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Specific report

Insights into railway innovation through patenting trends


Publication date
5 July 2021
Joint Research Centre


Insights into Railway Innovation Through Patenting Trends uses patenting data from the European Patent Office as an indicator of global trends in innovation, and studies the comparative strengths of the EU, China, Japan, the US and South Korea since the year 2000.

The report finds that an increasing number of high-value inventions is being developed in the EU, predominantly in the fields of rolling stock (mostly bodies, suspensions and traction) and of control, command and signalling technology. This is likely to be a consequence of EU rail harmonisation policies to create a single European railway area. However, patenting in these areas is also on the increase globally; the data suggests that continued activity in these fields is critical for maintaining and deepening a competitive advantage.

When using high value inventions as a benchmark, the EU is way ahead, counting more than double the number of its closest competitor, China, which recently took the second spot from Japan. When European players export their inventions, it is mostly to the US and China. This has gained speed in the last few years, suggesting that EU firms are becoming more successful in promoting their products abroad.

In absolute terms, the EU is also the region with by far the most green inventions – those which could make a direct contribution to climate change mitigation. This can be attributed to a combination of business opportunities and a favourable regulatory framework for green innovation over the past decades. However, seen as a proportion of overall inventions, Japan and South Korea perform better, leaving the European railway sector with room for improvement.

An analysis of market concentration shows that a large number of players are active in the EU market, and intra-sectoral competitive dynamics are therefore likely to be strong. Of the top 10 global innovators for high value inventions, six are European companies: Siemens, Alstom, Bombardier, Knorr Bremse, Plasser&Theurer and Voith.

Authors: VAN BALEN Mitchell, PASIMENI Francesco, GEORGAKAKI Aliki

Citation: van Balen, M., Pasimeni, F., Georgakaki, A., Insights into railway innovation through patenting trends, European Union Agency for Railways, Valenciennes, 2021. JRC124878

JRC number: JRC124878

Insights into railway innovation cover


5 JULY 2021
Insights into railway innovation through patenting trends