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EPO Council Unveils Strategy To Tackle Increasing Workload

by Ulrika Lomas, for, Brussels

20 December 2007

The Council of the European Patent Organisation earlier this month announced that it had backed a strategic approach to handling future workload in the European patent system.

The proposal was outlined in a study presented by the Board of the Organisation's Administrative Council, and was endorsed at the Administrative Council's meeting on 14 December.

It contains a set of strategic recommendations on how the European Patent Office and the patent offices of the member states should best address the challenge of ever-growing numbers of patent applications, increasing backlogs and securing the quality standards of European patents.

The study, drafted in close cooperation with the Organisation's 32 member states, the European Patent Office (EPO), the Organisation's executive body, and after consultation with interested circles, addresses the workload situation from a global perspective.

"The patent activity follows the pattern of globalisation, making the patent landscape in Europe very dynamic but also very complex", explained Roland Grossenbacher, Chairman of the Administrative Council.

He continued:

"The challenges the European patent system is facing fully reflect that global character: New players are appearing on the scene, causing application numbers to rise dramatically, while new emerging technologies contribute to the complexity and volume of patent applications. All these factors need to be taken into account if the system should efficiently maintain its support function for the European economy."

"The study confirms that the Board of the Administrative Council and the management of the Office very largely share a vision of the situation the European patent system finds itself in," added Alison Brimelow, President of the EPO. "It provides important insights into the route to make the European patent system fit for the future. Moreover, it is an endorsement of the new strategic approach the Office is taking in this respect."

The report highlighted that in the past 25 years, the volume of patent applications at the EPO has quadrupled to reach 208,500 in 2006, and is expected to increase further.

Much of this growth is also attributable to the enhanced global activity of companies, to emerging economies such as China, India and South Korea in the field of patents, and the increasing importance of new technologies, such as information and communication technology and biotechnology, rendering the patent grant procedure also more difficult and costly.

As a result, workload and backlogs at the patent offices increase, causing quality problems and long waiting periods, which can adversely affect the innovation process.

On the basis of these findings, the report pinpointed five strategic directions for dealing with the future workload of the European patent system. These were:

  • Utilising work done by others (other patent offices in Europe or outside Europe, applicants and third parties).
  • "Raising the bar" (i.e. granting exclusive rights only for technical innovations with sufficient inventive merit)
  • Improving the efficiency of the process (coming up with new measures to deal with the workload in an efficient way)
  • Enhancing cooperation within Europe (e.g. by building the European Patent Network that consists of the EPO and the national patent offices)
  • Making the Organisation and the EPO fit for the future (enhancing their capability to deal with new challenges, reviewing governance and finance).

The report formulated policy recommendations for each of these five areas, which can form the basis of a work programme for the EPO, now that they have been endorsed by the Administrative Council.

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