Preliminary figures from the European Patent Office (EPO) reveal that the number of applications for new patents is down 7% in the first two months of 2009. This is the first reduction in patent applications in over a decade, sparking fears that Europe’s knowledge economy is under threat.
Applications to the EPO have doubled since 1995, leaving the agency with a backlog of between 400,000 and 500,000 applications. More than half of the applications filed last year were not granted.
However, the advent of the financial crisis has brought a sharp downturn in the exponential growth of new intellectual property filings.
An EPO survey of its clients, published this week (April 27), forecasts a levelling-off of new patent applications in 2009 and 2010, but this study was conducted in mid-2008, and is unlikely to have factored in the recession, which has deepened in the meantime.
Early indications for 2009 suggest applications for this year are likely to be down for the first time since the early 1990s.
The news comes as a major blow to the EU’s Year of Innovation and Creativity (see EURACTIV LinksDossier) and its much-vaunted Lisbon Strategy, which aims to turn the EU into the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010.
It has also emerged that the EPO is working to plug a €60 million hole in its finances. It is understood the agency, which last year faced industrial action, is working to contain its costs amid concerns that its deficit could be even greater in 2010. The EPO has a budget of €1.2 billion and long-term liabilities of €2 billion.
The figures were discussed at a Science|Business workshop held in Brussels.