05 October 2016
Every year, the EPO holds meetings with user associations from around the world and last week, we were looking west towards our transatlantic partners. As I mentioned in my last blog on that subject (see below post), engaging in this dialogue helps us to gather vital feedback from users and to better understand their needs. In order to respond to user’s expectations and to deliver ever-better services, it is our cooperation with international partners that proves to be so important, as was underlined by my recent meeting last Friday with Commissioner Shen of the State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China.
Heads of Office from the EPO and SIPO meet on an annual basis to discuss strategic issues. This year, I had the pleasure to host Commissioner Shen and the SIPO delegation in St-Germain-en-Laye in France, in what was the tenth such meeting between office heads. After thirty one years of institutionalised cooperation, it is a working relationship that has so far brought about great progress in areas such as data exchange, training and the development of automated systems; all key areas of progress that we celebrated in Lyon last year.
The role of China in the Patent system is incredibly important. Its growing prior art, innovation sectors and ever growing demand for innovative new products means that China is a much valued market for European innovators and we focus on delivering benefits that can truly serve the companies and innovators that are trading there. This year, for example, we have seen an advance in harmonisation, particularly with regard to CPC (Cooperative Patent Classification). In addition to a new Memorandum of Understanding signed before the summer on this issue, SIPO further adopted the classification system to the point that all areas of technology are now classified according to the CPC. Given that SIPO received 1.1 million applications last year and that this number is reportedly set to rise, the full adoption of CPC is a significant step in providing greater access to the rapidly growing amount of Chinese patent data. But while the Chinese market is highly attractive and patent applications are growing in China generally, the number of patents applications made from Europe to SIPO still vastly outstrips the number of applications from China to the EPO. This is also true of the US and South Korea, indicating that Europe remains an innovation hub, exporting more ideas and inventions than it imports, and retaining a central role in global innovation.
The benefits of cooperation are of course also important for the European market: with a population of nearly 700 million potential consumers, Europe is attracting more and more patents from China. In 2015 the EPO received 5721 applications, a rise of 22.2% and a trend which we could expect to continue next year. Furthermore, Chinese companies feature in our top 20 applicants from among the world’s largest patent applicants and who are continually expanding their patent portfolio in Europe.
Both patent systems are therefore of vital importance to each other and ensuring that innovators can more easily access efficient patent protection is something that we have worked towards for over three decades – and we still continue to push for further progress. Accordingly, the Heads of Office meeting in St-Germain-en-Laye also allowed us to look to the next period of cooperation in 2017. I was therefore pleased to sign with SIPO our next joint annual work plan. In addition to ensuring our continued cooperation, it foresees further bilateral action on areas such as patent information and quality, both of these being key areas for all our users.
Cooperation with SIPO has proved to be extremely constructive over the years, both bilaterally and in other forums such as the IP5. The strategic partnership that flourishes between our two patent offices is one that has been built over many years and offers real opportunities to both our offices and, importantly, our users. With close and continuing cooperation at all levels – from the Heads of Office meetings to training exchanges – I have no doubt that this this collaboration will yield further results long into the future.
Meanwhile, the EPO’s efforts to seek out prospects for cooperation with all patent offices are ongoing, and with this in mind, I look forward to reporting back to you in my next blog from this year’s WIPO General Assembly, currently underway.
Over the course of the last ten days, myself and other delegates from the EPO have embarked on an ambitious agenda of meetings with our users from around the world. Feedback from those attending the events, from Manhattan to Milan to Munich, has revealed that we are now in a phase where users’ expectations and the services delivered by the EPO are more aligned than ever before.
An integral element of creating this alignment has been to ensure that our users – whether inside or outside of Europe – have the opportunity to gain a clearer understanding of what the EPO can offer and how to make use of our services in the most efficient way. Similarly, we look for occasions on which we receive input and feedback. We have been able to do that within Europe through major conferences such as, PATLIB, EPOPIC and our annual user days, but other regions should also benefit from the latest information. Last week in New York, the EPO therefore organised its very first conference outside of Europe specifically to enhance knowledge of the patent application processes at the EPO in Information and Computer Technology. The goal was to equip users with the latest information on drafting applications so they have the best possible chance of leading quickly to a granted patent with the highest level of legal certainty. Given the potential savings in time and costs, for the user and the EPO, it was an initiative in efficiency which received positive feedback from those attending.
Efficiency is a fundamental principle at the EPO and, at the annual meeting of the Intellectual Property Owners Association in Manhattan last week, I spoke further on why it has become more important than ever. Applications filed from the US last year increased by 16.4%. In addition, the EPO witnessed an overall increase across the board in our applicant countries of 4.8%. While this year’s statistics aren’t due until early next year, initial indications show that we will have experienced another such rise in 2016 – and there is no sign of the trend slowing. I was therefore delighted to share figures with our US users showing production at the EPO has risen comprehensively in the last two years. Such rises have helped to us to keep pace with increasing applications and to effectively manage backlogs. Meanwhile quality remains assured: at the EPO, we are unique among the global IP offices in that we do not outsource any of our core processes and deploy three examiners on every file. By so doing, the EPO has retained its traditional high quality products and services while examining more files than we have ever previously. This can also be attributed in particular to the regular improvements to EPO examiner tools and positive cooperation with all our partners.
On Monday in Milan, I attended the AIPPI annual congress where over 1500 experts in intellectual property had gathered. Having been founded in 1897, AIPPI has a long heritage of bringing together some of the most influential experts and practitioners in patents and is a central meeting point for many EPO users. It was therefore an honour to follow the US visit by speaking to an auditorium of over 700 attendees from around the world. It was also the first major occasion in Europe since the expansion of the EPO’s Early Certainty initiative. The promise of far greater timeliness in the patent application process was warmly welcomed by those present. Over the coming years, the EPO will be working to ensure that we make good on our commitment of achieving the targets by the end of 2020.
Following these three major conferences was a constructive meeting with ASPI (Association Française des Spécialistes en Propriété Industrielle de l’Industrie) in Munich to gain further feedback on how the EPO can respond to the needs of those they represent and to discuss continuing developments in areas such as patent harmonisation and PCT.
The meeting marked the conclusion of a particularly intense period of dialogue with our applicants. However, that vital task of ensuring clear communication between the EPO and users to check first hand whether we are meeting expectations is never complete, rather an ongoing and essential exercise. I therefore look forward to reporting on many more such occasions in the near future and am always pleased to receive your feedback.
Categories: International co-operation