Intellectual property rights, including patents, lie at the heart of the knowledge-based economy. A strong, integrated patent system in Europe is thus essential for companies competing in the global market.
Europe has a two-tier patent system, with the EPO as the single, central authority empowered to grant patents for all its member states, and the national patent offices playing a key role as a local partner for innovative companies.
The EPO works closely with the national patent offices to improve the environment for innovation. In 2011 we adopted a roadmap for co-operation with our European IP partners to strengthen three areas in particular: IT systems, training, and patent information and awareness.
We continued to involve the users of the patent system ─ researchers, inventors, industry, SMEs, research centres and IP professionals ─ entering into dialogue with them and seeking their views, in order to tailor the system to meet their needs.
We also engaged with other important partners: a co-operation agreement signed in May 2011 with the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM), responsible for registering trade marks and designs in the EU, will strengthen our efforts to promote the use of all types of IP rights in Europe.
Meanwhile, we continued to co-operate closely with other EU institutions, such as the European Commission, providing technical and legal expertise on patent matters. There was huge progress on the initiatives to set up a unitary patent and a Unified Patent Court during the period under review.