Patents are now an integral part of the global economy. The creation of the world trade system has also redefined the value of intellectual property protection and generated an unprecedented demand for patent protection that is no longer limited to the traditionally patent-oriented economies of Europe, Japan and the USA. Countries like China, India and Korea, and Singapore and Israel too, are just some of the new players heavily involved in patent-driven innovative competition. In Latin America, too, there is a marked trend towards intensified patent deployment.
The patent world is visibly changing. Patent offices are faced with new challenges, and not just from the high demand for patents and the consequent workload. Internationalisation of the patent system has also fuelled debate on the function, economic benefits and public acceptance of patents.
The quality of patents is now also coming under scrutiny. Factors like technological development and user strategies combined with the sharply rising demand for patent protection are subjecting the European Patent Office to particular pressure to ensure the quality of the patents it grants.
That is why it has introduced a comprehensive quality management system which has implications for every stage of the procedure as well as for the training and equipment provided to examiners, and also involves regular internal auditing of granted patents. The aim is to establish a quality standard accepted throughout Europe to underwrite the innovation support function of European patents.
Aside from the quality debate, the Office also has to deal with political, cultural and ethical issues arising partly from public scepticism over the patenting of certain technologies. In Europe last year the main bone of contention was the dispute over the patenting of computer-implemented inventions, which reached an interim climax in the debate and vote on a draft European Commission directive in the European Parliament.
The Office takes this debate very seriously, and in consequence it has launched the “Scenarios” project, a major step towards strategic realignment of the patent system and its significance in the years to come. The project is based on extensive interviews with patent system users, experts and critics in many countries, and the results are due to be presented in 2007. By systematically examining and analysing the material it has gathered, the Office hopes to establish meaningful scenarios for the future development of the patent system.
Quality management and scenario planning play an essential part in guaranteeing the efficiency of the European patent system, which is extremely important in the context of the EU’s wide-ranging initiatives to promote innovation in Europe, in particular the Seventh Framework Programme and the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme and their objectives. By taking all the action needed to guarantee the system’s efficiency, the Office will help to set the course for the Commission’s innovation policy for the coming years.