18 February 2014
Last year, filings at the EPO reached a new peak, with over 265 000 applications. Coping with this workload – while maintaining high quality standards – necessitates action to address a wide range of parameters, including human resources, IT tools, the legal framework of the patent process and the EPO’s internal procedures. With the “Raising the bar” initiative and the implementation of other recent projects (the CPC, Patent Translate and the new EPOQUEnet), the EPO has achieved major progress in mastering the world’s prior art, especially the increasing volumes of Asian prior art, and has improved the efficiency of search and examination.
The Office is currently seeking to address more specifically an issue often raised in public debate: the timeliness of the process. Only a small proportion of our applicants (about 6% of the total) request the fast-track procedure known as PACE to shorten the time to grant. However, there is clearly a good deal of interest in the quick delivery of the EPO’s comprehensive search report, which includes an opinion on patentability. This is why we have decided to launch a new initiative called “Early Certainty from Search”.
The Office is already able to provide search reports within 6 months for its first filings (20% of the total), but the objective now is to apply this tight timeline to all the second filings as well. By focusing more examiner time on searches, “Early Certainty from Search” would improve legal certainty for pending patent applications in Europe, as well as removing the blind spots caused by the growing backlog of unsearched applications, mostly from outside Europe. It should also be possible for third parties to request accelerated examination, provided this does not place an undue burden on applicants. The new scheme would apply to all our files, with no additional fee.
During the coming months we shall be consulting our users about this major, and unique, step forward. On the basis of their feedback, a final decision will be taken on whether to switch the examiner priority scheme to the “Early Certainty from Search” concept in July 2014. The consultation exercise has already begun, and the comments received so far show a strong interest in the proposals. I would urge you all to share your thoughts with us on this strategic reorientation.