20 January 2015
This week we witnessed an historic “first” from the perspective of the European Patent Organisation: the validation agreement with Morocco. Indeed the EPO, starting with 7 member states in 1977, now boasts 38 countries representing a market of 600 million inhabitants. Two other European states, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, have the status of “extension states”: the patents we grant can be validated in those two states as in any EPO member states, even though they are not yet members of the Organisation. However, no non-European states had ever decided to enter into this kind of relationship with the EPO… until now. Thinking outside the confines of the continental map will become possible when Morocco’s validation agreement comes into force on 1st March 2015. Without being a member of the European Patent Organisation, Morocco will be fully integrated into the geographical scope of protection offered by European patents.
What does it mean concretely? For applications filed after that date, once granted, the holder of the European patent delivered by the EPO will be able to validate it in Morocco just as it is already possible for Germany, France, Latvia, Spain or any other EPO member states. The granted European patent will not be re-examined by the OMPIC – the IP Office of Morocco – and will be assimilated as a Moroccan patent, affording exactly the same legal effects in Morocco. It represents for the holders of European patents a great simplification of formalities in order to obtain protection for their inventions in a dynamic emerging economy neighbouring valuable European markets. Amongst OMPIC’s biggest applicants are companies from the US, Germany, France and Spain – most of whom already seek patents from the EPO. Through this agreement these applicants will find the EPO an even more attractive and worthwhile route to protect their technology markets.
It is no surprise that Morocco has become the first state to implement this kind of agreement. Among the developing or emerging countries, Morocco has often been at the forefront of the evolution of the global IP system. The national authorities have in recent years made some clear choices to encourage foreign investment in their country. A national IP framework following the best international standards is a vital part of their strategy. With a law which has been widely supported by the Moroccan Parliament in November 2014, the national patent law has been modified in order to integrate many principles of the European Patent Convention.
In parallel, the OMPIC will concentrate its internal resources on the promotion of the patent system to the current or potential national users, instead of re-examining patent applications which have already been checked by the EPO. The OMPIC will also benefit from a reinforced cooperation action plan developed jointly with the EPO, focusing on training of their staff and new IT tools. The EPO and the OMPIC are engaged in a close partnership which will clearly provide benefits to both offices and to users at large.
This new validation agreement with Morocco should be considered as a new paradigm and be of particular interest for countries which are willing to develop their national capacities quickly while using the proven expertise of an international technical organisation. The EPO is in quite advanced discussions with Tunisia and Moldova and is looking forward with optimism to positive outcomes there in 2015.