Europe plays a losing patent game
European companies are failing to increase their market share of the world's commercial technologies, with the US now filing more than twice as many patents internationally and across the continent.
Despite being recognised as one of the global leaders in science, aerospace and telecommunications, the EU has a poor record at converting ideas into technologies compared to the dominant superpower.
The research and innovation behind European science helps deliver the prosperity and quality of life that EU citizens come to expect.
Such a reminder came this week from Janez Potocnil, EU Commissioner for Science and Research, who told Europe's innovators that their creations no longer can compete on price alone.
"In 2002 the EU25 was running a trade deficit in high tech products of €33.7 billion," Mr Potocnil said.
"The EU has been unable to increase its share of this market, while countries such as China have experienced stellar growth.
"We Europeans can never compete by being the cheapest, neither at the expense of the environment nor by jeopardising our social welfare. But we can compete on the basis of creativity and ideas."
Even though one third of the world's scientific knowledge is sourced from the EU, key challenges remain in tackling the competitive forces posed by the fastest growing nations, Potocnil said.
"European companies apply for fewer than 170 European and US patents each year per million inhabitants, compared with 400 for American companies," he told delegates at an Austrian science academy.
This week, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) said America continues to dominate the world's top ten organisations that have gained the most US patents in 2005, albeit with stiff competition from Japan.
IBM earned more patents than any other company for the thirteenth consecutive year, followed in second place by Canon Kabushiki Kaisha, the Japanese electronics giant trading as Panasonic, Technics and Japan Victor Company.
The 2005 patent results also show Microsoft has slipped to sixth in the world, allowing Samsung and Hewlett Packard to gain, while Intel, Hitachi, and Toshiba took seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth place respectively.
"America's technological and economic strength is the result of its tremendous ingenuity," said Jon Dudas, the Office's Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property.
"The USPTO has taken and will continue to take aggressive steps that will enhance quality and improve productivity to ensure that US intellectual property protection remains the best in the world, protecting American innovation and sustaining economic growth."
In 2005, IBM received 1,100 more patents than any other company, amounting to a cool 2,941 preliminary patents within 12 months.
Although Japan's Fujitsu Ltd crept into the top 10 patentees with 1,154 patents, trumping its eleventh place the year earlier, 2005 marks the eighth consecutive year IBM has received more than 2,000 US patents.