Innovation in healthcare drove a growth in the number of patent applications at the EPO in 2020: medical technology was the leading field for inventions in terms of volume, while pharmaceuticals and biotechnology were the fastest-growing areas. 16.7% of all European patent applications filed in 2020 pertain to health technologies. The fields of medical technologies, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology registered growth of + 2.6%, + 10.2% and + 6.3% respectively.
The relationship between these three fields has a long history. With a growing and ageing population, as well as the modernisation of national health systems, investment continues to grow in research and development (R&D). Technology now provides us with multiple ways to detect, combat or even prevent diseases. Healthcare is no longer just about medicines and vaccines (i.e. the pharmaceutical sector). Advances in diagnostic devices such as X-ray machines and MRI scanners, as well as in prosthetic implants and surgical tools, have led to a boom in patents in the field of medical technology. Biotechnology completes this trio, from manufacture of genetic tests to predict disease to therapies that “turn off” genes known to trigger disease.
The field of medical technologies has received heavy investments, which have resulted in an increase in the number of patent applications before the EPO. In many cases, the path to market for a device is shorter and easier than for a drug or vaccine. This goes some way to explaining why healthcare companies might prefer to invent devices, equipment, and tools to detect or prevent diseases rather than pharmaceuticals to cure them.
In the era of the coronavirus, medical technologies have captured the public imagination like never before. Ventilators and respirators, non-contact infrared thermometers or simple non-invasive fingertip sensors have protected and saved thousands of lives. European companies presented 38.2%, with France standing out with the highest growth in medical technologies (+ 17.5%).
Pharmaceuticals pioneered growth in 2020. European companies led the way, accounting for 41.8% of all applications before the EPO. Within Europe, companies in France (+ 21.8%), the Netherlands (+ 14.9%) and Germany (+ 8.0%) stood out with the highest growth in pharmaceutical products.
Biotech patent applications grew by 6.3% in 2019, the second fastest growth for any of the leading technology fields. European companies lead the way with 47.3% of all applications to the EPO. Within Europe, companies from Germany (+ 9.4%), Switzerland (+ 14.3%) and the United Kingdom (+ 19.4%) stand out with the highest growth in biotechnology. Within biotechnology, the most active area is that directed to medical or clinical uses (the so-called “red” biotechnology). However, there are other important applications for biotechnology in agriculture (“green“), marine science (“blue“), and industrial processes (“white“).
Patent protection encourages investment by granting time-limited exclusive rights to the invention. The patent system is one of the most powerful knowledge transfer tools in the world.
Article by Sònia Girona.