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Dutch inventors and researchers are among the most active patent applicants at the European Patent Office (EPO) where 3D printing is involved. This is evidenced by a new study that the EPO made public yesterday.

Within Europe, the Netherlands ranks fourth in terms of patent applications for 3D printing technology, after Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. This puts the Netherlands in the top spot in the field of 3D printing innovation among the smaller European countries.

Eindhoven region in fifth place

In the EPO’s geographical ranking of the most active regions with 3D printing-related patent applications, the Dutch Eindhoven region ranks fifth, after Munich, Barcelona, Zurich, and Berlin.

Universities and research institutes make a significant contribution and account for 21% of the number of Dutch 3D-print technology-related patent applications. This proportion from academia is higher than in any other European country and well above the European average of 12% in this sector.

The TNO research institute, the Dutch independent organization for applied scientific research, is cited in the report as the largest applicant regarding 3D printing in the research sector with a total of 97 patent applications. The Dutch University of Twente (10 applications) and the Dutch Academic Hospital Maastricht (6 applications) are trailing way behind.

Rapid rise in patent applications

In general, the European Patent Office noted a rapid rise in 3D print technology patent applications, with an average annual increase of 36% over recent years (2015 – 2018). This is ten times more than the average annual growth of all patent applications at the EPO (see graph).

Some of the prominent Dutch applicants are Airbus, DSM, TNO, Philips, and Signify. Luxury Excel and Suprapolix are the most important Dutch applicants within the SME sector when it comes to 3D printing, accounting for 17%.

“Europe has become a global hub for innovation in fast-growing digital sectors and additive manufacturing (AM) which covers 3D printing. This strong position is clearly reflected in the list of major applicants, with European inventors and companies filing almost half of patent applications over the past decade,” said EPO President Ant√≥nio Campinos.

Europe at the forefront

The EPO report reveals that European countries make up 47% (or 16,528 applications) of all 3D print innovations that have filed patent applications at the EPO between 2010 and 2018. Germany tops the European field with 19 % (3155) of all 3D print-related patent applications. This is followed by the United Kingdom ( 5%), France (4.8%), the Netherlands (4%) and Switzerland (3.6%). Worldwide, the United States as a country of origin leads the way with 35% (5747) of all applications.

Most patent applications originate from the healthcare sector

As 3D printing technology is maturing, we see its value in more efficient industrial production through a reduction in the use of materials. In addition, the construction of complex shapes is being streamlined. Consequently, the technology has the potential to reshape entire industrial value chains.

The EPO study shows that the healthcare sector has generated the largest demand for 3D printing patents since 2010 (4,018 applications), followed by the energy sector and the transport sector, which filed 2,001 and 961 applications respectively.

Click here for a summary and the key findings, or the full report.

You can read other IO articles on 3D printing via this link.