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Brits Abroad – Where do UK-based Applicants File for Patents?

By Nicola Kimblin
Brits Abroad – Where do UK-based Applicants File for Patents?

Following on from our article "Decline of the Garden Shed Inventor", (see here), a second research report from the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) provides further analysis of the filing behaviours of UK-based patent applicants over the last 20 years. Whilst many of the report's findings will be no surprise to those familiar with standard patent filing strategies, the report reveals a wealth of detail.

Few would be surprised, for example, that patent filings in China by UK-based applicants have steadily increased over the period of the study. However, it is interesting to see that total applications filed in Asia by UK applicants have remained fairly constant over the same period, that 2006/7 was the year that China became a more popular filing destination than Japan, and that growth in filings in China has been particularly strong in the broad technical field of "electrical engineering".

Another unsurprising conclusion is that the majority of UK applicants fall into one of two categories: those who seek broad worldwide patent protection and those who seek protection in the UK only. In the details for patent publications, however, it can be seen that UK applicants who don't pursue patent applications at the IPO or EPO (and so have no route to obtaining patent protection in the UK) generally only pursue their application in one country in total, most commonly the US but otherwise elsewhere. In other words, these applicants are pursuing a targeted filing strategy that doesn't include Europe or the UK. Similarly, applications that were published by either the EPO or the USPTO, but not both, were most likely not to have been published by any other office worldwide.

Another un-shocking conclusion - bigger companies tend to file more patent applications. What is less obvious is that the percentage of total applications in the fields of "chemistry" and "electrical engineering" increases with the portfolio size of the applicant. For applications in the fields of "mechanical engineering" and "other" (which includes civil engineering, furniture, games and other consumer goods), the opposite is true - applicants with larger existing portfolios account for a smaller percentage of applications.

We're also not surprised to see that most UK-based applicants do not have any non-UK-based co-applicants. But did you know that when UK-based applicants do file with a non-UK-based co-applicant, the co-applicant is most commonly US-based?

Last but not least, we are often asked which countries we would recommend choosing for broader patent family filings. Our answer is based on a mixture of practical and commercial considerations, such as technology area, market size, manufacturing potential, patenting costs and local patentability requirements. However, the IPO's report provides us with some extra data. The eight most popular additional countries where UK-based applicants filed applications "equivalent" (i.e. same direct family) to corresponding applications filed at both the USPTO and the EPO in the past 20 years (excluding the UK) are: China, Japan, Canada, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Brazil, Mexico and Russia, in that order. This is generally in line with our experience, though trends have changed over the 20 years of the data and there is some variation between technology areas.

If you would like any advice on potential global filing strategies for an invention then please contact your usual J A Kemp attorney. To see the full IPO report "Analysing the global filing activities of UK patent applications", see here.