The patent process

Applications: general survey

The number of requests for a European patent filed with the EPO rose more slowly in 2007. Around 140 700 applications were filed under the European Patent Convention (EPC), compared with 135 400 in 2006, a 3.9 % increase. This total includes the 62 100 applications (+ 1.6 %) filed directly under the EPC either with the EPO or with member states' patent offices, and 78 600 applications (+ 5.8 %) entering the European phase under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). PCT applications accounted for 56 % of the applications received at the EPO for the grant of a European patent (55 % in 2006). Fig. 1

Slightly less than half of all applications were filed by residents of the member states (48.5 %), while 25 % came from US-based applicants and 16 % from Japan, with other countries accounting for 10 %, half of which came from the Republic of Korea and Canada. Fig. 2

International applications filed under the PCT may be the subject of proceedings before the EPO at a later stage. Last year their number rose by 4.4 % to around 156 100 (2006: 149 500), with 34 % coming from EPC contracting states, 32 % from the USA and growing shares from Japan (18 %) and other countries (16 %), two-thirds of which came from the Republic of Korea, China, Canada and Australia. Around 60 % of all international applications are subsequently expected to enter the European phase, which together with direct European filings means that around 218 200 patent applications that could potentially result in European patents were filed in 2007 (210 600 in 2006).

An ever-growing number of direct applications filed with the EPO do not claim the priority of an earlier application. More than 19 700 such first filings were recorded in 2007 (2006: 18 400, + 7 %), accounting for 14 % of the total number of applications received.

Similarly, the trend for online filings was maintained, as 42 % of direct applications were filed online, compared to 32 % the year before. 56 % of the PCT international filings made with the EPO acting as a PCT receiving office were online filings, compared to 46 % in 2006.

More than 56 % of the applications filed for European patents related to the leading ten technical fields, with 12 % concerning medical science and 10 % concerning electrical communication techniques. The leading applicants were again Philips, Samsung and Siemens. Fig. 3, Fig. 4, Fig. 5

Search work

In 2007, the Office received 197 800 requests for search, a 7.7 % increase on the previous year (2006: 183 600). More than half of them, 103 500, related to European patent applications (2006: 94 200), 76 900 were international search requests (2006: 71 500) and 17 400 related to national patent applications or were requested by third parties (2006: 18 000). Under the accelerated prosecution programme, faster processing was requested for 4 300 searches or 4 % of the requests relating to European applications (2006: 4 500), a 4 % drop.

The Office completed 177 500 search files, 3 % more than in 2006 (172 000), including cases where no search report was produced. 84 700 searches related to European patent applications (2006: 83 700), while 73 900 were performed by the Office in its capacity as a PCT searching authority (2006: 69 800) and 18 900 on behalf of national offices of contracting states or for third parties (2006: 18 400). Despite this positive trend, the number of outstanding files rose further by 10 % to 149 800. The Office maintained pendency times within acceptable limits, completing European searches after an average of 6.6 months. Fig. 6

Examination work

In 2007, the number of requests for examination of European patent applications increased by 2.7 % to 122 400 (2006: 119 200), with 6 900 requests for accelerated processing. The number of requests for preliminary examination of PCT international applications fell by 11 % to 10 300 (2006: 11 600).

90 300 European examinations and 13 400 PCT preliminary examinations were completed (2006: 96 400 and 14 600 respectively), a 7 % fall in the number of examination files completed. Of the 106 300 procedures completed (2006: 110 600), 54 700 or 51 % ended with the publication of a granted patent (2006: 62 800). In 19 % of cases the application was abandoned after the search was completed, and in 30 % the application was refused or abandoned during the substantive examination phase. Fig. 7

On average, a granted patent was published 43.7 months after the application was received (44.3 months in 2006), the figure varying between technologies from 36 months for Vehicles and General Technology to 58 months for Biotechnology, while the average completion time for all procedures, irrespective of their outcome, was 39.5 months (40.7 in 2006). As a consequence of the lower output in examination, the number of European examination files awaiting a final outcome rose by 4.5 % to 318 000 (2006: 304 100).

Opposition cases

During the year under review, oppositions were filed against 3 300 patents (2006: 3 000), the opposition rate declining slightly to 5.2 % (2006: 5.4 %), and examiners took decisions on 2 750 cases (2006: 2 640). 2 085 decisions took effect in 2007 (2006: 1 921). Fig. 8

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