European companies throw away Pounds 20 billion a year by duplicating research and development that has already been patented, sometimes by the same firm.
Trevor Lemon, assistant director of research and services at the United Kingdom Patent Office, said that his office estimates that companies are wasting about 30 per cent of the European Union's total spending on R&D.
The European Commission highlighted the problem several years ago, he said.
"Some of the waste will inevitably have involved collaborations with universities," he said.
"A lot of academics are setting up in business through spin-offs and if the trend continues then universities will also have to take on board the value of patent-based information."
Mr Lemon said firms should follow the example of the United States and Japan and monitor patent holdings. He said more than 36 million patents have been published to date and each year over a million new patent records become available.
A pan-European study on company attitudes to patents just completed by consultant Derwent Information reinforces Mr Lemon's concerns.
The survey, the first of its kind, covered 189 UK and 171 continental European companies operating in sectors such as chemicals, engineering, pharmaceuticals and electronics. It found that 71 per cent had wasted resources on developing technologies already patented by another company.
Eighty-two per cent claimed to conduct some form of patent audit but only 42 per cent do so regularly, with continental Europe seeming to be more systematic. The remaining 18 per cent never carry out such audits.
Richard Thorne, Derwent's commercial director, said that by failing to realise the value of patenting Europe is letting global competitors steal a march.