The importance of international cooperation for users

10 October 2017 - No comments »

In this posting I want to report to you on the main outcomes of our delegation to the WIPO Assemblies last week in Geneva and what they mean for the EPO’s users. These annual sessions have of course become one of the most significant events in the IP calendar and are attended by delegates from all over the world. But one of the stand-out points of this year’s meetings is how international cooperation is helping us to pursue greater quality and efficiency in the patent granting process, for our users, for the EPO and for the other National Patent Offices (NPOs) with whom we work so closely.

The notion of States working together to achieve common aims is engrained in the EPO’s identity. After all, the European Patent Organisation is itself built upon cooperation between European states and has ultimately enabled us to implement a system where one patent can be validated in up to 42 member states – soon to be 43. Cooperation is therefore not an end in itself. It is the means by which we can deliver benefits for our users. When we hold talks in Geneva with other NPOs, that same sense of purpose pervades as we seek to bring about a series of improvements in the patent system.

Greater quality of patents – not just at the EPO but at other NPOs – is one of those key goals that we are working to achieve. It is a strategic driver for initiatives such as  Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) which harmonises patent classification,  achieves new levels of precision and gives us better access to prior art, in particular Asian prior art. User searches and prior art classification are more accurate under the CPC and as a result we have seen the number of countries using the system rise exponentially to 25, since its launch on 1 January 2013. During talks with SIPO this week, we were able to assess how vast and rapidly-rising amounts of Asian prior art are being effectively managed by the use of the CPC. There are now 2.5m documents classified with the CPC by SIPO and a further batch, this time comprising 1.37 million CPC-classified documents, was recently delivered to the EPO. Efforts to expand this valuable tool were also bolstered last week by the signature of an extension to the CPC agreement with the newly appointed commissioner of KIPO, Dr Sung, which is a sign of confidence in the classification system.

At the same time we’re pursuing greater efficiency by introducing cooperation measures that reduce both processing times and the administrative burden for applicants and patent offices. Validation agreements are a prime example of such a measure and can help reduce growing backlogs, which was a central theme in many of the meetings I had with my counterparts. In just a couple of months Tunisia will become the third validation state, joining Morocco and Moldova, after a formal  launch date was agreed last week. When it enters into force on 1 December, patent applicants will be able to designate Tunisia in their European patent applications, which will confer the same rights and legal protection as national patents granted there.

But there is also another benefit for Tunisia itself. The validation agreements are accompanied by a comprehensive technical cooperation package to help develop the validation state’s national patent system. The NPO can concentrate its internal resources on supporting national innovation, instead of re-examining patent applications which have already been searched and examined by the EPO and its 4400 highly-trained and specialised examiners. As a result, these validation agreements have attracted great interest and we’re set to see more in the coming years as more and more countries are attracted by those benefits.

In the margins of the assemblies, our delegation also held talks on the PPH, another initiative that offers efficiency gains. Not only has a new PPH agreement with EAPO entered into force on 1 October, but a new agreement with Brazil was also signed in Geneva, which will enter into force in the coming months. The PPH has been praised as a valuable tool for innovators who need to progress an application in minimal time and by utilising results already available. European applicants filing at the EPO benefit from the possibility to request an accelerated search at the office of second filing under the PPH while building on previous results. Given the requests from our users for improved timeliness, we’re delighted that more NPO’s, in addition to the 14 participating offices, have expressed an interest in signing a PPH, while others requested extensions to existing agreements.

Among the other main developments, the EPO also signed a three-year comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding on bilateral co-operation with WIPO, further strengthening the attractiveness of the PCT, the main entry route for patent applications at the EPO.

The delegation to Geneva has now ended but the benefits derived from measures such as the CPC, PPH and validation agreements will continue to drive the EPO’s international cooperation agenda. From our recent meetings, it’s clear that initiatives which instil greater quality and efficiency in the patent granting process will elicit keen support from both our international partners and the user community.

Benoît Battistelli


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