The EPO at 40 – a European and technical success

22 October 2013

EPO President Benoît BattistelliLast week, on 17 October, the EPO marked the 40th anniversary of the signing of the European Patent Convention, which took place in Munich on 5 October 1973. I had the pleasure of welcoming many guests from all over the world, in particular from Europe, the US and Asia. Among those attending the events organised for this festive occasion were Herman Van Rompuy (President of the European Council), ministers and members of the diplomatic corps, four former Presidents of the EPO (Paul Braendli, Ingo Kober, Alain Pompidou and Alison Brimelow), Francis Gurry (Director General of WIPO), António Campinos (President of OHIM), the heads of delegation on the EPO’s Administrative Council, and leading representatives of the user community.

Looking back over the past 40 years, it is evident that the EPC provided a sound basis for the political and technical success of the European patent system, with the EPO as its institutional core. In political terms, the EPO is a direct outcome of the European project which emerged after the Second World War, based on the assumption that the pursuit of common goals and interests in specific economic and industrial fields would lead to European integration and guarantee peace. The EPC, ratified by seven European countries in 1977, now embraces 38 contracting states. Looking at the technical aspect, the EPO has earned an outstanding reputation for the high quality of its products and services, developed to assist both the patent examination process and the dissemination of patent information. For a full account of the EPO’s origins and evolution, I urge you to consult the book, titled “The European Patent”, written by historian Professor Pascal Griset, from Paris-Sorbonne University, on the occasion of our anniversary.

These two dimensions – the political and the technical – were acknowledged in the various events on 17 October. The address by President Van Rompuy and the message relayed from EU Commissioner Barnier were exemplary illustrations of the close ties formed over the years between the EU and the EPO, culminating in the recently adopted unitary patent package. The role of innovation in driving the European economy was the theme of a panel discussion, moderated by CNN International’s Nina Dos Santos, with five high-profile guests: Estonian Justice Minister Hanno Pevkur; Lord Younger, UK Under-Secretary for Intellectual Property; SIPO Commissioner Tian Lipu; Ferdinando Becalli-Falco, CEO GE Europe; and TomTom CEO Harold Godijn. The main messages emerging from the debate were that the EPC has so far provided a reliable environment for inventors in Europe, and that the focus in the coming years should be on the sound implementation of the unitary patent package and the efforts to promote patent law harmonisation at the international level.

Next door, at the Deutsches Museum, the Hall of Fame exhibition was opened, honouring the creativity of a selection of recent participants in the European Inventor Award. The exhibition will travel to further venues around Europe, starting with Naples, as a gesture of solidarity towards the city, whose famous “Citta della Scienza” was destroyed by fire in March 2013. An event later in the day featured the work of the winners of the EPO Innovation Competition, launched this year for European universities. Using the patent information available in our databases, and with the support of the national patent offices in the European Patent Network, students were invited to define a research project of potential interest for future R&D. Almost 100 universities throughout Europe took part in the new competition, and it was encouraging to see the vitality and creativity of this European generation.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity of informing you that the address of our headquarters in Munich has changed, from Erhardtstrasse 27 to “Bob-van-Benthem Platz 1”, following the inaugural ceremony which I had the pleasure of conducting with the Mayor of the city of Munich, Christian Ude. The naming of the square in front of our building is a fitting tribute to the memory of the first President of the EPO, a true visionary who played such a crucial part in the foundation of our Organisation.

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