Sustainable, safe, efficient, and intelligent transport have always been in demand, but more so in recent years, fostering interest and innovation in the transport field. Backing this is the European Patent Office’s Patent Index which reported that transport was among the largest and fast-growing technological areas at the EPO. Transport hence is regarded a rather crucial and lucrative niche for many patent law firms.

IP Pilot investigates further into this phenomenon by analyzing IP-related trends in transport, providing patent firms with analytics to evaluate the technology field’s opportunities and business growth potentials.

This article addresses the following questions:

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What are the most recent worldwide and European filing trends in transport? Which are the key applicants in the field?

Between 2017 and 2022, most of the applications in transport came from Japan (40%), Germany (18%), Korea (13%), the US (11%), and China (10%) (see Figure 1). In that time period, China and Korea exhibited the most substantial growths in volumes of inventions, at 23% and 11% respectively.

The worldwide applicants’ rankings mirrored the country-wide trends. In the last five years, well-known corporations such as American Ford, Japanese Honda and Toyota, Korean KIA, and German Bosh, BMW, and Audi held positions in the Top 10. Cumulatively, they filed around 36% of the total number of applications issued by the most significant 100 inventors in transport, implying their relatively high importance in leading innovation within this technical field. Interestingly, approximately 47% of transport filings were dominated by only five International Patent Classifications (see Table 1).

The breakdown of European patent applications by country of origin (see Figure 3) reveals that applicants from Europe were the most active transport filers in the region. Almost 52% of all the cases handled by European patent attorney firms were from local inventors, followed by Japanese (26%) and American (15%) applicants. Notably, only 3% of transport-related filings prosecuted at the EPO were from Chinese inventors, despite the substantial growth in their volumes in the past five years, implying that most of the domestic innovations did not leave the Chinese border.

Which international and European patent law firms took over most transport-related filings between 2017 and 2022?

Out of the 100 largest IP law firms that prosecuted transport cases worldwide, Chinese patent law firms prosecuted the highest number of applications in transport between 2017 and 2022 at 75% (263,472 patent filings). While most firms worked with domestic clients, there were a few exceptions such as UNITALEN ATTORNEYS AT LAW handling high share of patent filings for Toyota and Denso, CHINA PATENT AGENT (H.K.) LTD. working with Bosh, Volkswagen, and GM Global, and CCPIT PATENT AND TRADEMARK LAW OFFICE handling applications of BMW and Toyota.

A few non-Chinese firms in the Top 25 International IP law firms (see Table 2) were Japanese SHIGA INTERNATIONAL PATENT OFFICE, SAKAI INTERNATIONAL PATENT OFFICE, ONDA TECHNO INTL. PATENT ATTYS. and TAIYO, NAKAJIMA & KATO. Similar to their Chinese counterparts, these patent attorney firms mainly filed for local applicants too.

Amongst the Top 50 International IP law firms, SUGHRUE MION, PLLC, OLIFF PLC, CANTOR COLBURN LLP, and HARNESS, DICKEY & PIERCE, P.L.C. were the leading American firms in the ranking. While the first two dealt with international applications with Japanese origins, HARNESS, DICKEY & PIERCE, P.L.C. worked mainly with local inventors. The other non-Chinese patent law firms in the rank were German GRÜNECKER PARTG MBB and Russian GORODISSKY & PARTNERS.

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As for European patent attorney firms, German agents prosecuted 48% of transport filings and were followed by British (27%) and French (12%) colleagues (see Table 3).

Among the EPO’s leaders in the field, agents from France and Italy such as LAVOIX, STUDIO TORTA, and JACOBACCI & PARTNERS represented most of the cases for domestic applicants. Meanwhile, British and German patent firms – such as DEHNS, GRÜNECKER PARTG MBB, MANITZ, FINSTERWALD & PARTNER, HOFFMANN EITLE, or BARKER BRETTELL LLP – placed a little more focus on international clients.

Which attorney firms in Europe and worldwide are the best partners (based on sent volumes) to get referral work?

Considering the 100 prominent IP law firms sending work in transport, patent attorney firms from China, the US, and Japan came out top. Firms from those countries were responsible for a substantial 65% share of the total volume of cases sent. Despite this, six out of the top ten patent attorney firms filing in transport were from Europe, including French LAVOIX, GPI & ASSOCIÉS, GERMAIN & MAUREAU, PLASSERAUD IP and Italian STUDIO TORTA and JACOBACCI & PARTNERS. Most of these representatives sent a substantial share of patent cases to the US and China.

Looking at the case exchange with European patent law firms, KILPATRICK TOWNSEND & STOCKTON LLP, UNITALEN ATTORNEYS AT LAW, TSINGYIHUA INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LLC, and DICKINSON WRIGHT PLLC were among the Top 10 International IP law firms sending cases to them. Chinese associates represented the highest volumes at 41% of the total amount of cases sent by the Top 100 firms to the EPO, followed by the US (27%) and Japan (12%).

In summary, inventors from Japan, Germany, and Korea unsurprisingly took the dominant positions in the technological field over the last five years. Chinese representatives were the leaders in prosecuting transport-related cases that predominantly originated from domestic clients, accounting for a substantial 75% of the total patent filings prosecuted by the Top 100 patent attorney firms in transport. In Europe, German and British firms represented the highest portion of relevant applications, most of which were from foreign inventors. Patent agents from France and Italy also held high rankings albeit handling patent filings for mostly local clients.

Considering international case exchanges, patent law firms from China, America, and Japan were top senders of referral work in transport (based on overall numbers) but European (French and Italian) representatives took leading positions in the ranking.

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