Trilateral yields harmonisation progress

05 April 2017 - No comments »

Last week I was in Seville for the meeting of the Trilateral Heads of Office and Trilateral and Industry meeting, which the EPO had the pleasure of hosting. Over the course of two days, the Offices made clear advances through the input of industry in talks with the Heads of the EPO, USPTO and JPO. While in Seville, we were also welcomed by Mr Juan Espadas, the city’s Mayor, who spoke to us about the city’s efforts in increasing its innovation capacity, particularly in fields such as health research, renewable energies and transportation.

Seville’s local innovation policy highlights why the strategic aims behind frameworks like the Trilateral are so important. Many governments around the globe have made innovation an important priority of their political agenda. This is why, in addition to the granting of European patents, we have a responsibility to our users to bring about greater harmonisation of patents at the international level, so that we can support innovation not just in our own regions but between regions as well. Our users want to see greater harmonisation between the large international patent offices so that they might be able to find similar procedures when patenting their inventions across the world. Hence the cooperation with industry has become stronger and more formalised, and resulted in the creation of a specific Trilateral Heads and Industry Meeting in 2003.

To date, there have been some concrete and useful achievements. Over the years, the Trilateral has been responsible for the development of the Common Citation Document to provide single point access and the PPH pilot programme and has undertaken work to develop the electronic exchange of priority documents. In the developing industry 4.0 context, it is also clear that new opportunities are being generated, impacting the way patent offices work or interact with the users.

During the meeting with representatives of industry of this 2017 Trilateral session, we presented our last results in the area of the patent granting process. The sharp improvements in timeliness at the EPO – as a result of our Early Certainty initiative – were very much welcomed by the users. In particular, because such advances have been made while still maintaining the highest quality levels. The discussions also focused on some substantive patent law harmonisation issues which have been debated for some years in our forum. We were pleased to see that industry representatives from our three regions seem close to having advanced proposals in fields such as grace period and prior user rights. All participants know the difficulties associated with harmonising the different patent systems on those issues. However, the very positive discussions in Seville give rise to hopes of tangible progress being made during the User Symposium, which will take place on the 20 June at the EPO in Munich.

At the Heads of Office meeting, a new MoU was signed, a clear signal of continuing commitment by all three Offices. In the Memorandum itself, the EPO, USPTO and JPO made a firm pledge to continue discussions on substantive patent law harmonisation with industry in the three regions. The EPO is thankful to its partners for having accepted our proposals. Our Offices committed to further improving services for users in the areas of priority document exchange. And, developments will be supported in the five priority areas of the IP5 Global Dossier (alerting, legal status, XML, applicant name standardisation and proof of concept for cross-filing). The EPO is already well underway with the so-called “alerting functionality”, for which it has the responsibility as a project leader. It will concretely inform a user via RSS feed about any change in a patent file for which he has expressed an interest, and this is the kind of incremental progress which can quickly make the life of our users easier.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Under Secretary of Commerce and USPTO Director Michelle Lee, Commissioner Komiya of the JPO and the industry representatives for their engagement in supporting this important process. Following this Trilateral session, it is clear that we can look ahead with confidence to the upcoming IP5 meeting in May, where we will deepen our harmonisation efforts with our colleagues from China and South Korea.

Benoît Battistelli

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