Despite the turmoil of its biopharmaceutical sector and the strength of its aeronautics industry, Wallonia does not appear in the top 10 of Belgian patent applications. Attempted explanation.
In Belgium, the surge in inventions in medicine and chemistry has made it possible to maintain patent applications at a high level. According to the “Patent Index 2020” of the European Patent Office (EPO), published this Tuesday, Belgian patent applications in the medical technologies and chemical engineering sectors increased last year by 42.5% and 91.2% respectively.
This increase made it possible to offset the sharp declines observed in 2020 in other sectors, including metallurgy, measurement techniques and transport. Inventions in the health sector now account for nearly a quarter of requests Belgian patents with the EPO.
In total, last year, Belgian companies, universities and research establishments have applied for 2,400 patents at the European Patent Office, according to the EPO. They practically remained at the record level of 2019 (2,422 requests).
A Walloon weakness
As in previous years, Solvay is again the largest Belgian depositor at the EPO with 214 applications filed in 2020, followed by the center for microelectronics and nanotechnologies IMEC, based in Leuven (158 requests), Umicore (96), Agfa (81), KULeuven (81) and UGent (62).
There are two universities and two research institutes in the top 10 of the largest Belgian applicants, a particularity in Europe.
Including the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology (VIB), in ninth position, there are two universities and two research institutes in the top 10 of the largest Belgian applicants with the EPO. A particularity of Belgium compared to other countries.
By region, Flanders dominates the ranking with 1,580 requests, or a share of 65.9%, followed by Wallonia (19.9%) and the Brussels-Capital region (14.2%). As in previous years, Walloon companies, universities and research establishments remain absent from the top 10 Belgian applicants. How to explain this weakness? “Regarding the sectors of Agoria, some patents have been filed in aeronautics, but fewer than in previous years because of the economic situation “, explains Dominique Demonté, Managing Director of Agoria Wallonie. “These are also sectors that file fewer patents than the pharma sector.”
“In defense, the use of patents is not necessarily the strategy that is chosen.”
At the engine manufacturer Safran Aero Boosters in Liège, we report filing an average of 30 to 40 patent applications per year with the EPO, without giving a precise figure for 2020. This makes the ex-Techspace Aero a very good student in its branch, but would rather place it in the Top 15 of the ranking. In addition, continues Dominique Demonté, “There are sectors where we prefer not to reveal our inventions. In defense, the use of patents is not necessarily the strategy that is chosen “to protect oneself.”
A culture less focused on patents
Director of Innovation at Awex, Philippe Lachapelle notes for his part that due to the structure of the Walloon economy, where there are many SMEs, “there are has traditionally had a less patent-oriented culture “. However, this is changing, he reassures: “we realize that this has value and that it is important to have intellectual property to raise funds. There is also a sufficient policy. generous of the Region. But all this is still not known enough. I am not necessarily pessimistic: there is an awakening to the question, which may be seen in future rankings. “
“In the biopharma sector, developments are very long.”
And even in the biopharmaceutical sector, which is booming in Wallonia, we find particularities, emphasizes Frédéric Druck, managing director of essenscia wallonie: “there are a lot of small structures that will just file a patent or have a small portfolio of patents, which they will then develop for fifteen years. During this time, there is no money, we are not multiplying the patents and we are not going to exploit them. In the biopharma sector, developments are very long, “he notes. In addition,” the cost of patents can remain high, especially when you have a global strategy. We must therefore manage this frugally. We cannot increase the number of applications “, further notes Frédéric Druck, recalling that patent applications are only one of the parameters of innovation. Moreover, add other specialists, there is a growing desire to ” be selective and focus not on quantity, but on products that have a chance to reach the market.
A real concern
Nevertheless, a real concern remains: the absence in this Belgian ranking of universities and research centers in the south of the country. “We do not have the equivalent of a center like IMEC, which is the second largest Belgian depositor,” laments Dominique Demonté. “We know that we do not have the means in Wallonia to do an IMEC, which has a budget of 600 million euros. But we must aim for a greater critical mass. National-scale research centers would even be a plus, ”concludes the boss of Agoria Wallonie.