25 April 2018
Discussing objectives with our users has helped the EPO to make sure that the services we deliver are the services that are actually needed. Major projects such as Early Certainty and the Reform of the Boards of Appeal were both born out of extensive consultation with applicants and their representatives. As we look to present evolutions in the patent system, feedback from the EPO’s users remains one of our greatest assets and we have certainly been able to profit from that interaction this month.
At the moment we’re undertaking one of our regular User Satisfaction Surveys, which will gather feedback from around 4,500 users and help steer the management of the EPO and its services. But we’re also keen to take advantage of face-to-face opportunities to discuss how the EPO is safeguarding and improving quality further. That was a topic firmly on the table of the latest Annual Partnership for Quality meeting with American users in Arlington, Virginia in mid-April. It formed part of an intensive, yearly programme of meetings with user associations and industry in Europe, Japan, USA, Korea and China to ensure that the EPO maintains open channels of dialogue on this crucial issue.
On this most recent occasion, we put more emphasis on an interactive exchange of views, rather than presentations by both sides. There were open and fruitful exchanges on how quality is measured and the resources that are applied to achieving quality levels. Feedback was positive and it underlined that our focus on Quality is supported by our users.
More recently in Munich I had the pleasure of welcoming a delegation from the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI) to the EPO headquarters to discuss other strategic orientations for the future. Headed by AIPPI President Hao Ma, we discussed how changes in the patent system are influencing the EPO’s strategy in different areas. For example, rapidly increasing interest in the high quality of the European Patent to extend protection at a more global level is accelerating the EPO’s efforts to pursue more validation agreements and other opportunities for cooperation that could expand the reach of a European patent.
In both the AIPPI meeting and the Partnership for Quality meeting, the EPO’s Early Certainty Initiative to improve timeliness was discussed. The AIPPI and representatives of our US users welcomed the progress that has been made in this area, which has reduced the wait for a search with written opinion to just 4.8 months. Again, we had a valuable occasion to profit from their input and see how we might use it to adapt our services to help our applicants. In both meetings, they were clear that Early Certainty alone would not be sufficient to meet the needs of all users. They underlined that many applicants were looking for greater flexibility in the timing of the patent granting process and they expressed their support for User Driven Early Certainty. We are optimistic, that with the correct safeguards in place for third parties, this initiative could introduce that flexibility.
The way in which we prepare ourselves for evolutions in the patent system was also a subject of discussion recently in Valetta, Malta, when I attended the 40 year celebrations of the Institute of Professional Representatives before the European Patent Office (epi). Over the last few years, applications for Fourth Industrial Revolution inventions at the EPO have far outpaced the average overall growth. For me, it raises questions about how the patent system might look in years to come. Firstly, in terms of whether Patent Offices are equipped to process 4IR patents effectively. And, secondly, whether the use of those same technologies in the patent granting process itself, or in work related to the patent granting process, can have implications for the profession of patent attorneys. Given that even legal work is starting to be processed by AI, this could be a juncture where actors in the patent system have to consider how best they can develop their strategies to work more effectively on behalf of their users and where human actions could provide more added value.
No one has a crystal ball as to exactly how the patent system will develop. But what is clear, is that preparations for the challenges of tomorrow – from timeliness to training – are best faced on the basis of open dialogue and constructive feedback. We’ll be doing just that when we address the highly topical issue of AI during our Patenting Artificial Intelligence conference at our Munich headquarters on 30 May.