2017: Consolidating gains, further improvements

19 January 2017


Yesterday, I was able to discuss the EPO’s priorities for the coming year at a special event with our staff. It was an opportunity to review the developments of the last twelve months in a meeting in Munich, attended by over 350 staff members and viewed online by employees throughout the organisation. Almost one year on from the last such event, it was an opportunity to discuss how the EPO has evolved over the last twelve months and to evaluate our aims for 2017.

It is clear from our preliminary results that filings have continued to rise during 2016. As an administering organisation, it is our job – no matter what the figures – to ensure that we are delivering the very best value for all our stakeholders; to our users, high quality, competitive services; for our member states, a modern international organisation that supports the European economy and its inventors; and, to our staff, an organisation that prepares its future on solid ground through investments and that appropriately rewards their achievements.

Once again we have witnessed a rise in production and productivity as a result of efficiency measures and the dedication of our examiners. Production reached a record high of 395 910 search, examination and opposition products (+8.5% compared to 2015). Meanwhile the number of patents published has leapt by 40% (96 000 in total) as a result of greater efforts to reduce our overall backlog, which we reduced this year by over one third. These results have been complemented by the implementation of our Early Certainty initiative and, altogether, these results mean that 2016 has had two important effects for our users. Firstly, EPO examiners are processing more and more patent applications, which means applicants are starting to benefit from improved timeliness. Since July last year, they have been able to rely on a search and opinion within six months of an application. Secondly, the price of our products is being strictly controlled, to further entrench a business-friendly approach. These are results that we will look to build upon in 2017, as we seek to deliver more for our users.

Our first priority, as in previous years, will be quality. In a leading survey last June, we were ranked first among the IP5 offices for the quality of our products and services for the fifth consecutive time. But to ensure that we are continually pushing the boundaries in this field, we will once again be taking further measures. These will include the drafting of a comprehensive quality report which will be published in June of each year and we will also be continuing our transition to the very latest IS0 9001 quality certification for our entire patent granting process. In addition the EPO will also be investigating how that same ISO 9001 standard can apply to the forthcoming unitary patent.

The potential arrival of the unitary patent is set to be one of the most significant developments this year. 2016 was a mixed year for the UPP, with further UPC ratifications and a Brexit vote that caused speculation on its future. Now, following the UK’s decision to continue with ratification of the UPC, 2017 may well be the year in which the EPO administers the very first unitary patent. While the UPC is set to bring greater legal certainty to the European patent system, there will also be judicial developments at the EPO itself. The reform of the boards of appeal, adopted last year, is set to enhance perceptions of independence and managerial efficiency. This spring will see the start of the mandate of the new President of the BoA and the BoA unit is scheduled to relocate to a specific building this summer.

It will also be an important period for Europe’s role in the international patent system, as the EPO gears up to host two major international events this year. The Trilateral will focus on patent harmonisation topics and serve as a discussion platform for IP5 matters. Then, at the end of May, the EPO will host the IP5 Heads meetings in Valetta, Malta, and make advances on the Global Dossier, PCT and legal status, as well as celebrating ten years of IP5 co-operation.

It is set to be an interesting year and one in which we will be striving to respond further to our users’ needs. We have come a long way since we first opened our doors in the 1970s, but we are committed to making further improvements. I look forward to reporting on all these developments over the course of the next year.

Benoît Battistelli

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