The international patent scene is on the move. One change is the emergence of new players, countries like China, India and Korea with great innovation potential but previously little to show for it in terms of patent applications. Yet last year they did make their mark on that front: Korean companies are now among the European Patent Office's most active users, Chinese applicants are increasingly turning to the international market, and Indian enterprises are making a big impression on the patent world, especially in the pharmaceutical sector.
This is a clear sign of imminent shifts of emphasis in the patent system. New players bring new perspectives on the public debate over intellectual property protection; and at the same time, new centres of knowledge creation are arising. Europe needs to find the right strategies to face up to both these challenges.
Another change is the European Commission's rekindling of the debate about reform of the patent system in Europe. The cost of mandatory translations of European patents and the lack of a European patent court are ever more clearly perceived as shortcomings by many of the system's users. With the London Agreement and the Protocol on Litigation (EPLA), some of the European Patent Organisation's member states have set out proposals for resolving both issues, and these form the basis for the ongoing deliberations in the EU institutions.
The strengthening of the Office's proven cooperation with the contracting states' national patent offices within the European Patent Network likewise comes under the heading of reform. The emphasis is on focusing the patent offices' work more strongly on strategic issues.
To mark the stronger strategic focus of its own work too, the Office is taking on a new look, with a redesigned visual identity. Strengthening the Office's name as a central brand is part of this scheme, which is why product names like esp@cenet and epoline are being gradually withdrawn, although of course none of the practical aspects of these services will be relinquished. The aim is to present the EPO's users with a visually clear structure when the EPC 2000, the biggest reform project in the Office's history, comes into force.
On the eve of its thirtieth anniversary, the European Patent Office has lost one of the key figures in its history, with the death of its first President, Johannes Bob van Benthem of the Netherlands. Together with Germany's Kurt Haertel and France's François Savignon, he was the master builder of the European patent system. Many facets of the European Patent Convention bear the unmistakeable hallmark of that pragmatic visionary and great European, Bob van Benthem.