UK national security patents jump by 36% in one year

Increase in defence spending as geopolitical tensions ratchet up could be behind the rise in military technology patents issued with secrecy orders

Rise in military technology patents covered by secrecy rules

The number of patents deemed critical to the defence of the UK, so called “national security” patents, has risen by 36% between 2021 and 2022.

The figures were obtained by the IP firm Mathys & Squire from the latest data available at the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), and show that the number of such patents filed rose from 45 in 2021 to 61 in 2022 representing the highest number of national security patents filed since 2018. 

Such patents go through a different pathway at the UK IPO. They cannot be disclosed publicly as the government believes that it would impact the security of the country if details were available to hostile groups. Examples of patent applications that could be covered by national security rules include camouflage and decoy devices, communication countermeasures such as signal jamming devices, guidance systems for drones and missiles and directed energy and laser weaponry.

Out of the 61 national security patents filed in 2022, filers of UK origin account for 51, representing 84% of all these patents.

Mathys & Squire says that the rise is partly driven by an increase in defence spending especially in technology heavy areas such as drones and cyber-defence. Another major factor in the increase may also be the government’s increasing sensitivity around the publication of military-grade technology.

Andrew White, partner at Mathys and Squire’s London office, said: “These patents show how the UK is investing heavily in developing cutting-edge security and defence technology.”

He added that the UK and other western governments are increasingly concerned about the “technical detail of sensitive technology being seen by countries that are not considered friendly. Increased geopolitical tensions and the war in Ukraine has brought that risk to the top of the agenda.”

The number of these patents that relate to UK inventions has increased in the last three years, says the firm, demonstrating the increasing importance of UK manufacturers in developing new defence and security innovations. UK inventors accounted for 76% of patents in 2020, which then increased further to 80% in 2021.

Permission must also be obtained from the UK IPO to file an application for these technologies abroad unless an equivalent application in the UK has been filed more than six weeks previously and they have not been deemed a national security patent. Many countries have a similar arrangement to that in the UK, typically that residents of a country must file the first patent application in the country of residence.

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