A new comprehensive strategic partnership for EPO and SIPO

27 November 2017

For the last 32 years, the State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China (SIPO) has been one of the EPO’s major international cooperation partners. Now, over three decades on from the first Memorandum of Understanding between our Offices, the ink has just dried on a new comprehensive strategic partnership agreement.

This latest partnership is the most far-reaching that we have committed to undertake to address IP issues, and it is also the only such agreement that has been signed by the EPO and SIPO with another office. At the 11th annual heads of EPO-SIPO meeting in Zhengzhou, I also signed a new annual work plan for 2018 with SIPO Commissioner Shen Changyu. It will implement concrete projects to achieve the objectives of the new Compressive Strategic Partnership Agreement for the first year of its implementation. And when we look at developments in the patent system, we can see why this renewed cooperation is set to be so important in the years to come.

China has become an increasingly prominent actor in the patent system. As a nation, Chinese inventors were the 6th largest origin of patent applications at the EPO in 2016. Among the list of top applicants, Huawei was second. But it is the growth of patent activity in China that underlines why continuing cooperation with China is so vital. In 2014, applications from Chinese companies to the EPO had risen by 15% compared to the previous year. In 2015, +22%. And in 2016, they had increased again by 25%. Yet against this backdrop of increasing applications, Europe still exports more patents to China than it imports. These facts indicate firstly how fast applications are growing in China and secondly, just how significant the Chinese and European markets are to each other now – and are going to be in the future.

This increasing demand highlights the importance of EPO-SIPO co-operation in making the Chinese patent system accessible to European companies. Indeed, for patent applicants in both regions, greater harmonisation between our patent systems will become more and more necessary. For EPO and SIPO, joint projects and further harmonisation can lead to work sharing, helping us to keep costs low for our users. Meanwhile users will also profit from the existence of similar structures and comparable processes in European and Chinese innovation strategies and patent application processes.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement will also help us to address growing volumes of prior art. Last year SIPO received over 1.3 million filings which, when published, will significantly increase the amount of prior art available to all examiners. The comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement is therefore an opportunity for our Offices to enhance further the efficiency of search and examination tools and improve databases and classification systems. To date, that’s an area in which there has been great joint success.  The Global dossier, for example, was launched by the EPO and SIPO in 2014 to improve patent information on specific pending patent files. Last year alone, it was utilised by 600,000 users. Both offices also cooperate on patent classification through the CPC to ensure the highest level of precision when searching. The EPO has already received more than 1.7 million patent documents classified in CPC by SIPO, making it easier for EPO examiners to retrieve information. With the amount of prior art increasing hour by hour, day by day, a renewed strategic partnership agreement that emphasises cooperation on patent information and search tools is one that will support our users long into the future.

Similarly, strong cooperation with SIPO gives us more opportunities to tackle modern developments affecting the patent system. The new agreement now includes areas such as Artificial Intelligence and Computer Implemented Inventions. It will provide a strong framework for working with a forward-thinking partner in order to understand fully the impact of such developments on the patent system.  Just last week in a meeting with State Councillor Wang Yong, he emphasised that the Chinese Government is looking ahead by placing a greater emphasis on IP to help develop innovation, particularly since the recent 19th National Congress. To be able to spend a significant amount of time discussing IP issues with such a high ranking official of the Chinese government is in itself a testament to the importance that China is giving to IP.

Lastly, I am pleased to say that the new agreement continues to place users and industry at the heart of the cooperation process. During the visit, we took the opportunity to hold an interesting exchange in Beijing with some of China’s largest companies. They welcomed this renewed partnership because of what it has delivered so far. But we were able to discuss how we can make the European system more attractive to Chinese applicants, how we can better support them throughout the patent application process and what they would like to see as a result of EPO-SIPO cooperation in the future. The Unitary Patent was also highlighted by Chinese industry as a much anticipated and positive development.

After the signing of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreement, a new EPO-SIPO annual work plan, and meetings with high-level state officials and industry, I have every confidence that our cooperation with SIPO will continue to be a pillar of the international patent system. It is the continuation of an extremely productive relationship, but it’s also the start of a new period in which we’re aiming to further develop state-of-the-art systems for the protection of intellectual property rights in China and Europe and to strengthen the patent system at the international level.

Benoît Battistelli

President

 

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