Shareholdings and spin-offs
At the reporting date, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft held equity investments in a total of 82 companies operating in a diverse range of sectors. The transfer of technology to industry formed the focus of activities at 58 of the companies in the investment portfolio, while a further 18 equity investments were of a strategic nature. Equity investments also include six affiliated companies. In 2022, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft invested a total of €0.6 million in the acquisition of equity interests in shareholdings. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft added four companies to its investment portfolio and divested its shares in six. The total carrying amount of shareholdings (including shares in affiliated companies) decreased to €9.2 million (2021: €10.4 million). Income from the divestiture of shareholdings came to €11.1 million. Spin-offs are an integral part of Fraunhofer’s strategy for exploiting its industrial property rights. The Fraunhofer Venture department generally supports spin-off founders as they prepare to launch their new business. In individual cases, Fraunhofer takes a minority share in the spin-off under company law as part of its technology transfer activities. In 2022, Fraunhofer Venture provided support to 49 new spin-off projects; in total, 18 new spin-offs were established from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Fraunhofer has set itself the goal of increasing not only the number of spin-offs but also their proportional contribution to overall industrial revenue. The innovation hub AHEAD offers a comprehensive package of targeted measures and programs to help achieve this objective.
Exploitation of intellectual property rights
The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft remains the leader among German research institutions in terms of its annual number of invention disclosures and new patent applications. However, the corresponding figures are lower than in previous years. In 2022, 443 invention disclosures were submitted by the Fraunhofer institutes. By contrast, there were between 700 and 800 inventions annually in previous years, with a total of 604 in 2021. One reason for this decline is the reduced on-site presence of staff at the institutes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In line with the decline in invention disclosures, the number of patent applications claiming rights of priority has also fallen. In 2022, 375 patent applications claiming rights of priority were filed with the relevant patent offices.
The Fraunhofer portfolio of active patent families, each of which comprises all intellectual property rights in different countries, remained close to the previous year’s figure at 7,414. Despite the temporary decline in the number of invention disclosures, the general strategy of the Fraunhofer institutes remains to secure valuable inventions permanently under patent law. To guarantee ongoing exploitation of intellectual property rights, Fraunhofer is continuing its efforts to group patents owned by different institutes into portfolios that are then offered to selected companies, licensed or, in some cases, sold.
As a rule, Fraunhofer generates revenue from the commercial exploitation of intellectual property (IP) rights by way of license fees. In addition, IP can also be contributed to patent pools or exploited through the sale of IP. The most successful of these pools consist of patents for audio and video encoding. In conjunction with other parties from different countries that hold patents that are relevant to standards, Fraunhofer uses various patent pools to issue licenses on a worldwide basis. The income from these pools is reinvested in pre-competitive research, thus helping strengthen Germany’s position as a research hub for the long term. In 2022, Fraunhofer concluded 301 new IP licensing or sale agreements, bringing the total number of active agreements at the end of 2022 to 3,141. Revenue from the licensing and sale of IP amounted to €161 million and thus increased noticeably compared to the previous year due to an extraordinary effect arising from the sale of a larger patent portfolio. Of this, €160 million of the license-fee revenue came from industry and €1 million from other customers outside industry.