21 January 2014
The EPO filing figures for 2013 were published last week. Although they remain preliminary – largely because of the 2013 PCT applications which have yet to reach us -, the main trends are clearly apparent. First, for the fourth year in a row, the filings total increased (+2.8%), reaching yet another peak (265 000). However, this growth was not linear through the year: the overall result fell short of the expected figure of 3.5 to 4%. One of the main reasons for this is the noticeable drop in the number of divisional applications, following a change in the relevant legal regime: the new provisions, adopted in October 2013, will enter into force on 1 April 2014.
Looking at the origin of the filings, growth was strongest from Asia, especially China (+18%) and South Korea (+15%). Europe’s share of the total remained stable, though with some shifts in geographical focus: filings from the Netherlands and the Nordic countries increased substantially, but declined slightly in Germany, Switzerland and the UK, while remaining stable in France. Once the final figures are available, the EPO will publish an indicator, based on the number of patent filings per inhabitant, which gives a view of the innovative capacities of each country. The number of granted patents also continued to increase and reached 66 000, the highest figure ever. Despite the growth in our workload, we maintained the timeliness of our process.
In other respects, too, 2013 was a very successful year for the EPO. Last January saw the launch of the CPC, our classification system co-managed with the USPTO, which has already been adopted by many other patent offices worldwide. The Patent Translate programme was completed in December, a year ahead of schedule, and now provides automatic translation from and into English for 31 languages (27 official languages of the EPO member states, plus Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian). Use of the service has steadily increased, to a daily total of around 12 000 translation requests, and this figure is set to rise further, with the addition of language pairs built around German and French.
The preparatory work for the unitary patent began last March with the setting-up of the Select Committee, and some important steps have already been accomplished. I am also very pleased that our new cooperation policy, launched in 2012, is continuing to enjoy the strong support of our member states, nearly all of which have now signed a bilateral action plan or are about to do so.
Internally, the EPO has achieved some important results aimed at improving the working conditions of our staff and modernising our processes and management. The decision of our Administrative Council authorising the construction of a new tower building in The Hague has a landmark significance for our future; work on this exciting project is now under way. The IT environment provided to our examiners, and our external users, has been enhanced, especially in recent months, and the EPO will continue to push the IP5 Global Dossier to ensure that new tools can be delivered this year.
2014 will see further progress in all these key projects as they move towards implementation, with the overarching goal of improving the quality and accessibility of the patent system.