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Indicator Assessment

Patenting activity for environment related technologies

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-332-en
Published 13 Apr 2012 Last modified 04 Sep 2015
14 min read

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The indicator addresses the second part of the policy question. The total number of patents applications in environmental technologies has been increasing  steadily in EU-27 countries, as has their share in total patents registered in the EU. Total environment-related technology patents increased by 48% between 1999 and 2008, while their share in total patents increased from 6.6% to 8.6% over the same period. Increases have been dominated by a six-fold increase in patent applications in the area of renewable energy technologies. Patents in climate change mitigation and in combustion technologies with impact mitigation potential also saw rapid growth. However, these started from a much lower level and have not had a great influence on overall growth.

Patenting activity for climate-energy related technologies, EU-27

Note: The graph descirbes the time trend of the number of patents applications (by priority date) at EPO (European Patent Office), by total number and the number in single classes of technologies (pollution and waste; renewable energies; vehicle emissions and fuel economy; energy efficiency).

The indicator addresses the second part of the policy question.

The total number of patents applications in environmental technologies has been increasing steadily in EU-27 countries, as has their share in total patents registered in the EU. Total environment-related technology patents increased by 48% between 1999 and 2008, while their share in total patents increased from 6.6% to 8.6% over the same period. Increases have been dominated by a six-fold increase in patent applications in the area of renewable energy technologies.

The growth rate of wind power patents has been exceptionally strong since the late 1990s. Germany has the highest number of patents globally and this may be related to their strong domestic policy for renewable energy sources (RES). Compared to the booming innovation activity for RES, new developments in other important energy and climate related sectors like energy efficiency in buildings and lighting and emissions abatement and energy efficiency developments in transport (automotive) have not shown much or any growth in recent years. Patents in climate change mitigation and in combustion technologies with impact mitigation potential also saw rapid growth. However, these started from a much lower level and have not had a great influence on overall growth.

New patents in the area of general environmental management have stagnated. This area includes technologies which are not directly related to climate mitigation or energy efficiency, such as waste management, water and air pollution abatement and soil remediation. The underlying data for these tertiary level categories show that patents for solid waste management and water pollution technologies have declined since 1999. Only air pollution control innovations have continued to increase rapidly until very recently, keeping pace with the overall growth in patenting.

The weakening of innovation in areas not driven by market mechanisms and global policies may be explained by the weakening of relevant policy cycles at the EU level. The dominance of some countries in patenting activity (e.g. Germany) can partly be explained by the strength of their domestic environmental policies and strategies.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

European patents are defined as the (i) Patent applications presented to the national intellectual property offices of the pan-European countries; (ii) Patent applications presented to the European Patent Office (EPO) under the EPC (European Patent Convention); (iii) Patent applications presented to the European Patent Office or the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) under the PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty), when pan-European countries are mentioned among the designated Contracting States of the PCT in which protection is sought.

Classification codes are associated with patents to enable the retrieval of information on inventions in particular technological fields. the OECD identifies 9 primary groups of technology based patent classifications one of which is defined as Selected environment-related technologies. This area is divided into seven secondary classification groupings: (i) General environmental management  (ii) Energy generation from renewable and non-fossil sources, (iii) Combustion technologies with mitigation potential (e.g. using fossil fuels, biomass, waste, etc.), (iv) Technologies specific to climate change mitigation, (v) Technologies with potential or indirect contribution to emissions mitigation, (vi) Emissions abatement and fuel efficiency in transportation, and (vii) Energy efficiency in buildings and lighting renewable energies.

The first figure in the indicator presents the number of patents applications filed in these seven environmentally related classification categories each year (by priority date) at the EPO (European Patent Office) by EU-27 residents.

The second figure shows developments in numbers of patent applications in each environment-related category indexed to 1990 numbers.

The final figure shows the total environment-related patents as a share of total patent applications received by the EPO by EU-27 citizens.

Units

Number of patents applications 


 

Policy context and targets

Context description

The international policy framework for SCP was recently agreed at Rio+20 with the adoption of the ten year framework for action on sustainable consumption and production. The declaration ‘The future we want’ recognised the need to change unsustainable and promote sustainable patterns of consumption and production. More specifically the declaration states that ‘We recognize the critical role of technology as well as the importance of promoting innovation….. We invite governments, as appropriate, to create enabling frameworks that foster environmentally sound technology, research and development, and innovation, including in support of green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication’ and  ‘We….recognize the need for energy efficiency measures in urban planning, buildings, and transportation, and in the production of goods and services and in the design of products’.

The Europe 2020 Strategy includes a target that 3% of the EU's GDP should  be invested in R&D/innovation (public and private investments combined). The ‘Eco-innovation Action Plan (Eco-AP) - Innovation for a sustainable Future’ complements other Europe 2020 Flagship Initiatives, in particular the "Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe". Under the Eco-AP, the Commission will foster key drivers for the market uptake of eco-innovation by: (Action 1) using environmental policy and legislation as a driver to promote eco-innovation; (Action 2) supporting demonstration projects and partnering to bring promising, smart and ambitious operational technologies to the market that have been suffering from low uptake; (Action 3) developing new standards boosting eco-innovation; (Action 4) mobilising financial instruments and support services for SMEs; (Action 5) promoting international cooperation; (Action 6) supporting the development of emerging skills and jobs and related training programmes to match the labour market needs; and (Action 7) promoting eco-innovation through the  European Innovation Partnerships foreseen under the Innovation Union.

