Green patents, 2001-2010


Observations for policy

The number of green patents submitted reflects the development of green economy in Europe’s regions. Green patents reflect inter alia the green technological development of a given region and thus its future capacity for green growth. These developments include environmental-friendly technologies leading to more resource efficient process or product development. This will make Europe, for example, less dependent on conventional energy sources and makes the European economy more competitive.

Green technology innovations seem to be concentrated in a few areas in Europe. However all European regions can benefit from these developments, as other regions may focus on technological applications by improving their capacity to absorb newly introduced greentech products and processes.

Policy context

Greentech seeks to enhance regional competitiveness through more sustainable use of natural resources, preservation of environmental capital and a reduced exposure to a range of external shocks such as climate change and extreme weather events. New process or product developments can contribute to this. Improved product designs and a more efficient energy use simultaneously strengthen economic performance and reduce the use of resources. They can contribute to the achievement of the Europe 2020 objective of sustainable growth. Sustainable growth refers to economic growth that focuses on sustainability and also aims at growth in the field of green technologies. It is considered to be essential for long-term and green development and for strengthening the competitiveness of European enterprises and stakeholders facing global competition. Two Flagship initiatives combine these objectives of sustainable growth:

Map interpretation

The map illustrates how far green technology has been developed in European regions by the number of green patents submitted the European Patent Office (EPO). The total number of patents submitted in the decade 2001-2010 identified regions with high volumes of green economic innovation. A concentration of green economic innovation can be found Western and Southern Germany, Denmark, Southern UK and parts of Belgium and the Netherlands.

Other green patent hotspots are metropolitan and capital areas mainly in Western Europe. This includes the wider area of Paris and Lyon in France, Northern Italy, Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, wider Gothenburg and Stockholm regions in Sweden and Southern Finland.

There is a gap in the number of patents submitted between the above listed regions and the region in Eastern and Southeast Europe, and Portugal and Greece, the rest of Spain and France. Among these regions are regions which perform less on submitting green patents, but are more focused on applied knowledge with local skills, creativity and entrepreneurship.

Concepts and methods

The map displays the total sum of green patents submitted to the European Patent Office between 2001 and 2010 per NUTS 3 region. Green patents are new environmental-friendly technologies leading to process or product development. The OECD defines green patents as the sum of patents on electronic and hybrid vehicles, energy efficiency in buildings and lightning, renewable energy generation, air pollution abatement, water pollution abatement and waste management.

The relevance of patents as a measure of innovation levels is debated in the scientific community. For many SMEs submitting patents is too expensive both in terms of money as well as administrative capacity. Furthermore, patents are often registered by the headquarters which is not always the location where the innovation took place. Finally, many forms of innovation do not lead to the submission of patents, e.g. organisational innovation.