A new study from the European Patent Office (EPO) suggests that Germany and the UK are the two largest European contributors to additive manufacturing (AM) innovation.

Between 2010 to 2018, Germany accounted for 19% (or 3155) of AM patent applications at the European Patent Office (EPO), followed by the UK with 5% (833), the report said. France, the Netherlands and Switzerland accounted for around 4%. At the same time, European patent applications for AM increased at an average annual rate of 36% from 2015 to 2018, reportedly 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, entitled ‘Patents and additive manufacturing – trends in 3D printing technologies’ also says that European countries account for 47% (7863) of all AM inventions for which patent applications were filed at the EPO in the period from 2010 to 2018. According to the EPO, the UK showed a high degree of specialisation in AM patenting with a revealed technological advantage (RTA) index of 1.2, one of the highest of all European countries, particularly in the digital aspects of AM and in AM application domains.

The EPO’s data also suggests that the impact of AM technologies spans a variety of industries, with the health sector generating the greatest demand for patents (4018 applications) since 2010, followed by energy and transportation, filing 2001 and 961 patent applications respectively. Growth was also observed in areas such as industrial tooling, electronics, construction and consumer goods, and the food sector, the report said.

According to the report, the top 25 applicants accounted for about 30% (or 6548) of all AM patent applications filed between 2000 and 2018, headed by General Electric and United Technologies, with Siemens in third place. Other companies on the list includeStratasys, 3D Systems and EOS, Rolls-Royce, Renishaw and BAE. There are 11 US and eight European companies among the top 25 applicants, the EPO says.

Companies with 15 to 1 000 employees accounted for 10% (or 2148) of applications, individual inventors and small businesses with fewer than 15 employees generated 12% (or 2584), and were responsible for over 11% (or 2448). In the UK, large companies accounted for 63% of patent applications in AM technologies, followed by inventors and small businesses of up to 15 employees and universities, hospitals and public research organisations with both 14% and companies of up to 1 000 with 8%. British SMEs with notable activity in AM innovation are, among others, Embody Orthopaedic, a University College London spin-out, Fuel 3D technologies and Metalysis, according to the study.

‘The surge in AM 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,’ said EPO president António Campinos. ‘Europe has become a global hub for innovation in fast-growing digital fields, including additive manufacturing technologies. 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.’

The full report can be found here (pdf).

This story uses material from the EPO, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier.