15 March 2013
This week, the EPO’s Economic and Scientific Advisory Board (ESAB) published the results of its activities in 2012, investigating three topics of its own choosing: fee policy, quality and patent thickets. The valuable reports on these sensitive issues are accompanied by recommendations for improving the patent system. The ESAB is an independent body, and its views do not necessarily mirror those of the EPO, but we shall certainly take account of the Board’s conclusions in our own deliberations on policy and future projects.
I have noted in particular the Board’s general emphasis on quality as the main answer to the challenges facing the patent system. This accords with the strategic orientation adopted by the EPO, which has launched a range of initiatives to enhance quality by improving its processes and procedures. We are also liaising with other patent offices around the world to see how we can work together to make life easier for our users while boosting the overall quality of the patent system. Here, feedback from our users is crucial. I have been particularly gratified by the results of recent user opinion surveys, carried out by independent bodies, showing that real improvements have been registered in the quality of the EPO’s products and services.
Regarding fee policy, I have always attached great importance to the accessibility of the patent system. In my former capacity as head of the French IP Office, I implemented a 50% fee reduction policy for SMEs, research institutions and individual inventors. The European patent system is often seen as geared towards big companies. Looking at the facts, however, a somewhat different picture emerges.
We recently conducted an internal survey among a representative sample of our users, looking at the patent application process and at patent information. The preliminary results indicate that the EPO’s services are being used by very significant numbers of smaller applicants. In 2012, 25% of the European patent applications filed with the EPO came from SMEs (as defined by the EU), 6.5% from universities and public research institutions, and 6% from individual entrepreneurs. A further interesting aspect is that two-thirds of the SMEs filing applications with the EPO are based in Europe. These figures are most encouraging. However, they should not lure us into complacency: we must sustain our efforts to make the system more accessible and raise patent awareness.
For 2013, the ESAB programme encompasses three new topics which will be of interest to many of our stakeholders: the unitary patent, the Unified Patent Court and the question of a grace period. Up to now, the discussion on these issues has been dominated by legal considerations; the ESAB will look, instead, at their economic ramifications. This will certainly feed into the further debate on these major projects, especially at the implementation stage.