Italy has surpassed the psychological barrier of 5,000 European patent applications in one year, is it true glory?

EPO Patent Index 2023: Italy sets record for patent applications and faces global challenges 17 April 2024

The landscape of European patent filings is witnessing significant changes, not least with the launch of the new UP/UPC system, with Italy emerging as a significant player in recent years. It is worth noting, in this context, that Milan has been assigned the seat of one of the branches of the Central Division of the Unified Patent Court, which will bring to Italy, starting from June 2024, all actions for the revocation of Unitary patents and non-opted-out European patents in the technological sector of human needs, including pharmaceuticals.

In this context, as the European Patent Office (EPO) publishes its latest 2023 statistics, it is evident that Italy's contribution to European patent applications has reached unprecedented levels.

However, while Italy's numbers reflect encouraging growth on one hand, they also underline future challenges in terms of catching up with leading European nations.

EPO statistics for the year 2023 show a general increase of 2.9% in patent applications compared to the previous year, highlighting a strong acceleration of innovation in the fields of digital and green transformation. According to published data, the EPO received a record figure of 199,275 applications in 2023. Innovation is driven by recent advancements in digital and green technologies, with new synergies emerging across all sectors, primarily driven by artificial intelligence and the need for cleaner and more energy-efficient solutions. While the growth of applications filed in Europe remains steady, the increasing percentage of applications from non-European countries signals the attractiveness of the European technological market to global innovators.

Eight of the top ten patenting sectors have recorded growth, particularly:

  • Machinery, electrical appliances, and electrical energy (+12.2%), a field including clean energy inventions and battery technologies, have experienced rapid growth.
  • The digital communication technology sector (+8.6%) has seen strong growth.
  • Biotechnology has also recorded significant growth (+5.9%).
  • Numbers have remained important in the medical technology (+1.3%), computer technology (+1.2%), and measurement sectors (+3.5%), which include sensors fundamental to the functionalities of many smart devices.

Patent filings in the top ten sectors represent 57% of all European patent applications in 2023.

European trends indicate that digital transformation and clean energy continue to drive growth, opening up new opportunities for the future.

And Italy? In our country, a historic record has been set in the field of patents, with 5,053 European patent applications filed with the EPO. This represents an increase of 3.8% over the previous year, surpassing the European average growth of 1.4%.

Moreover, growth has been consistent: Italian EP filings have increased by 38% over the past 10 years.

This milestone underscores Italy's growing capacity for innovation and its commitment to intellectual property protection.

Three Italian regions stand out among the 20 most innovative in the European Union:

  • Lombardy (11th place)
  • Emilia-Romagna (17th place, with a 21.6% increase in one year)
  • Veneto (20th place).

The main patent applicants in Italy are:

  • COESIA: Ranked first in the number of filings (with 157 applications).
  • FERRARI: Second with 121 applications.
  • IVECO: Third with 48 applications.
  • PIRELLI: Fourth with 44 applications.

Also noteworthy is the sixth position of the POLITECNICO DI MILANO (38 applications), the only university in the top 10 patent filers in a European country, indicating a renewed sensitivity to increasing access to funds and investors for scientific research, a fundamental element to trigger the virtuous cycle of innovation.

Other important players include LEONARDO (40 applications), PIRELLI (44 applications), CHIESI FARMACEUTICI (43 applications), DANIELI (33 applications), SACMI (ceramic machinery, 32 applications), and SCM GROUP (31 applications).

However, surpassing the psychological barrier of 5000 patent filings in Europe should not make us forget that Italy lags behind many of its European counterparts in terms of patents per capita.

It is essential, therefore, to contextualize Italy's position relative to other European nations.

Indeed, according to EPO statistics, other countries have also seen significant increases: Germany (+12.5%), Finland (+9.2%), Spain (+6.9%), the United Kingdom (+4.2%), Italy (+3.8%), and the Netherlands (+3.5%).

Furthermore, Italy ranks 11th in the total number of patents filed, but drops to 18th place when considering filings per million inhabitants. With only 85 patent applications per million inhabitants, Italy lags far behind leading nations such as France (160 applications per million), Germany (300), the Netherlands (403), Finland (422), Denmark (445), Sweden (495), and Switzerland (1,085 applications).

Austria, Belgium, Ireland, and Norway are even far ahead in this significant ranking, while the UK slightly surpasses us (87 applications per million), and we are closely followed by Slovenia (73).

Furthermore, only 23% of European patent applications filed by Italy feature a woman as an inventor, compared to the European average of 27%, which on one hand leads to more general reflections on the gender gap and on the other hand indicates further room for improvement if internal resources were better valued.

Moreover, it is significant and should make us reflect that, according to EPO statistics for 2023, there is no Italian company among the top 50 in terms of European patent applications (the number 1 is HUAWEI with 5071 applications and the number 50 is 3M with 454 applications in 2023), while virtually every European country that surpasses us in the per capita ranking can boast at least one representative in this ranking.

These data underline the imperative for Italy to further strengthen its innovation ecosystem and improve its patent culture. It is evident that, in terms of innovation per capita, there is ample room for growth. Growth that must also come from an increase in the number of direct national filings, which are still small compared to our main internal competitor in Europe in many industrial sectors (Germany). If Italy files approximately between 9 and 10 thousand national patent applications each year, Germany outperforms us with an annual production of German patent applications approximately five times higher. Considering that typically a portion of national filings is then extended as a patent application in Europe, it can be understood that increasing the annual pool of national patents can also improve performance at the European level.

Exploring the reasons behind Germany's much higher per capita patent filings compared to Italy goes beyond these brief notes but calls on all involved parties for deep reflection, which necessarily must also include the education sector.

Therefore, although the recent increase in European patent applications is undoubtedly a positive development, sustaining this momentum and bridging the gap with the most performing nations will require concerted efforts from institutions, stakeholders in the sector, and the wider innovation community.

In conclusion, the significant increase recorded by Italy in European patent applications signals a promising trajectory for the country's innovation landscape. However, to fully leverage this potential and compete on a global scale, Italy must continue to invest in research and development, streamline patenting processes, and promote an innovation-friendly culture conducive to sustained and sustainable growth and competitiveness in the European and consequently global market.


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