Assessing Harmonisation on World Intellectual Property Day

27 April 2016

EPO President Benoît BattistelliAlmost 15 years ago to the day, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) launched an event with the aim of increasing understanding of IP and its role. Celebrated every 26 April, it is an important vehicle for raising awareness of patents, copyright, trademarks and industrial designs. This year, the EPO had the pleasure of participating in a National IPR Conference and the National Intellectual Property Awards 2016, hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Intellectual Property Office of India, held in New Delhi on the occasion of World IP Day. The EPO presented the importance of standards in the patent system and how access to standards documentation increase the quality of searches at the EPO.

For World Intellectual Property Day this year, WIPO has chosen to focus on Digital Creativity and issues surrounding culture in the future, such as how it is created and accessed in a global market that goes beyond national boundaries. While debate on this subject may largely be concerned with copyright issues, the question of national borders, and our own contributions in New Delhi on standards, remind us of a challenge that faces the international patent system. Put simply, are we gearing our efforts to ensure flexible, balanced patent-granting procedures that truly benefit applicants with a harmonised approach?

Over the last year, since the last World Intellectual Property Day, the EPO has continued to support efforts towards harmonisation through the Group B+. Since its inception, it has proved an invaluable forum in which IP offices, such as such as those from WIPO Group B and EPO member states, can explore how to move forward on substantive patent law harmonisation. The added value of such a group is its ability to address outstanding issues through a number of work streams, such as grace period (EPO led), prior user rights and conflicting applications, as well as to discuss possible implementation options.

Work is progressing well and, importantly, it is supported by input from users. Just this February, for example, the work streams met with the Industry Trilateral, made up of representatives from AIPLA, IPO, BUSINESSEUROPE and JIPA, to receive input on both the draft reports circulated and the progress made by the Industry Trilateral itself. This is entirely in keeping with our belief that users should be the ones driving harmonisation.  While the EPO is supporting the process of Patent law harmonisation with expertise, it does so in support of the user community. We now look forward to the next meeting of the B+ Sub-Group, which will take place in London on 17-18 May 2016, and where decisions will be made as to the next steps to be taken within the Group B+.

But it is also developments in patent information and the way that it is accessed and used by different IP offices that can contribute to a harmonised patent system. Within the EPO member states, we have made good progress on initiatives, such as the Federated European Register and the unitary patent, but a global outlook also has to be retained.

That focus has rightly been placed on the sharing of information between offices so that documents can be classified in the same way to ensure greater efficiency. Our work with the CPC has been important in this respect and I am pleased that this refined classification system is gradually becoming a world standard. There are now twenty two major offices which either classify, or are committed to classifying, in the CPC. This means that each year more and more applications are processed in a system which uses more finely classified patent documentation.

While the IP5 also continues to work together on classification issues to align practices, the group also contributes to a harmonised approach through its work on the Global Dossier. Since the last World Intellectual Property Day, data from all the IP5 offices has become available through EPO tools, allowing the on demand viewing of the file wrapper documents of a family member filed at another IP5 Office.

In light of the praise that this project has elicited from industry, and the progress within B+ and other developments, it is clear that real progress is being made. Importantly, the work of the EPO and of its partners has strove for the input of users and for whom delivering benefits is the primary purpose. I now look forward to reporting back to you on this topic in June when the IP5 Heads of Office meeting will take place and where the next steps on the Global Dossier will be decided.

Benoît Battistelli

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