A new report from the European Patent Office (EPO), based in Munich, Germany, has revealed the top innovation centres in Europe for Additive Manufacturing technologies. The study found that European patent applications for AM increased at an average annual rate of 36% from 2015 to 2018, more than ten times greater than the average yearly growth of all applications at the EPO combined in the same period (3.5%).
The report, ‘Patents and Additive Manufacturing – Trends in 3D printing technologies’, is said to demonstrate Europe’s position as a global leader in AM, with European inventors and businesses accounting for almost half of all AM patent applications filed with the EPO in the period from 2010 to 2018.
“The surge in Additive Manufacturing is part of the broader, rapid rise of digital technologies overall, confirming that the digital transformation of the economy is fully reflected in patent applications reaching the EPO,” explained António Campinos, EPO president.
“Europe has become a global hub for innovation in fast-growing digital fields, including Additive Manufacturing technologies,” he continued. “This strength is clearly reflected in the list of top AM applicants, with European inventors and businesses submitting almost half of the patent applications in the past decade.”
Geographic breakdown of patent applications in AM
European countries account for 47% (7,863) of the AM inventions for which patent applications were filed at the EPO in the period from 2010 to 2018. This is said to be largely attributable to AM innovation in Germany, with the country generating 19% (3,155) of all patent applications in AM.
Germany was followed by the United Kingdom, which submitted 5% (833) of the total patent applications in AM. France, the Netherlands and Switzerland exhibited similar contributions of around 4% each.
Biggest sectors for AM by patent applications
AM patent applications by applicant type and AM technology sector from 2000-2018 (Courtesy European Patent Office)
The study further indicated that the impact of AM technologies spans a large variety of industries. Since 2010, the use of AM in the health sector has generated the greatest demand for patents (4,018 applications), followed by energy and transportation, both filing significant patent application volumes (2,001 and 961, respectively).
Rapid growth was also observed in areas such as industrial tooling, electronics, construction and consumer goods, and the food sector.
Top twenty-five patent applicants by volume
Top twenty-five AM patent applicants at the EPO from 2000-2018 (Courtesy European Patent Office)
The analysis shows that the top twenty-five applicants accounted for about 30% (6,548) of all AM patent applications filed between 2000 and 2018.
Led by large US firms General Electric and United Technologies Corporation (now Raytheon Technologies), with Europe’s Siemens in third place, the list reveals a highly diverse range of global players from many different technology fields such as transportation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, information technology, electronics, imaging and consumer goods.
Also included in the top twenty-five applicants were AM specialists such as Stratasys, 3D Systems and EOS.
Rolls-Royce filed 248 patent applications with the EPO, coming in at number seven in the list as the third largest highest European applicant by volume. The ranking included eleven US and eight European companies.
Smaller players contributing to AM innovation
While two out of three patent applications in AM technologies were filed by very large companies, the study also revealed that smaller companies with between fifteen and 1,000 employees accounted for 10% (2,148) of applications.
Individual inventors and businesses with fewer than fifteen employees generated 12% (or 2,584), and were responsible for over 11% (2,448), making these three cohorts significant actors in the AM innovation ecosystem.
The full report is available to read online via the EPO.