March: a month of international cooperation

29 March 2018 - No comments »

March has been a highly significant month for international cooperation at the EPO. Once again we’ve seen a new validation agreement enter into force, bringing the number of states in which a European patent can be validated to 44 and covering a market of some 700 million inhabitants. Meanwhile, three of the world’s largest patent offices have held a successful meeting in Japan to tackle pressing issues in IP.

When Cambodia became a validation state at the beginning of this month, it was somewhat of a watershed moment in the EPO’s history. While we have already seen the European patent become valid in North Africa, through agreements with Morocco and Tunisia, Cambodia is the very first country in Asia to become a validation country. With four validations in the last few years (Morocco, Moldova, Tunisia and Cambodia), the advantages of the EPO’s validation system are becoming more and more known. European inventors can now easily and efficiently file a European patent application that will be recognised in Cambodia. That means it will have the same legal effect as a corresponding Cambodian patent and will be subject to Cambodian patent law.

At the same time, there will be advantages for the Cambodia Patent Office. They are able to benefit from work savings by effectively utilising the work that has already been done by the EPO. The timing of this agreement is also highly pertinent. Not only is Cambodia currently one of the fastest growing economies in the region, but it is currently undertaking a drive to modernise its IP system. The validation agreement is therefore accompanied by a compressive work plan, aimed at capacity and awareness building to support the modernisation of the Cambodian IP system.

At only four weeks old, the validation agreement with Cambodia has clearly only just started. But elsewhere in the validation system we can see the first results – and they are extremely positive. The validation agreement with Morocco, for example, first entered into force on 1 March 2015. In 2017, the number of requests for validations in Morocco had more than tripled compared to 2016. The US and France are the two leading countries of origin for validation requests and organic fine technology is the leading field.

These validation agreements are helping to reduce the burden on our international partners, by allowing them to capitalise on the work already done by the EPO. However, efforts are also continuing outside of the validation system, as we continue to work with other international partners. Earlier this month I was in for the 36th meeting of the Trilateral, a forum for developing initiatives with the United States Patent and trademark Office (USPTO) and the Japanese Intellectual Property Office (JIPO). It offers an excellent opportunity to develop cooperation initiatives on some of the most pressing subjects in intellectual property, such as AI.

Followers of developments at the EPO may recall that we recently published a report on Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, which highlighted the massive growth in this field in last few years. Within the Trilateral forum, we were able to continue assessing the implications for the patent granting process, in light of increasing patent applications for 4IR technologies, as well as what it means for patent offices in terms of the tools they use. In close proximity to this subject, our three Offices also held constructive discussions on Computer Implemented Inventions, supported by the industry associations present.

The Trilateral has also enabled us to make progress on Substantive Patent Law harmonisation. The desire of patent applicants for a harmonised approach has been evident for some time and we’re confident there will be a proposal for a package of internationally harmonised norms on subjects such as grace period, conflicting applications and the definition of prior art and prior user rights by late 2018.

Overall all, this March has illustrated the way in which international cooperation at different levels can help deliver benefits for users.  At the European level, validation agreements have meant a rapidly expanding geographical coverage of the European patent. And at the same time established international forums such as the IP5 are helping us to tackle contemporary issues and achieve greater harmonisation. That process will continue apace now in the IP5, which will meet in the US at the end of May. I look forward to reporting back with the latest news from this unique forum shortly afterwards.

Benoît Battistelli

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