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Italy enjoys a boom in patent applications in 2015: businesses finally looking to research and innovation as the answer

In the knowledge economy, the key to commercial success lies in the ability to innovate and in the determination by organisations to seek knowledge and to do things better. The European Patent Office, the Munich-based body responsible for managing Europe’s patents, has  recently published some excellent findings: a record number of patent filings were received from Italy in 2015, up 9% on 2014 to 3,979 (the largest percentage increase in the past ten years and also double the EU average). Lombardy recorded the highest rate of innovation, with Milan the top-ranking city: this is testament to the efforts of both business and social bodies in the city (organisations, research institutes, universities) and also of public authorities (Milan City Council and the Lombardy Regional Council) to make the most of the highly effective network of technological institutes the region boasts. The ultimate cradle of humanistic and scientific knowledge and the reason Milan is considered the avant-garde in Italy, this network is about to receive a further boost from the huge life science research centre built on the old Expo site that will focus on genomics using big data as a way of managing knowledge assets.

Let’s take a closer look at the figures. As a result of the boom in patent filings, Italy has risen from 11th to 10th place in the rankings for total filings made, and from 19th to 18th in the world rankings for the number of filings made per capita.  The Lombardy region made 33% of the country’s filings. Strongest growth was seen in the IT field (+76%) and the companies leading the innovation race are Indesit (107 applications), Fiat (84), STMicroelectronics (58), Finmeccanica (39), Pirelli (39) and Chiesi Farmaceutici (35).

EPO recorded a similar rise in patent filings on a global scale: 160 thousand applications compared with 153 thousand the year before. A large part of this can be traced to the USA (up 16.4%) and China (22.2%). US, Germany, Japan, France and Holland lead the way in terms of filings while some inconsistency was seen within the EU, where application figures were down again in Berlin (3.2%). Dutch company Philips shot to the top of the business leader board, overtaking Samsung.

The 9% growth seen in Italy is a positive sign and proof that the downturn seen in previous years, when filings dropped four years in a row, has been inverted. “The figures for 2015,” EPO President, Benoit Battistini explained, “can be traced to Italian businesses having realized that to survive the recession, they need to invest in research and innovation, and by boosting capacity rather than cutting costs.” The volume of applications grew most strongly in the IT field in Italy (+76%) followed by digital communication (+59%), pharmaceuticals (+54%) and measurement systems (+47%). In absolute terms, the majority of applications concerned movement (packaging, pallets, transportation systems, and containers), civil engineering and transportation (which include the automotive sector, already an emblem of Italian excellence.)

Looking at geographical areas, Lombardy was the top Italian region (1,295 patent applications and 33% of the total) followed by Emilia Romagna (15%) and Veneto (13%). In the city-by-city rankings, Milan again led the way with 806 filings, way out in front of second-ranked city Turin which submitted 273 applications.  Rome was third with 226 and Bologna fourth with 209.

At the EU level, many countries showed large swings since 2014: Spain reversed a previous downturn, like Italy, to grow by 3.8%; Belgium made a year-on-year jump of 5.9%, UK 5.7% and Holland 3.3%. France (+1.6%), Austria (+1.4%) and Sweden (down 0.9%) remained relatively stable whereas filings from Germany dropped again (down 3.2%). The same happened in both Finland (down 8.3%) and Denmark (down 2.7%).

That’s good news, then. And reassuring for the future. The key thing, now, is to strengthen public policy on research and roll out solid industrial policy initiatives, starting from blanket broadband coverage (the lack of which stifles research and resultant technological transfer, and also hinders digital manufacturing) and widespread take-up of the digital agenda, needed to modernize the Italian public administration. Creativity is the watchword then. In policy and in infrastructure.  It’s the challenge we face. And as the patent figures clearly show, Italy is more than capable of responding to it.