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Austria has the highest rate of increase in 3D printing patent applications worldwide

Vienna, November 25th, 2020 – The latest report from the European Patent Office shows Austria’s enormous innovative strength in 3D printing. Between 2014 and 2017, patent applications from Austria rose by a full 1300%. In comparison, the average rate of increase in other countries was 370%.

Additive manufacturing (AM) processes permit the creation of complex structures. The layer-based manufacturing process allows the creation of new product properties that cannot be manufactured conventionally. Based on a digital 3D model, AM can create parts from various materials, such as plastics, metals, and ceramics. Therefore, AM is also a digital production technology and one of the main drivers of the fourth industrial revolution. Resource-saving, flexible, and decentralized additive production processes are paving the way to a safer, smarter, and more sustainable world. Furthermore, they are revolutionizing entire industries and markets with increasing technological maturity.

A record increase in AM patent applications from Austria

Patents describe the rights granted for new, inventive, and industrially applicable technologies. Patents help inventors to secure investments, license agreements, and market exclusivity, thus making a significant contribution to ensuring future economic performance. Therefore, patent applications can provide an early indication of the future development of additive manufacturing and its impact on regional markets. A recent study by the European Patent Office (EPO) offers a comprehensive picture of current trends and emerging AM market leaders. From 2014 to 2017, the number of AM patent applications increased by 370% internationally. Austria recorded the most massive rise of all countries with an increase of 1,300%.

Patent applications as an early indicator of economic performance

‘Patent filings are still an excellent indicator of the innovative strength of a region’, explains Prof. Jürgen Stampfl, a university professor of materials and additive manufacturing technologies at TU Wien, the Vienna University of Technology. ‘Patents not only underpin the technological potential and the competitiveness in a global economy, but are also a measure of how seriously the innovators are interested in an economical implementation of their ideas. In this sense, the figures for the increases in Austrian submissions are very positive’, continues Stampfl. ‘I see the very positive data from the patent statistics in additive manufacturing as a guarantee for the continuation of the excellent development of the Austrian AM sector. What is invented today and successfully confirmed as really “NEW” after a patenting process will secure Austrians’ competitiveness and many jobs in the medium and long term’, confirms professor Franz Haas from the Institute of Production Engineering at TU Graz, Graz University of Technology.

Basic research from Austria

With their AM basic research at the highest international level, Austrian universities contribute significantly to domestic innovations’ success. For example, physicist Harald Plank from the Institute for Electron Microscopy and Nanoanalysis at TU Graz recently received the renowned Houska Research Award, worth 150,000 euros, for his work in the field of 3D nano printing. ‘Domestic innovations in the field of future technologies make a significant contribution to the Austrian company’s success’, says Dr Richard Lang from the Institute of Innovation Management at the Johannes Kepler University Linz. ‘In combination with digital business models, regional companies can open up international markets and thus significantly strengthen local economic areas’.

The innovative strength of 3D printing accelerates

The EPO also recorded a rapidly growing number of AM patent applications in all other member countries. Between 2015 and 2018, AM patent applications at the EPO grew at an average annual rate of 36%, more than ten times faster than the average of all other patent applications in the same period (3.5%). In 2018 alone, more than 4,000 patent applications for inventions related to AM were filed with the EPO. The largest share of patent applications (50%) are new industrial applications of AM technologies. Other patent applications relate to machines and processes (38%). 26% relate to material innovations, and 11% relate to digital technologies. Almost 23% of filings relate to two or more of these technology sectors.

Europe overtakes the USA

Europe has significantly expanded its position as a global hub for AM technologies. Europe was responsible for 47% of the AM patent applications. Thus, Europe secured a considerable lead over the USA. 35% of the patent applications originate from the USA, which is in second place. The patent applicants are individuals, companies of all sizes and industries, and universities with different research focuses. However, the highest number of patent applications since 2010 have been from the medical and health sectors. This is followed by the energy and transportation sectors. Companies with fewer than 1,000 employees accounted for 22% of the patent applications. Individual inventors and companies with fewer than 15 employees accounted for 12%.