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Trade mark boom during lockdown

German Patent and Trade Mark Office hits a historic record high in 2020 filing numbers for trade marks – strong performance figures despite pandemic – DPMA President: Radical changes in technology clearer than seldom before

Press release of 5 March 2021

Munich. Despite the uncertainties about the course of the coronavirus pandemic, the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) saw an enormous increase in trade mark applications last year. In 2020, the DPMA received 89,438 trade mark applications. This is 13.5% more than in the previous year and the highest number in 20 years. Only once before, during the Internet boom at the turn of the millennium, the number of trade mark applications had been higher. For the first time in its history, more than 60,000 trade marks were entered in the electronic register by the DPMA (60,425).

There was a marked increase in the goods and services classes concerning products related to fighting the pandemic in the area of medical apparatus as well as pharmaceutical products and disinfection. Interest in trade marks in the fields of advertising and business management, clothing and electronics was also strong. “The pandemic has led to extensive economic damage, but has strongly stimulated economic activity in some specific sectors,” said DPMA President Cornelia Rudloff-Schäffer and added: “The coronavirus crisis is also a driver of creative solutions. It increasingly leads to digitisation of business models and has moved many trading activities to the Internet. In order to succeed in this area, many online vendors see the need to have their products and services protected by concise trade marks – also because of respective requirements of large trading platforms.”

Mixed trends in patent, utility model and design applications

Overall, the trend in applications for the different types of IP varied greatly last year. In contrast to trade marks, the year-on-year figures for patent applications declined. In total, patent applications were filed for 62,105 inventions; that is 5,327 fewer than in 2019 (-7.9%). The drop in 2020 corresponds to the trend at other patent offices of large industrialised countries such as Japan and the USA.
Design applications filed with the DPMA increased by 2.7% to a total of 6,113. An application can comprise up to 100 individual designs. With 39,450, the total number of all new designs filed was down by 8.5% compared to the previous year.

In contrast, the number of utility model applications rose for the first time in many years: 12,323 utility model applications were received last year – 5.6% more than in 2019 (11,667). The option of using a utility model to quickly obtain protection for a development apparently met the needs of many applicants, especially in the pandemic situation. It is striking that China filed almost 50% more applications for this unexamined IP right with the DPMA.

Current statistics

Here you will find the DPMA statistics 2020 and current infographics.

The coronavirus pandemic also influenced filing behaviour in the patent sector. After an initially parallel trend in applications filed in the months of January, February and March 2020 compared to 2019, the number of applications received from the beginning of the lockdown at the end of March 2020 dropped, constantly remaining below the figures for the same months in the previous year.

Here, the technological shift towards e-mobility is also likely to have an impact on innovation activity in the car industry. While an increase is evident in technology classes relating to inventions involving batteries and fuel cells (+15.4%), the number of inventions in connection with classic internal combustion engines was down year-on-year. Significantly fewer applications were received in each of the technology fields “Transport” (-16.6%), “Mechanical elements” (-18.0%) and “Engines, pumps, turbines” (-22.0%) than in 2019.

Despite the decline, “Transport” continues to be the top technology field at the DPMA in terms of applications filed, accounting for 10,758 applications in 2020. With 6,992 applications, the technology field “Electrical machinery, apparatus, energy” ranked second (-2.9%), followed by “Measurement” with 4,565 applications (-9.9%).

Sharp rise in face masks – markedly more computer inventions

In other areas, the pandemic stimulated innovation. With 2,383 applications, the number of applications in the technology field “Medical technology” was considerably higher than in the previous year (+10.1%). In a technology class for methods and devices for infection control included in this field, the DPMA saw an increase of 175.8%. In the technology field “Other consumer goods”, the figures also increased noticeably (+26.1%). Applications increased fivefold (+417.6%) in classes covering inventions relating to face masks and protective clothing.

With 3,080 applications, significantly more applications (+17.6%) were received in the field “Computer technology”, mainly covering software-based inventions, than in the previous year. Particularly, inventions using artificial intelligence or involving machine learning are playing an increasingly important role in this area. For the first time since statistical data collection started, this technology field appears in the top 5 technology fields (5th rank) and reflects the increasing importance of the technology sector “Electrical engineering”. In 2019, this field still accounted for 23.8% of the total applications at the DPMA, in 2020, it already accounted for 26.1%. A company from this sector, the US semiconductor group Intel, made it into the top 10 list of the most active patent applicants (9th rank).

