08 September 2015
At the European Patent Office we have seen the demand for patents increase consistently over the last five years. The number of annual direct European patent filings has increased by almost 30,000 since 2010 and in 2014 we received a total of 274,174. Now, more than ever, we face the need to reconcile increasing demand with the production of high quality products – and to deliver those patents in a timely manner.
We are committed to delivering a world-leading quality service in as short a time as possible and last year we reaffirmed that commitment with the initiation of a pioneering new programme. Early Certainty from Search (ECfS) was launched on 1 July 2014, first and foremost to provide applicants with legal certainty in Europe on pending patent applications early in the process and also to contribute to overall timeliness.
In the year since its implementation, ECfS has delivered real benefits for applicants. Under the scheme, all search reports and written opinions are issued within six months from receipt. Furthermore, grants are expedited for applications once a positive search opinion has been issued. With the introduction of this accelerated procedure, we have also been careful to ensure that our world renowned quality has not suffered. The extensive quality controls in place at the EPO, reinforced by the recently introduced procedure known as Conformity Assurance for Search and Examination (CASE) have guaranteed the reliability of the examiner’s opinion at all stages of the procedure.
The benefits of a system in which greater legal clarity is provided at an earlier stage have also become immediately apparent to applicants and users of the IP system. More timely delivery of all search reports and opinions on applications has given companies and inventors a sounder basis on which to base patenting strategies at an earlier stage and supported decision making on patent portfolio initiatives. A preliminary opinion on patentability at an early stage has also allowed applicants to fine-tune pending applications on the basis of reliable search results and preliminary examination findings.
Furthermore, there have also been benefits for the general public by enhancing the transparency of pending patent rights in Europe. We have built in safeguards to ensure that Early Certainty from Search does not negatively impact potential competitors by allowing third parties to submit substantiated and non-anonymous observations that are taken up by the examiner when preparing the next office action.
I am delighted to report that Early Certainty from Search is already offering concrete results after just over one year in terms of the number of files treated in a timely manner. In all four of the priority application groups that are targeted under the scheme we have seen encouraging progress. In our Priority one group alone, the backlog of files has been reduced by nearly half, from 40000 applications in July 2014 to 21,463, as of the beginning of this month. We have also witnessed a steady and significant increase in the number of International Search reports (ISRs) for PCT chapter one filings being delivered on time. 87.1% of ISRs are now delivered within 3 months of the dossier being received and represents a significant increase given the extremely high volume of files.
It has been a tremendously encouraging start that reaffirms our commitment to users and applicants and one which has clearly given them a greater possibility to influence the process. Based upon this initial operating period, we are confident that Early Certainty from Search is set to continue to deliver enhanced legal certainty from an earlier date and yet still retain our hallmark of quality.