21 June 2011
The European patent system is a two-tier environment in which the European Patent Office is the single central authority empowered to grant patents for all our 38 member states whilst the national patent offices play an essential role in developing IP policies at local level. This complementarity between regional and local levels is not specific to patents; it reflects the needs, realities and diversity of Europe in the 21st century.
Some might think this system could be rather complicated to manage, and sometimes it is. But when both levels move forward in harmony, it maximises efficiency. That is why I have made the development of technical co-operation between the EPO and our national offices one of my top priorities. In my opinion, it is the only way to achieve a more homogenous and efficient patent system and to improve Europe’s wider common market. For I have always been convinced that close proximity between providers and users is fundamental to the success of co-operation work.
To ensure that the EPO’s general policy and framework are shaped so as to promote co-operation, I recently suggested a gathering of the representatives of our member states, to review the state of play and conduct a broad exchange of views about a more active and dynamic co-operation policy. The meeting was held in Bratislava last week, at the kind invitation of the Slovakian delegation. I had expected an open discussion – which was why I did not submit any “pre-cooked” draft proposals beforehand – and I was not disappointed.
Indeed, the debates were not limited to questions of principle; we also addressed very practical issues in three main fields: IT systems, training, and patent information & awareness. By developing co-operation in these three areas we can make significant progress in improving local conditions and building a real European IP network. These very fruitful discussions will now help us to draw up a roadmap for co-operation in the years to come.
It is then up to the Office to translate that roadmap into practical projects and proposals.