European Patent Academy
In mid-2004, to foster the development and harmonisation of patent-related intellectual property (IP) law and practice in its member states, the European Patent Organisation adopted regulations setting up a European Patent Academy. This Munich-based institution, managed by the EPO, opened its doors in January 2005. Its creation reflects the need to improve IP-related training and education structures in Europe.
The Academy addresses training and education needs by offering its activities to specific target groups. It promotes and supports the preparation of candidates for the European qualifying examination for prospective European patent attorneys and offers vocational training for professional representatives. It supports initiatives aimed at harmonising patent litigation and enforcement in Europe and increasing awareness by encouraging patent-related IP training at universities.
Its programme also includes education and training projects on IP creation and management for industry and patent system users, plus training for civil servants and representatives of member states’ national offices.
The Academy operates in partnership with the national offices. This model proved a successful approach and resulted in 32 training events organised by the Academy and 18 others that it supported in 10 different member states. Two internship programmes for future patent attorneys and young university graduates were also implemented. Altogether, 2 996 attendees participated in the Academy’s training activities in its first year of existence.
Patent information training
In the area of patent information the benefits of online methods (e-learning) were highlighted by the ongoing success of the “virtual classroom” training courses, and by the Espacenet assistant, a feature that users can call up whenever they feel they need to know more about the Espacenet service. In 2005 the assistant was called up over 350 000 times.
On-site training continued in 2005, with a series of seminars in member states and at the training centre in Vienna, and with the four-day patent information beginners seminar being held on two separate occasions.
Conferences, fairs and exhibitions
The Patent Information Conference 2005 was held in Budapest in November in parallel with the European Commission’s PATINNOVA conference. The joint event attracted some 630 delegates and 40 exhibitors and addressed a broad range of topical issues in the patent information field, most notably the forthcoming IPC reform, the move to XML formatting and developments in EPO databases.
The annual PATLIB patent information centre conference, this time with a theme of “Focus on your customers”, took place in Sinaia (Romania) in May. It was co-organised with the Romanian Patent Office and attracted over 450 participants from 39 countries, including 27 member states.
Another major event was the “Far East meets West” meeting in Vienna in November, which attracted some 120 participants and brought patent information experts from Japan, China and Korea together with users in Europe.
Additionally, a total of 750 people attended the annual conference on online services in Athens (Greece), online services user days in Sinaia (Romania) and Brussels (Belgium), and online filing training days arranged with the United Kingdom, French and German offices.
The 12th annual consultative meeting between members of the boards of appeal and UNICE and epi representatives was held in June.
The Office attended some 37 exhibitions and trade fairs in 2005, giving 23 public presentations and seminars, notably on biotechnology and computing.
At an Open Day in Munich in June, the Office opened the new section of its PschorrHöfe complex to the public, and some 6 000 visitors took the opportunity to satisfy their thirst for knowledge about inventions, examination procedures and patents.
Support for Europe’s competitiveness and the innovation process in Europe were the main topics of the EPO’s first-ever information day at the European Parliament in March. In presentations to parliament members and the Committee for Industry, Research and Energy, the Office demonstrated how European patents contribute to the European economy and what benefits society at large can derive from the European patent system.
The International Conference on “Intellectual property as an economic asset: key issues in valuation and exploitation”, held in Berlin at the end of June, attracted more than 250 participants from all over the world. IP experts from the business, academic and financial communities, patent attorneys and government and national patent office representatives discussed issues such as factors that influence success and failure and ways for public authorities, including patent offices, to help boost the positive effects of patents on the economy. The conference was co-organised with the OECD and the German Economics and Labour Ministry.
Publications of the boards of appeal
Efforts to develop information tools for providing information on board of appeal case law to the public are continuing. All the decisions handed down by the boards since 1980 are available free of charge on the EPO website, where they can be accessed via the reference number or via search terms. They are also available on a CD-ROM (or DVD) which is published twice a year.
In the 2005 issue of the “Ancillary Regulations to the EPC”, the boards’ Legal Research Service presented a collection of important secondary legislation to the EPC and of the President’s most important decisions, as well as communications and legal advice from the Office. In the annual “Case Law” special edition of the EPO’s Official Journal the same service presents case law reports on board rulings from the previous year; last year’s issue was published in September.
The Legal Research Service has long been collecting national decisions in patent matters. As a result of this work a new book, the “European National Patent Decisions Report”, was published in English and presented at the European Patent Judges’ Symposium in September 2004. In November 2005, the French and German versions were published. The purpose of the book is to give readers a handy digest of European national decisions on patent law, to offer them the opportunity to compare the law outside their jurisdiction with that of their own and to give an account of the level of harmonisation in European patent law.
As a new EPC contracting state, Latvia was able to apply Article 163 EPC, which provides for a one-year transitional period after accession when patent practitioners are entitled to request entry on the EPO’s list of professional representatives without having to sit the European qualifying examination. By the end of the year 23 such requests had been received from Latvian patent attorneys.
During 2005 the transitional period expired for three contracting states which had joined the year before – on 1 March for Poland, 1 November for Iceland and 1 December for Lithuania – and 169 Polish, 19 Icelandic and 40 Lithuanian patent attorneys were added to the list under Article 163 EPC.
In total last year, 746 names were added to the list, 723 for the first time and 23 after temporary deletion. 352 were deleted, 124 on request and 228 on age or disciplinary grounds. 2 000 professional representatives asked to have their entries amended. Thus the total number of active professional representatives rose by 394 to 8 502. The new entries included 472 successful EQE candidates. Fig. 1
Now that the transitional period has expired for most European countries, patent attorneys from the contracting states can no longer qualify under Article 163 EPC, known as the grandfather clause, but are required to pass the EQE under Article 134 EPC.
The ratio between “grandfathers” and EQE graduates has already shifted clearly in favour of the latter, especially as deletions among the “grandfathers” are on the rise: Article 134 admissions are already seven percentage points higher than Article 163 entries (53.4% against 46.6%).
Last year 2 073 candidates applied to sit the EQE, 14% more than the year before, and there were 483 passes, reaffirming the positive trend. In addition, a working party made up of EPO staff and epi members was set up with a view to revising the EQE regulations.
At the end of 2005, 202 firms of patent attorneys and industrial patent departments were registered with the EPO as associations of professional representatives (10 more than the year before). Germany has the most such associations (126), followed by Switzerland (28) and the United Kingdom (15).
Under Article 134(7) EPC, a legal practitioner who has his place of business within a contracting state and is entitled to act as a professional representative in patent matters before that state’s patent office may undertake professional representation before the EPO as well when authorised by a client. At the end of 2005 there were 1 071 legal practitioners on the list (86 more than in 2004). Here, too, Germany has the most entries (600), followed by the UK (117), France (66), Italy (64) and Greece (59).
European Patent Register
The caseload for the European Patent Register in 2005 amounted to around 1 400 requests. 42% of these requests were for interruption of proceedings under Rule 90 EPC, 8% were for suspension of proceedings under Rule 13 EPC, 48% were for registering of licences (Rule 21 EPC) and 2% were for registering of other rights in respect of European patent applications or patents (Rule 21 EPC).
In 2005 the Research Fund of the European Patent Organisation received fifteen applications for financial support. After consulting the Research Advisory Board, the President decided to award grants to six projects, relating to patents in the Mercosur countries, genetic resource protection, information and business method patents, disease genes, small-firm patents, and defensive claims for holders of simple licences.