Report from European Patent Office shows 3D printing patent numbers increasing

A new study published by the European Patent Office (EPO) has revealed a number of interesting statistics and trends regarding innovation in additive manufacturing. The report points out the origins of all notable patent applications from 2000 – 2018 and the industries leading innovation with the most inventions.

In general, there has been a global surge in the number of 3D printing applications, resulting in an average yearly growth rate of 36% from 2015 to 2018. Compared to the average yearly growth rate of all other applications at the Office – a measly 3.5% – it’s clear additive manufacturing is on the rise.

António Campinos, President of the EPO, explains: “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.”

AM patent applications from 2000 - 2018. Image via EPO.
AM patent applications from 2000 – 2018. Image via EPO.

Global superpowers in additive manufacturing

One of the key figures to jump out of the report is the number of additive manufacturing applications being filed by each country. Unsurprisingly, the US is the global leader with 34.8% of the total applications from 2010 – 2018, but Europe is the leading continent with 47% (7863). Within Asia, Japan is almost single-handedly holding down the fort with 9.2%.

Within Europe, Germany leads the charge at 19.1%, proving that German engineering extends beyond just automotive. The UK sits in second place (5.0%), followed by France (4.8%) and the Netherlands (3.6%).

Geographic origins of AM patent applications. Image via EPO.
Geographic origins of AM patent applications. Image via EPO.

Health, energy, and transportation

Looking at the data regarding specific industries, the health sector trumps all with 4018 applications from 2010 – 2018. Tailing health is energy and transportation, with 2001 and 961 respectively. By far the least popular sector is food, although even this has grown significantly over the course of eight years with a 666% increase.

AM applications at the EPO by application domain, 2010 - 2018. Image via EPO.
AM applications at the EPO by application domain, 2010 – 2018. Image via EPO.

Key players at the EPO

A significant portion of the patent applications were filed by a collection of multinational industrial and technology companies. The data showed that the top 25 applicants accounted for around 30% (6548) of the applications from 2000 to 2018. Among the 25, 11 were based in the US while 8 were based in Europe.

Reading down the list, GERaytheon Technologies, and Siemens stand out as the top three with 2330 applications between them. A few pure 3D printing specialists, namely Stratasys, 3D Systems, and EOS, can also be spotted. Perhaps most surprising is the inclusion of some non-obvious organizations like Johnson & Johnson and Nike, with 193 and 156 additive manufacturing patent applications respectively.

Top 25 AM patent applicants, 2000 - 2018. Image via EPO.
Top 25 AM patent applicants, 2000 – 2018. Image via EPO.

Sometimes less is more

While two thirds of all the patent applications were filed by very large companies with over 1000 employees, a further 12% came from small businesses with fewer than 15 employees. In contrast, companies with 15 to 1000 employees only accounted for 10% of the applications, indicating that sometimes a tighter group with a more focused approach can do more than just raw resources. The remaining 11% of the applications were filed by hospitals and research institutions.

AM patent applications by applicant type and technology sector, 2000 - 2018. Image via EPO.
AM patent applications by applicant type and technology sector, 2000 – 2018. Image via EPO.

The full report, titled ‘Patents and additive manufacturing – Trends in 3D printing technologies’, can be accessed here.

Most of the patents in 3D printing will simply get lost in the noise and become another statistic, but some of the more noteworthy ones make it into the spotlight. Earlier this month, AMT was granted a UK patent for the chemical vapor smoothing technology found in its PostPro3D systems. The now proprietary machines are designed to surface finish additively manufactured parts made from thermoplastics such as polyamide and polyurethane.

Elsewhere, Amaero recently announced that its high-performance 3D printing aluminum alloy, Amaero HOT Al, had entered the national phase (fourth and final stage) of international patent approval. The material has high scandium content and can be heat treated and age hardened after 3D printing, giving it a boost to strength and durability.

The nominations for the 2020 3D Printing Industry Awards are now open. Who do you think should make the shortlists for this year’s show? Have your say now.

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Featured image shows the EPO building. Photo via EPO.



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