The technology pillar of the EU Energy and Climate policy, the SET-Plan (COM (2009)519 final, Investing in the Development of Low Carbon Technologies) sets out a long-term energy research, demonstration and innovation agenda for Europe, including strategic milestones to be achieved in the coming years. In the short term, the Plan aims at increasing research to reduce costs and improve performance of existing technologies, and encouraging the commercial implementation of these technologies. Activities at this level should involve second-generation biofuels, capture, transport and storage of carbon, integration of renewable energy sources into the electricity network and energy efficiency in construction, transport and industry.

Encouraging eco-innovation is one of the key priorities set by the 2008 European Commission Communication ‘Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan’ (COM 2008/397/final). In particular, it announces that ‘tools will be developed to monitor, benchmark and boost eco-innovation and its uptake in the EU, as part of a wider EU research and innovation policy and its instruments’.

The Environmental Technologies Action Plan (adopted in 2004) promotes the development and use of environmental technologies and eco-innovation. In particular, it includes priority actions aiming at encouraging the market uptake of environmental technologies and providing positive incentives such as mobilizing financial instruments to share the risks of investing in environmental technologies. It also  reviews environmentally harmful subsidies and encourages procurement of environmental technologies. Under the ‘Acting globally’ priority, the Plan aims at supporting environmental technologies in developing countries and promoting foreign investments.

Many of the specific programmes under the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2012) are related to eco-innovation, energy efficiency and environmental technologies. Transport research is supported with a budget of €4.16 billion and energy research with a budget of €2.35 billion Euro.

The European Commission is also supporting research and demonstration projects for eco-innovative technologies and for their market penetration also within the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), Eco-innovation First Application and Market Replication Projects, the European Eco-innovation Platform, and LIFE+.

Targets

No specific targets have been identified.

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified

 

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

The indicator presents the number of environment-related patents applications (by priority date) at EPO (European Patent Office), in individual technology categories and as a percentage of total patents.

Development of patent search strategies for various areas of ‘environmental’ technologies have been developed at OECD and have been used to produce the dataset (see Patents in environment-related technologies,  http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=PATS_IPC). EPO patent counts by OECD are based on data received from the EPO (EPO Bibliographic database, publications up to December 2011).

In its database on technology related patents the OECD identifies 9 primary groups of technology based patent classifications one of which is defined as Selected environment-related technologies. This area is divided into seven secondary classification groupings: (i) General environmental management  (ii) Energy generation from renewable and non-fossil sources, (iii) Combustion technologies with mitigation potential (e.g. using fossil fuels, biomass, waste, etc.), (iv) Technologies specific to climate change mitigation, (v) Technologies with potential or indirect contribution to emissions mitigation, (vi) Emissions abatement and fuel efficiency in transportation, and (vii) Energy efficiency in buildings and lighting renewable energies.

Each of these secondary groupings is disaggregated further into tertiary groups and some tertiary groups are disaggregated into 4th level (quaternary) categories.  The secondary classification category i) General Environment Management, for example, includes the tertiary categories: Air pollution abatement from stationary sources, Water pollution abatement, Waste management (which is split down further into six quaternary categories); Soil remediation; and Environmental monitoring.

It is possible in the OECD database to extract total numbers of patents at each level of aggregation.

For the first graph in indicator SCP041, data for the seven secondary level classifications under the primary area Selected environment-related technologies for years 1990-2009 and for the EU-27 as a whole (country level breakdowns are also available) were downloaded directly. No further processing was needed.

For the second graph, the yearly number of patents in each of the seven secondary level classifications was divided by the 1990 figure and multiplied by 100 to give an indexed change in each category between 1990 and 2009.

For the third graph, data for the primary area Selected environment-related technologies has been downloaded for along with Total patents  (which includes all primary classifications). The numbers of patents under the broad environment related category has been divided by the total number of patents and multiplied by 100 to give a percentage share.

Methodology for gap filling

No gap filling was necessary.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

 

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified.

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified for the particular OECD dataset on patents in environmentally related technologies. However, some more general considerations of uncertainties and complexities of patent data are provided in the OECD Patent Statistics Manual found here:

http://browse.oecdbookshop.org/oecd/pdfs/free/9209021e.pdf

The manual summarises that ‘Patent data are complex. It is necessary to have precise knowledge of patenting laws and procedures and the patenting behaviour of companies to be able to apply proper controls and filters to the data, obtain meaningful indicators, and interpret them correctly. The complexity of patent data is due to various factors, e.g. the diversity of patent offices and procedures (which can be national or regional in their judicial scope); the variety of ways to file for patent protection (national or international) and the changing behaviour of applicants in this regard; and the patent document’s differing status and dates in line with the complexity of procedures (applications, grants, international phase, etc.). In addition, experts may still be debating some patent information (value indicators, number of citations/claims, etc.)’

Rationale uncertainty

The indicator only provides information on whether patent activity in environmental technologies has increased and does not include data on  whether R&D spending on eco-innovation and environmental technologies has increased its share in GDP. The present classifications of R&D data do not allow a detailed identification of expenses on green R&D; only data on broad categories of R&D in environment related areas are available.  

With respect to innovation activity in general it should be noted that the limitations of patent counts in measuring actual levels of innovation are well known and are equally applicable to environmental patents. Patents represent inventions that might never achieve the industrialisation stage. Moreover, the indicator gives all patents equal weight regardless of their potential future impact. Such rational uncertainties are described in more detail in Section 2 of the OECD report found here: http://www.oecd.org/sti/innovationinsciencetechnologyandindustry/21682515.pdf

The indicator therefore can only provide a proxy for the expected future industrial development of eco-innovations with positive environmental impacts.

Data sources

  • No datasets have been specified.

Other info

DPSIR: Response
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • SCP 041
EEA Contact Info info@eea.europa.eu

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Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage

Dates

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Filed under: climate, energy, patents

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