Ever more patent applications are now being filed online. In 2006, nearly a third of all direct European filings were sent by internet, almost 40% more than the year before, and by autumn every other PCT application was an online filing.
In the year under review the EPO granted close to 63 000 patents, a new record beating the previous high set in 2003. There was a further fall in the average processing time up to grant, which is now down to around 44 months, whereas the number of pending examination procedures rose again to 354 000.
Nearly four million more electronically searchable patent documents were added to the Office's main search database, bringing the total to 57 million. This data is all available to the public through the World Patent Finder (esp@cenet).
The member states of the European Patent Organisation together with the EPO decided to set up a European Patent Network (EPN) based around key elements such as the utilisation of national search reports by the EPO and a common quality system.
The London Agreement, which would greatly cut the cost of translating granted European patents, was ratified last year by three more member states, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Once France too adds its ratification, the Agreement will be ready to enter into force.
In 2006, together with the European Commission, the EPO instituted the first European Inventor of the Year awards. At a gala ceremony in Brussels attended by 400 guests, inventors were presented with their prizes in a total of six categories. The event was combined with a two-day conference on the competitiveness of the European patent system and on patent protection in China.
The European Patent Academy ran a whole range of events in central, eastern and south-eastern Europe. There were workshops for patent attorneys in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and an intellectual property seminar for judges in Bulgaria. Information gatherings for industry in Poland, Romania and Slovenia were designed to illustrate the part that patents play in the innovation process.
The EPO agreed on a more strongly strategic focus for cooperation with the Japan Patent Office (JPO) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), giving emphasis to issues such as quality, patent practice harmonisation and improved mutual exploitation of work results.
For its site in The Hague the EPO signed a new Seat Agreement with the Netherlands Government. The treaty provides for improved conditions of employment and lays long-term foundations for further investment in infrastructure and staff.