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Downturn in Swedish life science patents

After several years of stability, patent applications from Swedish life science companies now appear to be diminishing.

Sweden has long been a strong per-capita contributor of new patent applications. This has been particularly true in research dominated fields including life science. Lately, however, it seems as if the intensity of Swedish patent applications in life science may be diminishing. Is this industry-specific or simply part of a global trend? It may be too early to say for certain, but there are strong indications to look at.

“In the year after the 2008 financial crisis we saw the first global downturn in PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) applications across all areas since the system started in the 70s,” says Mattias Arvidsson of the Swedish Patent and Registration Office (PRV).
Global patents approved in the life science sector, however, show a slower growth but no decrease according to figures collected by PRV. Thus, a global downturn in Biotech is not the explanation of the state of affairs in Sweden.
“Looking at the data for patent applications in life science submitted by Swedish companies there is definitely an indication of a downturn from 2007 onwards. This comes after a very stable period from the year 2000,” continues Arvidsson.

Several factors
There appears to be no one single underlying reason, and the natural oscillations in patents emanating from Big Pharma can result in major statistical shifts, but Peter Friedrichsen, ceo of the Swedish Patent Bureau Bergenstråhle & Lindvall, says the tendencies are nevertheless clear.

“We have several indicators pointing in the same direction – the patent applications from Swedish companies in the life science sector are diminishing.  Two major factors do come into play when looking at this downturn which has been a few years in the making. Large pharmaceutical companies have tighter budgets now. As a result they have changed their strategy from blanket applications over whole fields to more purpose-oriented, specific applications,” explains Friedrichsen.

“The second factor is that research-oriented small and medium sized companies are dependent on venture capital. The financial unrest of the past few years has resulted in less available venture capital in Sweden. which directly affects these companies,” he goes on to say.

A strazeneca closure can result IN new patents
Bergenstråhle & Lindvall analyze available international data on patent approvals. The numbers reflect granted patents and thus lag one to two years behind trends in applications submitted and another few years behind the time of the research. For this reason, it is likely that patent applications in life science will continue to diminish in the coming years regardless of whether or not the situation improves. One possible source of new patent applications may, surprisingly enough, be the recent decision of AstraZeneca to cease research operations in Sweden.
“There are a lot of good people coming out of AstraZeneca and this competence landing on the market will result in something, though it is not yet clear exactly what that ‘something’ may be,” says Friedrichsen.
Mattias Arvidsson at PRV agrees that we should see an increase in patents filed in Sweden in the life science field after the closure of AstraZeneca.
“Just look at what happened after Pharmacia closed their Swedish centers – many companies were founded on that research. It will be important to make use of the competence that now exits the AstraZeneca labs. It is a qualified guess that we will see more small and medium sized enterprises created from this and that it will affect the numbers of patents applied for,” says Arvidsson.

The total number of patent applications from spin-offs is unlikely to compensate in total for the reduction of patent applications stemming directly from AstraZeneca, but it is more likely that these spin-offs will file in Sweden rather than in strategic markets. Even if Friedrichsen has noted the reduced pressure on life science patent applications, he is not worried about the future of specialized patent offices.
“One third of what we do is life science patents,” he says, referring to his firm. “In life science, patent applications are always a key priority, and going through a specialized bureau increases the value of the patent in licensing negotiations,” he states. g