10 March 2017
Earlier this week I was in Brussels to present the EPO’s annual results. There we welcomed more journalists that we have ever had present at this annual press conference. Media coverage has already proved expansive with reports from major outlets analysing the main trends – a positive sign of the wider interest in European innovation. While there were a number of key findings that have been picked up by the media, there are a couple that I would like to highlight in particular. Firstly, the significant rise in the number of patents that had been granted during the course of 2016 and, secondly, the results arising at the EPO from an effective quality and efficiency policy.
For me, the first of these is a key result. The number of patents granted has risen by 40%, with the total reaching 96,000. It indicated that we’re processing more patents, more efficiently and with the minimum of delay. This achievement is not because there has been a significant rise in the granting rate. It is the result of the consistent application of a quality and efficiency policy and the reforms that we have made.
For the last five years we have undertaken changes in key areas, such as HR, IT and Quality that have allowed us to concentrate available resources on our core business. This means more examiners through a reallocation of posts and in the last five years the number has increased significantly from 3994 in 2012 to 4310 in 2016. It also means extensive databases that yield higher quality search and examination products, intensive training and better tools for our examiners, as well as a merit based career system, rather than automatically accrued rights. Our quality initiatives have been the greatest priority through these reforms and in 2016 we were once again ranked as number one among the world’s largest IP5 offices for quality of products and services, in addition to other User Satisfaction Surveys which also revealed increasing satisfaction.
Over the last few years we have witnessed a rise in our incoming work. Yet there is another key result which indicates that we are mastering our increasing workloads: a substantial decrease in our stock. The measures we’ve taken have enabled us to reduce our stock of search, examination and opposition work – measured in months – by 25% over the last two years. Furthermore we have achieved better timeliness through our Early Certainty initiative, which was expanded in 2016 to include Examination and Opposition. Since the original implementation of Early Certainty from Search we have driven down the time it takes to receive search reports with a written opinion to just 5.1 months, well under the six month target. Having successfully attained this goal, we are confident that we will achieve our targets for other stages of the application process. By the end of 2020, we should have reached 12 months for examination and 15 months for opposition, which will prove essential in giving our users greater legal certainty at an earlier stage.
It is therefore clear from our annual results that our workload remains high and our core business is intensive. But it is also evident that we are progressing in our quality and efficiency policy. The latest figures show that this strategy continues to deliver the results that our users and other stakeholders have come to expect from the EPO.