Most companies in Europe do not appreciate the potential value of patent information and are therefore neglecting an important source of business intelligence and innovation, according to a new European Patent Office (EPO) report. The EPO commissioned the study of 1,904 companies, 443 patent lawyers and 29 universities in 30 European countries in order to gain a better understanding of current and potential users of patent information. The organisation hopes to use the findings to develop a new generation of user friendly patent information services. It is estimated that up to 80 per cent of all the applied technical knowledge that exists today is contained within patent documents, and cannot be found elsewhere. The EPO describes patent information in the form of databases, CDs and DVDs as 'an unparalleled mine of technical information and business intelligence.' Yet according to the report: '[M]ost companies and particularly SMEs [small and medium sized enterprises] have no idea what patent information can do for them.' This is despite almost all the companies involved in the study expressing a desire for more information on innovation and markets than they currently have access to. However the situation within Europe is far from uniform, as the report reveals: 'In general it seems that access to patent information is better in north and western Europe than in eastern and southern Europe.' There are exceptions though, with companies in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia enjoying relatively good levels of access, while in Sweden and Liechtenstein access is quite poor. The typical profile of a company best equipped to exploit patent information is that of a large, innovation focused organisation with distinct departments for dealing with patenting and intellectual property (IP) issues. Such companies are most often found in countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, France, the UK, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, and Denmark, according to the report. A key challenge for patent information providers such as the EPO is delivering products that are user friendly. According to the survey, many companies, particularly SMEs, are discouraged from making use of patent data because they find it inaccessible, difficult to use and expensive. Many respondents expressed a need for help in accessing patent information, a role the EPO suggests could be best fulfilled by national patent offices. Finally, while most declared the Internet their preferred medium for accessing patent information, the report notes that in countries where the innovation infrastructure is more advanced, companies make more use of conferences, professional organisations and commercial suppliers. It is therefore recommended that information suppliers do not invest all their efforts in the Internet, but diversify into several different delivery channels.