The Expansion of Early Certainty

26 July 2016

EPO President Benoît BattistelliOver the years the EPO has built its reputation upon quality, providing our users with legally robust intellectual property protection. But, as with any good service, good products need to be delivered on time. This is particularly so for our users, as innovators and investors look for certainty at an early stage in the process. Patent strategies can depend upon accurate predictions as to the strength of their applications, and what objections they might need to overcome. Timeliness is therefore a key issue not just for applicants, but also those potentially affected by pending patent rights. Our users have stressed that it is a priority for them and, as such, timeliness is a priority for the EPO.

Since July 2014, the EPO has addressed this issue effectively through the implementation of “Early Certainty from Search” (ECfS), which aims to provide a high quality search report with a preliminary opinion on patentability within six months of filing. Just two years on, and accompanied by a dramatic reduction of backlogs, that six month objective has been achieved and the initiative fully implemented. It is a milestone in providing applicants with greater certainty in their patent applications and the user community has openly expressed its satisfaction.

We now have an opportunity to build upon that success and make further gains in timeliness, by streamlining other stages of the patent application process. Starting this year, the EPO is undertaking one of the most significant improvements to its services in recent times by extending Early Certainty to examination and opposition.

For examination, grants will be concluded on average within 12 months after the start of the examination procedure. To supplement the internal changes that are being orchestrated to achieve this, it has been decided to increase the existing 75% refund of the examination fee to 100% when the application is withdrawn before start of substantive examination. In addition, an additional 50% refund will be introduced in cases where the application is withdrawn after the first official communication.

For Opposition, we have now committed to ensuring that the overall duration of the procedure is reduced, from the current 26 months for cases with no specific legal complications, down to just 15 months. Much progress has already been made with the backlog of opposition files awaiting first action having fallen by nearly 75% over the last year. To steer us further towards attaining this 15 month target, the workflow of the opposition procedure has already been revised within the current legal framework as of 1 July this year. The streamlined opposition procedure simplifies opposition proceedings and is now set to deliver decisions faster, while giving parties more time to react to summons and prepare for oral proceedings.

Over the coming years, the Office will simplify its procedures further with the aim of reducing pendency, optimising the use of examiner capacity and delivering gains in quality and timeliness. Efficiency improvements already made have ensured that we have the right tools and competences to gain full control over the timeliness of all our procedures by 2020; six months for a search and its opinion, 12 months on average for examination and 15 months for a standard opposition. We have listened to our users who have stressed the importance of timeliness and, with the Early Certainty initiative, we are set to deliver further progress in this area and successfully meet the requirements of the Paris Criteria.

Benoît Battistelli
President

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