EPO Sees More Applications, More Modernisation, Battistelli Says

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BRUSSELS – Patent quality is top priority for the European Patent Office, which “wants to be the best in the world,” President Benoît Battistelli said in a 5 March interview. The office’s latest annual report shows that patent filings are at an all-time high, and that Europe is an innovation hub. The office’s push for excellence, however, has sparked some staff resistance, Battistelli said.

The number of patent filings at the EPO rose by 2.8 percent in 2013, Battistelli said at a 6 March press briefing in Brussels. Last year, the office received 265,000 applications, compared to 258,000 in 2012. It granted 66,700 European patents, 1.6 percent more than in 2012, and the highest ever number, he said. Filings from Asia accounted for almost three-quarters of the increase, he said. The annual report is here.

The 38 EPO member countries accounted for 35 percent of all patent applications last year, with the rest coming from outside Europe, the EPO said. The most active countries were the US (24 of the total percentage), Japan (20 percent), Germany (12 percent), China (8 percent), Korea (6 percent), France (5 percent), Switzerland and the Netherlands (both 3 percent), and the UK and Sweden (both 2 percent).

Switzerland headed the list of European applications per million inhabitants, followed by Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, the EPO said. By contract, Japan had 177 applications per million inhabitants, well ahead of South Korea and the EU 28-country average (both 129), the US (107) and China (3).

Although European patent filings are outnumbered by those from other regions, the fact that there are more and more applications from non-European countries shows the attractiveness of the European economy as a hub for innovation, Battistelli said in the interview.

Focus on Patent Quality, Organisational Efficiency

Patent quality is the EPO’s first priority, Battistelli told Intellectual Property Watch. Quality means that a patent is “legally solid,” he said at the press briefing. Among other things, the office is developing tools to give its examiners better access to Asian patent documentation (text and data).

It is also setting individual quality targets for examiners, and has, with the US Patent and Trademark Office, put in place a patent classification scheme to improve the quality of search that has become the world standard, he said. There are three examiners in each examining position, a set-up that avoids personal bias and ensures more objective decisions on patent grants, he said.

The results of such changes is that since 2010, the EPO has ranked first each year in independent user surveys, Battistelli said.

Another priority is to put in place a quality efficiency strategy, Battistelli told Intellectual Property Watch. He wants the office to be more efficient and cost-effective, increasing production while cutting expenses. The EPO has hired 200 new examiners, 90 of whom are filling new posts, with the rest taking slots vacated by examiners who are leaving, he said. Of the office’s 7,000 employees, 4,100 are examiners, he said. The EPO will not be raising its fees, but will try to boost productivity by redeploying staff from support services to core activities, he said.

Change Sparks Staff Unrest

But efforts at modernising the office are spurring some “resistance, dissatisfaction” among the staff, Battistelli said. The world is changing and the EPO must adapt, he said. Change always creates difficulties but is necessary to build the future of the office, he said.

The office is updating its social policy in several areas, including a legal framework for strikes, rules for working from home, and making sure those who speak for employees in EPO staff interactions are truly representative, Battistelli said. Globally, the staff’s social package is very generous, he said. Last year’s “social report,” which details salaries, allowances and promotions, shows that staff is in a good position, he said.

The EPO is the only international organisation that is fully self-funding but that also gives back money to its member states, Battistelli said. Part of every patent renewal fee generated by European patents stays in the country from which the patent arose, he said. The office gives back 400 million euros from its total 2 billion euro budget, he said.

International Outreach

The EPO wants to be the best in the world at granting patents, Battistelli said. It will contribute to global innovation by issuing quality patents, he said. The office is working with counterparts in other regions to harmonise patent rules in order to cut red tape and unnecessary formalities for companies, he said. That can be tackled on two levels, he said. Technical harmonisation is mainly being led by patent offices. IP5, an informal alliance of the European, US, Japanese, Chinese, Chinese and Korean patent offices, is standardising patent tools, practices and procedures, he said. Harmonisation on the substantive level, however, is more difficult because it requires national legislation, he said.

The EPO is active in all international discussions, Battistelli said. For example, the office announced on 4 March an agreement with the UK Intellectual Property Office that creates new working arrangements to enable better cooperation between the two and that will give British businesses better access to patent information in Europe

The EPO is also technically ready to start granting and administering the EU single patent, Battistelli said. Most implementation and procedural rules have been settled, but patent grants can’t move forward until the unified patent court system is in place, which likely will not be until the end of 2015 or early 2016, he said. Battistelli said he doesn’t foresee any problems with securing the requisite number of 13 national ratifications of the unified patent court. Three countries have already done do and the process is moving forward in several others as well, he said.

Other statistics from the annual report were: (1) The top three filing countries in 2013 were the US, Japan and Germany. (2) Samsung again submitted the most applications (2,618), but five of the top ten filing companies were European (Siemens, Philips, Bosch, BASF and Ericsson). (3) Europeans filed the largest number of applications in nine of the 10 major technical fields, and grabbed the lead from US applicants in the area of medical technology, which was once again the field with the most applications. (4) Computer technology was the only field not dominated by Europe last year; here, the US led with 34 percent of the filings.

Dugie Standeford may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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  1. Anynomous says

    In 2013, the EPO “granted 66,700 European patents, 1.6 percent more than in 2012”. Nothing is said about the actual number of examiners in 2012 and 2013. Applicants may wonder which toll they will pay for this increase. They must be aware that, despite all their efforts examiners may had to reconsider this subtle equilibrium between quality and quantity. Article 99 EPC is not yet outdated.

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