Patent information: past, present and future

20 November 2018

The doors have closed on another successful EPO Patent Information Conference, this time in Brussels, some 25 years after we last held it there.  It was the first time I personally had the pleasure to open the event, and huge thanks go to Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Employment, Economy and Consumer Affairs Kris Peeters, and Belgian Director General DG for Economic Regulation Séverine Waterbley for attending and speaking. With 400 or so participants, the conference remains as popular as ever and is the largest patent information event in Europe.

This year is special for everyone at the EPO involved in patent information because we’re celebrating a series of anniversaries in patent information. European patent document EP 0 000 001 was published forty years ago, marking the EPO’s first contribution to the world of patent information. Three decades ago our Administrative Council adopted a policy to make the EPO the world’s leading provider of patent information, and helping to ensure that our patent data remained complete, useable, up to date and correct. And all through this time new tools were found to collate and share information. This year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the INPADOC legal status database and a decade of the European Federated Patent Register, which provides a window on patents throughout Europe.

But the reality is that we’re now living in a very different time than when EP 0 000 001 was granted. We have vastly greater amounts of information to maintain and publish. Already at the end of 2016 there were almost 12 million patents in force in the world.  And 2.8 million applications were filed that year alone, generating significant amounts of data. So while celebrating anniversaries may be well and good, we clearly have to understand how we can provide the best access to this data in the future.

That’s going to mean two things: one, an evolution of our current tools and two, keeping an eye on revolutionary new technology.

Espacenet is one of those tools that is evolving and after twenty years of trusty use, it’s now set for its biggest overhaul to date. It was great to announce the opening of a beta for the new version, New Espacenet. I’ve tried it myself recently (so I should, before it’s rolled out!) and found the redesigned interface particularly impressive, as well as simple to use. So a huge thanks to all those who have been involved – and also to all our users who have already provided input to help make sure it matches your needs. We’re excited to see what you think when it’s released in full next year.

The other element of managing patent information – investigating new technologies – is already well underway. A lot of you know that we’re serious about harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence, based on a full understanding of the impact of the technologies. That was helped by a major conference on AI earlier this year but now we turn our attention to another subject that could impact upon patent information: Blockchain. In theory this new way to record ownership and other elements of information may have ramifications for patent data but exactly how it will impact this field, and how much, is still unclear. It’s the kind of issue we want to investigate further with your help. So I hope many of you will consider attending our conference on 4 December to discuss how Blockchain could affect various parts of the whole patent landscape.

In the meantime, I want to thank all those who attended the EPO’s Patent Information Conference 2018. If we can continue to openly discuss the effectiveness of traditional patent information tools together, as wells as potentially revolutionary technologies, I am confident that we can continue to bring you the highest quality patent information long into the future, just as we have done for the last four decades.

António Campinos

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