with competitors: it filed 49 per cent more patents than in 2013, making it the fifth most active applicant.

Within the top 10 countries, the UK achieved its fastest rate of growth in patent filings since 2011, outperforming the rest of Europe to rank ninth. UK filings rose 4.8 per cent compared to average growth of 1.2 per cent for Europe as a whole.

“Demand for patent protection in Europe has been growing steadily, and is up for the fifth year in a row,” said Benoȋt Battistelli, president of the EPO. “Europe continues to strengthen its key role as a global hub of technology and innovation for a growing number of companies from around the world.”

Biotechnology was the sector giving rise to most filings, achieving a 12 per cent annual increase, to 5,905. European companies dominated the sector, thanks partly to Europe’s position as a world leader in biofuel technologies.

Dutch biotech company DSM filed almost three times more patents than its closest competitor as it takes significant steps forwards in the development of advanced biofuels made from waste products such as corn cobs, leaves and husks, which it hopes will soon be cost-competitive with petrol.

Top 10 companies
CompanyNumber of applications
Robert Bosch1,438

“After a steady decline in the last decade, it’s a nice surprise to see a sudden unexpected resurgence in biotech patenting,” said Jeremy Philpott, a spokesperson for the EPO.

In recent years, the European patent system has come in for heavy criticism for its high costs and bureaucracy, and it is finally set for an overhaul later this year.

A long anticipated new ‘unitary’ patent system is to be introduced, allowing companies to file just one patent for the whole of Europe instead of having to file multiple times in different countries. It is intended to reduce costs, save time and significantly simplify the process of protecting intellectual property.

In 2014, five European companies reached the top 10 filers of patents. Dutch electronics company Philips climbed to second place with 2,317 applications, a 26 per cent increase on 2013. German industrial groups Siemens, BASF and Bosch, as well as Swedish telecoms group Ericsson, also featured.

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