Patents as intangible assets

21 July 2011

The core tasks of the EPO – like any other patent office – are to examine the legal validity of patent applications and to disseminate patent information. The potential economic value of an invention plays no part in our assessment of an application’s compliance with the patentability criteria, and I attach great importance to our complete neutrality in respect of any competing commercial interests which may be in play.

But that does not mean the Office has no interest in the post-grant life of patents and their role in the innovation cycle. The European Inventor Awards, organised by the EPO and adjudicated by an independent international jury, are a good opportunity to acknowledge the decisive role that patents can often play. The 2011 event has only just finished, but we have already started collecting proposals for nominees in preparation for the EIY 2012 – and by the way, your suggestions are very welcome!

On a more personal level, I have always been keenly interested in the role of IP in general, and patents in particular, as an economic tool. In recent weeks, we have seen some good examples of this. The bidding for Nortel’s patents portfolio – starting at $ 900m and ending at $ 4.5bn – certainly says more about the potential economic value of patents than any lecture ever could. Also striking is the responsiveness of investors and stock markets when key patents are lost or upheld, especially in the pharmaceutical area.

In the past, when economic competition over patents made the news, it tended to involve western companies. But that is now changing as new players, especially from Asia, enter the field. Indeed, a recent lawsuit filed before a German court and alleging European patent infringement is between two Chinese firms – Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation – which are now among the EPO’s biggest applicants. This is just the logical consequence of strong growth in patenting in Asia over the last decade, and I expect companies from emerging countries to feature increasingly prominently in years to come.

Against this background, the EPO will continue in its daily work to focus on delivering high-quality products. After all, an efficient filter early on can avoid many problems later.

Benoît Battistelli

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