22 April 2013
This year, the Institute of Professional Representatives before the European Patent Office (epi) is celebrating the 35th anniversary of its foundation, and I was very pleased to be present at the ceremony held last week in Vienna to mark this occasion. I would like to take this opportunity to thank again Mr Tony Tangena, the Institute’s President, for his very kind invitation to attend. The epi has been a close partner to the EPO from the outset: its existence was already enshrined in the European Patent Convention. As the professional body that represents the European patent attorneys of all 38 EPO member states, it has more than 10 000 members.
A main reason for our close cooperation is the European Qualifying Examination (EQE) which we organise jointly for patent professionals seeking to be entitled to represent applicants before the EPO. Well over 2000 candidates sit this rigorous examination each year at one of the twelve examination centres across Europe. The average pass rate is around 25%. We are currently engaged in a modernisation exercise to improve the efficiency and quality of the EQE and also to widen its geographical reach and ensure that the results reflect the diversity of our 38 member states (at present, more than 80% of the successful candidates come from only five countries).
To this end, we have initiated a wide range of measures, including the implementation of a new IT system to support the organisation of the examination, and the provision of dedicated training activities by the European Patent Academy, for example in the EQE Candidate Support Project for candidates from member states having fewer than five EQE-qualified representatives. The EPO will continue to make available the necessary human and budgetary resources to support the EQE, while striving to enhance the overall efficiency of the system.
In addition to our regular meetings with epi representatives on the various official bodies of the EPO, we have been pursuing for some years a specific programme, known as Praktika, to foster a better mutual understanding between EPO patent examiners and private practitioners with regard to their respective needs and obligations. The programme offers opportunities for patent attorneys to observe at first hand the work of a patent examination cluster or an EPO board of appeal and, vice versa, for EPO examiners to spend a month in a patent attorney’s office. Experience has shown that both parties find this enlightening and useful.
From the EPO’s point of view, a rich dialogue with the user community is of paramount importance, as one of the main drivers for the further development of the European patent system. We congratulate the epi on its 35th anniversary and look forward to the continuation of our successful partnership.