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The European Patent

A European success story for innovation

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The patent process

Applications

In 2009 the EPO felt the effects of the economic contraction. Around 134 500 applications were filed under the European Patent Convention (EPC), 8 % down on the previous year (2008: 146 600). This total is made up of the 55 900 applications (2008: 63 000) filed directly under the EPC, either with the EPO or with the patent offices of the European Patent Organisation's member states, and 78 600 applications (2008: 83 500) entering the European phase under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which accounted for 58 % of the applications received at the EPO for the grant of a European patent, compared with 57 % in 2008. Fig. 1

The downturn was sharper in applications from outside the member states: 51 % of all applications were filed by residents of the member states, while 25 % came from USbased applicants and 15 % from Japan (down from 26 % and 16 % respectively), with other countries accounting for 10 %, of which half came from the Republic of Korea and Canada. Fig. 2

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the number of international applications filed under the PCT - which may be the subject of proceedings before the EPO at a later stage - fell by 4.5 % to 155 900 (2008: 163 200). Together with direct European filings that means that around 211 800 patent applications that could potentially result in European patents were filed in 2009 (2008: 226 300).

As a result of the decline in patenting activity, the number of direct applications filed with the EPO which did not claim the priority of an earlier application fell by over 9 % to 19 100 (2008: 20 900), but continued to account for 14 % of the total number of applications received.

Similarly, online filings continued on their rising trend, as 60 % of direct applications were filed online, compared to 49 % the year before. Also, 65 % of the PCT international filings made with the EPO acting as a PCT receiving office were online filings, compared to 61 % in 2008.

Once again, over 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. In 2009, the leading applicants were Philips, Siemens and BASF. Fig. 3, Fig. 4, Fig. 5

Search work

In 2009, the Office received 196 300 requests for search, a 4.7 % drop on the previous year (2008: 206 000). Less than half, 91 400, related to European patent applications (2008: 101 300), 78 900 were international search requests (2008: 87 300) and 26 000 related to national patent applications or were requested by third parties (2008: 17 400). Under the accelerated prosecution programme, faster processing was requested for 5 100 searches or 5.6 % of the requests relating to European applications (2008: 4 900), a 4 % increase.

The Office completed 203 500 search files, a 9 % increase (2008: 186 800), including cases where no search report was produced. 99 100 searches related to European patent applications (2008: 87 700), while 81 400 were performed by the Office in its capacity as a PCT searching authority (2008: 82 100) and 22 900 on behalf of national offices of member states or for third parties (2008: 17 100). This positive trend helped to reduce the number of outstanding files by 4 % to 188 000 (2008: 195 600). The Office maintained pendency times within acceptable limits, completing European searches after an average of 9.5 months. Fig. 6

Examination work

In 2009, the number of requests for examination of European patent applications decreased by 6 % to 118 900 (2008: 126 700), with 8 100 requests for accelerated processing. The number of requests for preliminary examination of PCT international applications fell by 12 % to 8 900 (2008: 10 100).

102 200 European examinations and 9 600 PCT preliminary examinations were completed (2008: 99 100 and 10 400 respectively), a 3 % increase in the number of examination files completed. Of the 124 200 procedures concluded (2008: 120 900), 52 000 or 42 % ended with the publication of a granted patent (2008: 59 800). In 24 % of cases the application was abandoned after the search was completed, and in 34 % it was refused or abandoned during the substantive examination phase.

On average, a granted patent was published 43.1 months after the application was received (2008: 43 months), the figure varying between technologies from 35 months for Vehicles and General Technology to 57 months for Biotechnology, while the average completion time for all procedures, irrespective of their outcome, was 39 months (2008: 39). Despite a higher output in examination, the number of European examination files awaiting a final outcome rose by 3.2 % to 501 100 (2008: 485 700), including cases for which examination had not yet started. Fig. 7

Opposition

During the year under review, oppositions were filed against 2 700 patents (2008: 2 800), the opposition rate declined markedly to 4.7 %, and 2 300 decisions in opposition cases took effect (2008: 2 000). Fig. 8

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