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The European Patent

A European success story for innovation

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The patent process

Applications

In 2008, 146 500 applications were filed under the European Patent Convention, compared with 141 400 in 2007, which constitutes a 3.6 % increase. This total includes the 63 000 applications (+ 0.4 %) filed directly under the EPC either with the EPO or with member states' patent offices, and 83 500 applications (+ 6.2 %) entering the European phase under the Patent Cooperation Treaty. PCT applications accounted for 57 % of the applications received at the EPO for the grant of a European patent (56 % in 2007). Fig. 1

Slightly less than half of all applications were filed by residents of the member states (49 %), while 26 % came from US-based applicants and 16 % from Japan, with other countries accounting for 9 %, 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. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), their number rose by 2.4 % to 163 800 (2007: 159 900). Together with direct European filings that means that around 226 800 patent applications that could potentially result in European patents were filed in 2008 (222 700 in 2007).

An ever-growing number of direct applications filed with the EPO do not claim the priority of an earlier application. More than 20 900 such first filings were recorded in 2008 (2007: 20 200, + 3.3 %), accounting for 14 % of the total number of applications received.

Similarly, the trend for online filings was maintained, as 49 % of direct applications were filed online, compared to 42 % the year before. Also, 60 % of the PCT international filings made with the EPO acting as a PCT receiving office were online filings, compared to 55 % in 2007.

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, Siemens (now up to second place) and Samsung. Fig. 3, Fig. 4, Fig. 5

Search work

In 2008, the Office received 205 600 requests for search, a 4 % increase on the previous year (2007: 197 800). About half of them, 101 300, related to European patent applications (2007: 103 600), 87 300 were international search requests (2007: 76 900) and 17 400 related to national patent applications or were requested by third parties (2007: 17 400). Under the accelerated prosecution programme, faster processing was requested for 4 880 searches or 4.8 % of the requests relating to European applications (2007: 4 300), a 13 % increase.

The Office completed 186 800 search files, 5 % more than in 2007 (177 500), including cases where no search report was produced. 87 700 searches related to European patent applications (2007: 84 700), while 82 100 were performed by the Office in its capacity as a PCT searching authority (2007: 73 900) and 17 100 on behalf of national offices of contracting states or for third parties (2007: 18 900). Despite this positive trend, the number of outstanding files rose further by 10 % to 195 600 (2007: 177 500). The Office maintained pendency times within acceptable limits, completing European searches after an average of 7.2 months. Fig. 6  

Examination work

In 2008, the number of requests for examination of European patent applications increased by 3.5 % to 126 700 (2007: 122 400), with 7 400 requests for accelerated processing. The number of requests for preliminary examination of PCT international applications fell by 2 % to 10 100 (2007: 10 300).

99 100 European examinations and 10 400 PCT preliminary examinations were completed (2007: 90 300 and 11 500 respectively), a 7.5 % increase in the number of examination files completed. Of the 120 900 procedures completed (2007: 108 400), 59 800 or 49.5 % ended with the publication of a granted patent (2007: 54 700). In 22 % of cases the application was abandoned after the search was completed, and in 28 % the application was refused or abandoned during the substantive examination phase.

On average, a granted patent was published 43 months after the application was received (43.7 months in 2007), the figure varying between technologies from 36 months for Vehicles and General Technology to 60 months for Biotechnology, while the average completion time for all procedures, irrespective of their outcome, was 39 months (39.5 in 2007). Despite a higher output in examination, the number of European examination files awaiting a final outcome rose by 5.9 % to 485 700 (2007: 458 700), including cases for which examination has not yet started. Fig. 7

Opposition cases

During the year under review, oppositions were filed against 2 800 patents (2007: 3 300), the opposition rate remained unchanged at 5.2 %, and 1 980 decisions in opposition cases took effect (2007: 2 100). Fig. 8

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