“The current radical technological changes have become so evident in the past year as seldom before. The pandemic leads to increased investment in the development of future technologies and identifies the future direction,” states the DPMA President, adding: “In the car industry, the strategic shift from the traditional combustion engine to alternative drive technologies such as batteries and fuel cells is shaping innovation activity. In addition, the pandemic is proving to be a driver of technological development in many areas of digitisation. Megatrends such as digitisation and automation will continue to prompt an adaptation of patent activities at the DPMA in the future. Germany still remains an attractive location for agile and future-oriented companies intending to invest in innovation.”

As in the previous year, Baden-Württemberg tops the Länder ranking for patent applications. However, the total number of 13,033 applications is well below the previous year’s figure (-14.5%). Bavaria is only just behind with 12,993 applications (-7.4%) and North Rhine-Westphalia ranks third with 6,532 applications (-6,9%). If the figures are converted to per 100,000 population, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria are also leading with 117 and 99 applications, respectively. Lower Saxony (41) follows in third place.

In the trade mark area, North Rhine-Westphalia ranked again first with 18,151 applications, followed by Bavaria (14,451) and Baden-Württemberg (10,139). In the ranking per 100,000 population, Hamburg comes top with 222 applications, followed by Berlin (162) and Bavaria (110).

Top applicants: Bosch at the top again – car industry is still dominating

In 2020, Robert Bosch GmbH (4,033 applications) again ranked first among the most active patent applicants, followed by Schaeffler Technologies AG & Co. KG (1,907). Bayerische Motoren Werke AG ranked third (1,874). Despite declining numbers of applications in the industry, especially among large suppliers, the car industry continues to dominate the top places in the list of applicants. Nine of the top 10 applicants are car manufacturers or suppliers, which continue to play a key role in long-term innovation success.

In the top list of trade mark registrations, Henkel AG & Co. KGaA leads the ranking with 92 registrations, ahead of BMW (90 registrations) and the marketing company DFO Global Performance Commerce Ltd. (59 registrations).

Fully operational despite the coronavirus situation: DPMA concludes more procedures; record numbers of first office actions and searches

During the coronavirus pandemic, the German Patent and Trade Mark Office has proven to be a crisis-proof service provider: Despite the lockdown since the end of March 2020, its ability to operate has not been compromised at any time. Most of the IP areas concluded even more procedures than in 2019.

In the patent area, the output has been increased significantly. The number of first office actions in patent procedures that contain statements concerning the prospects of success of the filed request for examination has increased by just under 24% to far above 42,000. In addition, 18,435 patent and utility model searches were sent to the applicants, up 8.9% on 2019.

At 41,723, the number of concluded patent examination procedures was also higher than in the previous year (40,183). The 3.8% increase results from the number of withdrawals or deemed withdrawals due to the non-payment of annual fees in a total of 15,964 cases (+19.8%). As the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their financial situation is hard to estimate, many applicants have reviewed and re-evaluated their patent portfolio. 17,305 procedures were concluded by granting a patent, the grant rate was thus reduced to 41.5%; in 8,454 cases, the application was refused by the examiners.

The reason for the slight decrease in procedures concluded through grants of patents or refusals compared to the previous year is probably that, due to the pandemic, hearings in which the parties were present were possible only to a limited extent. These hearings often lead to an acceleration and conclusion of examination procedures.
In the trade mark area, the examiners concluded 79,582 national procedures (+6.1%). If this is compared to the 60,425 registrations, the registration rate is 75.9%.

“That we were so productive despite the difficult situation during the last year is due to our staff’s great commitment during the pandemic, which is stressful for all of us,” said the DPMA President. “This would not have been possible without our highly digital operation. As we consistently process our IP procedures – except design procedures – in electronic files from receipt to conclusion and our customers can rely on electronically secure communication with us, a large number of our staff have had practice in and appreciated working from home for years.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the DPMA has significantly extended the technical possibilities to work from home. At present, more than 75% of the staff are working largely from home.

Income from fees high again

The DPMA closed 2020 with a surplus of 189.4 million euros, which will benefit the federal budget. Compared to the previous year, the income, almost entirely from fees, slightly decreased by 0.3% to 424.5 million euros. Expenditure amounted to 235.1 million euros (+3.8%).

The German Patent and Trade Mark Office

Inventiveness and creativity need effective protection. The DPMA is the German centre of expertise for all intellectual property rights – patents, utility models, trade marks and designs. As the largest national patent office in Europe and the fifth largest national patent office in the world, our office stands for the future of Germany as a country of inventors in a globalised economy. Its staff of just under 2,800 at three locations – Munich, Jena and Berlin – provide services to inventors and companies. They implement federal innovation strategies and develop the national, European and international IP systems further.

Last updated: 3 May 2021 

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