30 April 2009

Patent Nonsense in Europe

Here's some interesting news on the European patent front:

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.

"Europe's knowledge economy is under threat"? I don't think so. Here's an alternative explanation. Patents have a clear cost, but the benefit they provide is far more vaporous. I suspect that as belts are tightened, people are realising that patents aren't actually worth getting in terms of the cost/benefit they represent.

When times are good, companies might merrily apply for patents on the assumption that they are a good investment, without thinking about it too much; but when considered carefully against a harsh economic background, maybe they don't look such a good idea - hence the drop in applications.

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