World-class patents in cutting-edge technologies: Where Does Europe Stand?

EU patents: Europe has been losing ground in innovation over the past two decades. While there are still technologies where European countries are in a good position, they need to improve in the field of digitalization. Here is a summary of the findings from our new study.

Using an innovative methodology to investigate the innovation landscape

We took the top ten percent of active patents in 58 cutting-edge technologies between the year 2000 and 2019. We took into account market coverage (a larger market weighs more), patent citations by official examiners (in relation to all citations of the concerning year), and the active patent portfolio (only those patents which are not outdated and where the fees are paid). This approach offers a more realistic image of the worldwide patent situation as only those that are really important get counted.

United Kingdom — Europe’s digital powerhouse

Overall, the United Kingdom’s share of world-class patents has declined, but the UK still shows some strength in the technology fields of health, digitalization, and security. In the European context, the UK’s muscle in digital technologies is remarkable as European countries do generally not perform very well in this technology field. It holds the top 5 positions in four out of six technologies. Weaknesses are prevalent in the fields of mobility, materials, and infrastructure.

France — Refaire le monde? Pas du tout!

Like other European countries, France shows strengths in health technologies. Besides, air- and spacetech is to mention as an outlier as it is clearly the one in which France performs best. However, the overall picture for France is rather gloomy. They have lost substantial ground in most technologies and across all technology fields: From 40 top 5 positions in 2000, France has declined to 11 top 5 positions in 2019.

Germany — Still the European champion but no longer strong across the board

In most cutting-edge technologies, Germany leads the European innovation landscape. It does not hold the most world-class patents in any technology but takes second place in seven. Four of them are in the field of health technologies (precision medicine, vaccines, diseases, gentech), while the remaining three are from different technology fields (wind energy, defense, additive manufacturing). However, Germany shares the problem of being weak in digital with most European countries.

Europe — Beware of Brexit

Digital technologies have had large positive spill-over effects on other technologies. Given the United Kingdom’s strength in this field, Brexit could have a very harmful impact on Europe’s innovation power. Maintaining close ties to the United Kingdom and improving its own capacities at the same time will prove crucial for Europe’s future success. Our results show that research cooperation does indeed pay off: European countries are strong in those technologies where they cooperate.

Read the full study here.

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