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What patent statistics can tell us about innovation

Written By Sarah Massara Patent Attorney

The first-ever US patent was granted in 1790, and on 4th June 2024, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted its 12 millionth utility (invention) patent. This patent was awarded to Pacific Biosciences of California, Inc and was entitled ‘Labeled nucleotide analogs, reaction mixtures, and methods and systems for sequencing’. Find the publication of the granted patent here.

As well as publishing patent applications and granted patents, some patent offices also publish statistics summarising their activities; this data can offer insights into the behaviours of innovating entities.

Statistics on USPTO utility patents show that the number of patents granted per year increased substantially between 1995 and 2020, from around 100,000 to over 350,000, demonstrating an increasing value being placed on obtaining patent protection. In 2020, 13% of the total US utility patents granted were awarded to applicants based in the State of California, backing up its reputation as a highly innovative location.

Where an applicant chooses to pursue patent protection should primarily be dictated by commercial factors, including their own location, as well as the locations of their collaborators, manufacturers, licensees, main and emerging markets, competitors, and key logistics hubs. However, the attitude of the patenting regime in a territory towards the technology described in the patent application should also be considered. For example, business methods are not patentable in Europe, whereas they are in the US.

Between 2007 and 2008, the number of US patents granted to foreign applicants overtook those granted to US applicants, a trend that looks set to continue, with the split in 2020 being 53% foreign to 47% domestic applicants. Drilling into that data more closely, the non-US country that obtained the highest number of granted US patents in 2020 was Japan, with over 50,000, with three more of the top five countries also located in Southeast Asia: South Korea (~22,000), People’s Republic of China (~21,000) and Taiwan (~12,000). Germany was the top European country for US granted patents, with nearly 18,000 being awarded to German applicants in 2020, followed by France and the UK, both at around 7,000.

The European Patent Office (EPO) publishes an annual Patent Index containing similar information on applications for European patents, both direct European patent applications and PCT international patent applications that enter the European phase. In 2023, over 40% of the applicants for European patents were based in one of the member states of the EPO, including the UK, at around 3% of the overall total. US applicants made up around a quarter of all applicants for European patents in that year, followed by Japan, the People’s Republic of China and South Korea, which was the fastest-growing country in terms of numbers of EP patent applications, showing a 21% increase from the previous year.

The EPO data includes helpful granularity on the technology areas to which patent applications belong. The largest share of applications in 2023 belonged to digital technologies, with the top three technology areas being digital communication (~18,000 applications), medical technology (~16,000), and computer technology (~16,000). This is unsurprising when you consider the top five applicants for European patents in 2023: Huawei, Samsung, LG, Qualcomm, and Ericsson. The locations of three of these applicants, Huawei in China and both Samsung and LG in South Korea, tallies with the high proportion of Southeast Asian applicants overall in the USPTO and EPO data. Outside of these large enterprises who are highly active in terms of patenting activity, with Huawei alone filing over 5,000 European patent applications in 2023, the EPO data also shows that 23% of European patent applications lodged in that year arose from SMEs and individual inventors, and a further 8% from universities and public research organisations.

This demonstrates that along with large, well-established enterprises, small and emerging entities equally see the value in protecting their innovations with patents.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to our Patents department, please contact us at

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