Digital communication patent applications surge

Out-Law News | 18 Mar 2020 | 10:15 am | 1 min. read

The European Patent Office (EPO) has recorded a 20% increase in the volume of patent applications filed in the field of digital communications as businesses seek an edge in the race to develop '5G' technology.

Patent applications for digital communications, which covers the transmission of digital information and wireless communication networks among other things, surpassed 14,000 in 2019 making it the technology category in which most applications were filed over the year, according to the EPO patent index for 2019.

An increase in applications filed by businesses based outside of Europe drove this rise. Chinese telecoms giant Huawei topped the list of applicants across all technology categories – it alone filed more than 1,100 applications relating to digital communications.

The EPO said: "The upswing in digital communication was driven by an increase from several countries with large volumes of patent applications, in particular from China (+65%), the US (+15%) and South Korea (+36%). Filings from the EPO member states developed comparatively moderately, yet from a high level."

"Within wireless communication networks, there was a notable increase in patent applications related to wireless resource management, resource allocation and scheduling. Resource allocation is the mechanism to intelligently manage and allocate radio network resources among consumers – such as mobile subscribers," it said.

The number of patent applications relevant to life sciences companies also grew, according to the EPO. There were 13,833 applications relating to medical technology, 7,697 applications concerning pharmaceuticals and 6,801 applications in the field of biotechnology.

Fuelled by the development of artificial intelligence, EPO patent applications in the field of computer technology grew more than 10% in 2019. There were 12,774 such applications spanning areas such as machine learning, data retrieval, image data processing and pattern recognition.

Patent law expert Sarah Taylor of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: "The boundaries between industries are starting to blur, with pharmaceutical companies using digital technology to create innovative healthcare platforms, and automotive manufacturers developing  smart technologies for autonomous vehicles. Leading businesses recognise this convergence and increased competition, and are seeking to protect their rights at an early stage."

In total, there were 181,406 patent applications field with the EPO in 2019, up 4% from 2018. The EPO granted 137,784 patent applications last year.

US-based applicants were responsible for a quarter of all applications filed, while 15% of all applications originated in Germany. Of the remaining applications, 12% came from Japan, 7% from China and 6% from France. UK-based applications, which rose by nearly 7% last year, accounted for 3% of the total volume of applications filed.

Taylor said: "To meet the growing demand for patent protection, the EPO has made the timely granting of patents a focus of its strategic plan 2023, with a report on the steps being taken to achieve this due to be published in July this year."