Insights on cleantech innovation: Statistics about patents, challenges and collaborations

Ákos Cserkuti
June 26, 2024
Reading time:
4 minutes

Cleantech innovation is a key driver of global efforts to transition to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly economy, addressing global challenges such as climate change, resource depletion, and pollution to drive the transition and create a resilient economy.

This blog post delves into the key findings of the recent study by the European Patent Office on cleantech innovation: Financing and commercialisation of cleantech innovation to highlight tendencies related to patents and cleantech companies, including economic trends, leading regions, and the importance of small enterprises and research organizations.

The global landscape of cleantech innovation

The transition to a cleaner, more sustainable economy has fueled a global race to innovate. According to the latest EPO study, more than 750,000 international patent families (IPFs) relate to clean and sustainable technologies, representing almost 12% of all IPFs worldwide. 

Remarkably, IPFs in cleantech have grown faster than overall patenting activity, with significant surges during 2006–2012 and 2017-2021, driven by the EU, Japan, and China. This rapid growth underscores the critical role of patents in protecting and promoting innovations that address environmental challenges.

There are also 4,71 million active patent families addressing the SDGs, meaning that almost one in three patents is connected to at least one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals

The percentage of SDG-related patents from all active patent families, 2000–2023.
                                                               Source: Financing and commercialisation of cleantech innovation

The number of SDG-related patents has grown significantly over the past 23 years. In 2000, only 16,4% of global active patent families were related to SDGs. By 2023, this figure had risen to 31,4%  according to the EPO report.

Global competition and the role of the EU single market

The landscape of cleantech innovation is highly competitive, with Europe playing a leading role in green innovation. European countries collectively account for 27% of cleantech IPFs globally, ahead of Japan, the US, and China. However, scaling up in Europe presents challenges, particularly due to inconsistent regulations across member states. 

One of the key findings of the EPO study is that the EU single market is crucial for fostering a cohesive environment that supports the growth of cleantech innovations. Therefore, consistent regulations are needed to ensure that European innovators can fully capitalize on the market opportunities within the region.

Challenges in financing and commercializing cleantech

Despite the immense potential and need for clean technologies, innovators still face many challenges in bringing these solutions to market. One of the primary challenges is securing adequate financing. 

The study highlights a funding gap between EU and US firms, with European cleantech innovators struggling to raise significant funds compared to their US counterparts. This disparity is evident across all stages of growth, with EU firms more reliant on debt finance while US firms benefit from substantial equity investments. 

For smaller companies, access to financing is particularly challenging, with over 30% of EU micro and small companies citing it as a major barrier to commercializing their patented technologies.

The importance of SMEs and PROs 

When it comes to cleantech related international patent families (IPFs) from US or European companies, corporations with more than 5,000 employees submit about three out of every four, excluding those from universities, hospitals, public research organizations, or individual inventors. 

Although small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) only make up 24% of IPFs for clean and sustainable technologies, this category is very important, since they are more likely to produce radical and disruptive inventions, which is especially essential for developing a dynamic innovation ecosystem.

Almost one-third of cleantech innovators report that their technology was developed in partnership with other entities, including other companies, universities, and public research organizations (PROs). In particular, 34% of cleantech innovators in the EU report such collaborations.

Top applicants for SDG-related patents from academic and research organizations between 2000 and 2023.
                                             Source: Financing and commercialisation of cleantech innovation

Academic and research organizations play a significant role in SDG-related innovations, with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of California leading in patent numbers. Other key contributors include the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), and Tsinghua University. These institutions' strong patenting activity highlights their crucial involvement in advancing sustainability-focused technologies.


For cleantech companies, patents provide the necessary protection to secure investments and form strategic partnerships. They also enable companies to navigate regulatory landscapes and bring their technologies to market. By aligning patent strategies with sustainability goals, cleantech innovators can ensure their contributions have a lasting impact on the global effort to combat climate change and promote sustainable development.

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