22 February 2012
Let’s face it: patent offices have not been in the habit of taking the public stage. They have developed over the years as essentially technical organisations whose highly qualified examiners have the expertise and skills needed to vet patent applications. One very important requirement for any patent office is neutrality: it must examine patent applications in accordance with the law applicable, with no regard to their economic potential or who has filed them. All this has tended to make for rather reticent institutions. This model has served us well for many years, but is no longer viable in the modern world of instant communication and institutional transparency, where reticence leads to questions, and questions to doubts and concerns.
I believe that patent offices, like any other public-sector body, must be more open to their users and the public generally, do a better job of explaining what they do and how they do it, and, lastly, play a more active role in public debate. The EPO’s mission as a public body is to serve society, so of course we must continue to be neutral and make very sure that the information we provide – mainly in the form of facts and figures – is correct. And in this day and age it is perfectly normal for patent offices to be questioned and criticised, although it can sometimes feel a little unfair. Take for example our examiners in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, very sensitive areas where the economic stakes can be high. They are clearly working with great rigour; their grant rate is only 28%.
Against this backdrop, the EPO has embarked on two complementary initiatives. The first is to identify potentially sensitive patent-related issues: our new Economic and Scientific Advisory Board, a completely independent body bringing together a broad range of internationally recognised IP experts, was set up last month in response to that need. A second way to promote evidence-based debate is to maximise the potential of our information databases. The memorandum of understanding with the OECD which I signed on Monday is aimed primarily at enhancing the use of our data, through joint work programmes in which our two organisations will exchange expertise in thematic working groups. We will be making our findings public, for example at the Patstat conference we are co-organising in OECD headquarters in Paris on 28 and 29 November. Over the years, the EPO has developed very comprehensive databases, whilst the OECD’s know-how in data analysis is unsurpassed worldwide. I am therefore very confident that our co operation will produce considerable food for thought.