10 January 2018
As we start 2018, a number of significant EPO projects are on the horizon. This will be the year that our new building in The Hague will be inaugurated to give over 2000 EPO staff a brand new, high quality, modern workplace. This could be the year that the Unitary Patent finally enters into force. And this is a year in which our Office aims to develop proposals for introducing more flexibility into the timing of our patent granting process. But no matter the project or initiative scheduled for 2018, one issue at the EPO will take precedence above all others – quality.
2017 was a significant year for quality at the EPO and has given us a strong momentum to take forward into the next twelve months. The first ever SACEPO sub-group dedicated to quality was launched to give our users greater input on the subject at the beginning of the year. This initiative complements the annual Partnership for Quality meetings that the EPO organises with users in Europe, China, Japan, Korea and the US. We also published in June the first ever quality report to provide users with absolute transparency in our quality management system – a first among the major IP offices. And, just a few weeks ago, we received a new ISO9001, certifying our Quality Management System to the very latest ISO standard. To be among the first major organisations to achieve the revised standard, and with no instances of non-conformity, demonstrates just how seriously we take the issue of quality at the EPO.
At the beginning of December I chaired our annual Quality Review, comprised of senior EPO management who are integral to maintaining and developing the Office’s quality. This annual assessment is an opportunity to look at how the strategy is being implemented, examine key indicators and decide upon future actions. The latest results show that we continue to progress. User satisfaction (the percentage of satisfied and very satisfied users) with our search and examination services has risen from 81% to 83% and from 75% to 76%, respectively, and this positive trend is also echoed in the area of formalities (from 87% to 89%). In parallel, internal audits on sampled search and examination products confirm consistently high compliance levels at 95.1% for search and 84.7% for examination. Almost every single point in our comprehensive quality action plan was also successfully implemented. And lastly, the average timeliness of the patent granting process has improved to 4.8 months for search, 22.1 months for examination and 22.4 months for opposition.
Now, as we throw ourselves into 2018, opportunities for further improving the quality of core products and services have been identified. We will begin implementing a new quality action plan comprised of concrete measures to detect and correct any deficiencies and improve quality in search, examination and opposition. For example, there will be improved quality control of classification and further steps to improve the thoroughness of the search report. Complimenting these efforts, we have recently also reorganised our core business to support an end-to-end patent process by reducing the number of hand over points. In turn, this is expected to contribute to greater quality, as well as efficiency.
That reorganisation is just one example of how new opportunities have to be found if we are to increase quality further. Over the last few years, demand for patents has increased greatly. While we have kept pace with the rising number of applications, increased productivity must never come at the cost of quality. I have every hope that user satisfaction surveys, both internal and external, as well as the second annual quality report, will show that the EPO has been successful in meeting this challenge and raising, once again, the quality of our products and services.