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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

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What we can learn from recent patent applications in Italy

According to a recent report released by the Italian Patent Office, applications for Italian patent registrations have progressively increased over the past few years: 11,031 in 2021, up from 10,977 in 2020 and 10,129 in 2019. This increase is particularly notable in comparison with the past decade - in 2011 there were 9,609 applications.

It may seem odd that patent applications not only increased in the years affected by the pandemic, but also over the last decade, which was particularly difficult for the Italian economy due to the national debt crisis. The paradox is only an apparent one since awareness of the importance of intellectual property in terms of progress and sustaining the value of business grew constantly, as did the perception in the Italian commercial sector that innovation forms the engine for a solid recovery.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that, despite the patent registration process being an expensive one due to investment in R&D, human resources and technology, it also adds value to a company, both in financial terms (through the royalties from licenses and other forms of commercial exploitation) and in terms of the value of the company itself, its reputation and commercial positioning. In fact, in M&A transactions, patent and intellectual property portfolios are regularly among the key strategic aspects to be reviewed; as is also the case for technology transfer agreements, especially with foreign partners, having a structured IP portfolio is essential in negotiating terms.

Another interesting insight from the report published by the Italian Patent Office is the high level of dynamism in the medical and biotech sector. The pandemic has certainly revealed critical issues within the sector, but also the margins of development and therefore the opportunities for healthcare tech. "Green patents" are also on the rise and this confirms that the move towards cleaner forms of energy is already, and will increasingly become, a driver in terms of patents, but also for companies to direct their efforts and investments and for investors to select their targets for market opportunities.

What is missing to be more competitive? A possible answer could be taken from the apparently more insignificant and in some ways ambivalent data. In 2021 there was only one application for registration for topographies for semiconductor products (TPS). A fact that is not encouraging but that is not surprising either, because it confirms the very low relevance of this kind of privative and, even before that, of semiconductors in general in Italian manufacturing (in the last two decades there have been just a dozen registrations). The ambivalence of the data, however, emerges if we look prospectively to the near future. With the publication of the "Chips Act" by the European Commission last February, important funding and support were announced relating specifically to the research and design of semiconductors, with the aim of revitalise a sector in which Europe (and also Italy) has never really invested in the new millennium. If the financing plan goes through, Italy is in an excellent position to play an important role in the "chip" supply chain. It will then be interesting to keep an eye on that particular item in the next reports from the Italian Patent Office and, who knows, maybe the "TPS" line will contain a few surprises.

Key issues

  • Patent applications in Italy are constantly increasing, despite economic crisis and uncertainties.
  • Medical and biotech as well as "green patents" are the sectors where companies (and investors) are focusing their efforts and investments.
  • Topography registration may see an increase due to growing interest in semiconductors and the implementation of the EU Chips Act.
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