Driving transport innovation: is the UK lagging behind?

Anomalously low figures for UK patent applications in the transportation sector are a signal of cause for issue, writes Ed Round.

Transportation has traditionally been one of the UK's leading sectors for filing patent applications, inning accordance with the European Patent Office's (EPO) rolling log of patents submitted and granted. The most recent statistical release from the EPO however, taking a look at patent filing data from 2017, reveals that transportation is not the UK's top filing sector, with more patents applications from the UK submitted in the medtech category in 2017.

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< img src =https://s3-eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/centaur-wp/theengineer/prod/content/uploads/2014/10/02161400/automotive-line.jpg alt= transport width=448 height=336 > A total of 8217 patent applications were filed at the EPO in the transportation category in 2017, down from 8577 in the previous year so the decline in UK transportation filing is in line with EPO filing as a whole. With the HS2 job about to begin in earnest, and other major facilities and transportation jobs such as Crossrail now well advanced, these figures might seem counterintuitive.Is the UK's transport sector really ending up being less innovative?The picture is more complex than a straight reading of the figures would recommend. The modest decrease in transportation patent applications in the UK and the EPO as a whole must be seen within the context of an upward trend in transport sector figures over the last decade equivalent to approximately 2 percent each year. They should also be seen within the context of an abnormally big boost in application filing between 2015 and 2016, which would have been unrealistic to expect to continue.Despite the decrease we have actually seen this year, the pattern is still towards a gradual increase in patent application filings in the transport sector. While the picture is a complicated one, this would indicate that innovation in the transport sector continues apace.There are several other issues which may be impacting the number of filings coming out of the transport sector.

As the race to provide practical driverless cars and trucks continues, and with technology making vehicles-- as with everything else-- ever smarter, increasing volumes of the patentable technology entering into next generation transport jobs may not fall under conventional'transport' filing categories. Sophisticated on-board innovation, sensing units for safer driving and the intricate algorithms that underpin self-driving lorries, will all be filed under categories more related to software application and computing than engines and drivetrains. Machine learning too is a technology with significantly broad applications in whatever from traffic coordination to rail and air traffic control service and again is something that will not be captured in the'transport'category at the EPO.As such, a lot of the patent application filing being done by innovators in the transportation sector is not reflected in the figures as they are presently compiled.While the dip in transport patent applications is far from indicative of a sector that isn't purchasing the future, there are things to think about, specifically with regard to applications from the UK. While the pattern in the UK approximately follows that of the EPO as a whole, if we take a look at varieties of patent applications submitted in any given year, the UK lags far behind some of our closest competition, such as France and Germany. For the UK's 322 patent applications in the transportation classification in 2017, France got an overall of 1044 while Germany made an application for 1877, almost six times more than the UK!While the UK prides itself on innovation, particularly in state-of-the-art areas such as transport control and information processing, this innovation is not always being caught in patent applications currently.With competition to deliver the next generation of tech-enabled transport growing ever more fierce, the UK's patent application filing figures relative to those of rivals like France and Germany could be represented by businesses choosing care by safeguarding development by means of trade secrets, instead of through patents. The danger with this technique is that a disruptive brand-new entrant to the market opts to file the patents initially, hence pulling the carpet from under the more established companies.While patent application filing figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt, and using at the EPO is just one route for securing IP among a number of, it is reasonable to include them in the range of analytical steps readily available to business strategists. Anomalously low application filing figures, such as those from the UK, must be seen as part of the total

image. While it would be unwise to base choices just on this set of information, it would also be imprudent to disregard them. In transportation as in other industries, copyright accounts for a huge amount of the worth in a service, so protecting it is vital.Ed Round is a Chartered( UK)and European Patent Attorney at Marks & Clerk The post Driving transportation development: is the UK lagging behind? appeared initially on The Engineer.