In the course of the year the EPO made progress on implementing a quality management system, taking further steps to prepare for ISO 9001 certification. The system is to be broad in scope, covering end-to-end processing of applications, oppositions and requests for revocation/limitation along with all the support and management processes.
Corrective action was undertaken to address lack of clarity (Article 84 EPC) and added subject-matter (Article 123 EPC), shortcomings in these areas being the most frequent causes of deficient work. Audits of classification work and the classification system identified room for improvement, and at the end of the year a pilot quality control system was introduced for classification work, with the aim of developing an officewide system for launch in 2010. New procedures also made it clear that quality control could not be performed on searches without adequate documentation of the search process. As a result the EPO has undertaken to ensure that meaningful records are kept for all searches performed, and this will become mandatory in the course of 2010.
The EPO continued with its process of continuous dialogue with its primary users under the "Partnership for Quality", holding useful exchanges with the European Patent Institute (epi), BusinessEurope and the American Intellectual Property Law Association. It agreed with the epi on the production of a Manual of Best Practice which seeks to document the best practices which applicants, their representatives and the EPO should all adopt during the prosecution of an application, with a view to providing a more efficient procedure with a higher quality level, particularly among applicants.
A new programme, the Single Patent Process (SPP), was set up in 2009, with the mandate of redesigning and improving the patent process, thereby ensuring that the EPO remains a benchmark in the patent world. The programme aims to deliver simpler and more efficient processes, better-integrated working environments, more ergonomic tools and enhanced co-operation among examiners, formalities officers, applicants and external bodies. The programme definition phase has now been completed, and a gateway review has been performed by outside experts.
In the course of the year, the number of electronically searchable documents in the EPO's main search database, publicly accessible via the esp@cenet patent information service, rose to over 69 million and now covers 96 countries and patent authorities. The number of scanned facsimile documents, both patent and non-patent literature, rose to 96 million. Oriental patent data coverage increased with the addition of a Korean machine-translated collection and over a million English abstracts of Chinese utility models. Over 3.3 million documents were added or updated in the bibliographic master database, which now contains more than 70 million documents, and over a million corrections were made to improve data quality. The EPO citations database containing information on patent and non-patent literature cited in applications and publications was further expanded to hold 97 million references to 13.5 million applications and publications. Quality control and correction work yielded over 700 000 corrections relating to 9.7 million cited documents. EPO examiners classified more than 500 000 documents in the ECLA European Classification System, enabling them to be retrieved efficiently by patent searchers inside and outside the EPO.