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Guide for applicants, Part 1: How to get a European patent

 
 
Economic factors
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Processing fees in the European patent grant procedure are staggered; so at each stage of the procedure you have a further chance to decide, in the light of the completed stages, whether your interest in obtaining patent protection is still great enough to justify paying the next fee. 
In particular, the separation between search and substantive examination (see points 130-132) enables you to decide in the light of the European search report (see point 144) whether it is worth requesting substantive examination.
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In certain circumstances you may be interested in having your application processed faster, at the search stage or the substantive examination stage or both. 
If so, the EPO will make every effort to reduce the usual processing times as much as it can, under the programme for accelerated prosecution of European patent applications (for details see Annex II). 
OJ 2010, 352
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Your application may be a first filing with the EPO.
In that case, you will as a rule be sent the search report within six months of the date of filing (see Annex II, point 2).
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Like a first filing with a national office, a European first filing gives rise to the right of priority for a national, European or international second filing made in the priority year (see points 52-56).
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The European search fee is refunded in full or in part if the European search report can be based on an earlier search report already prepared by the EPO on a national, European or international application whose priority is claimed. Refund of the search fee can be requested by crossing the box in section 40 of the request for grant form.
OJ 2010, 338
OJ 2013, 153
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Taking into account the fees levied for the European grant procedure, costs for representation by a single agent and the cost of conducting the proceedings in a single language, a European patent as a rule costs about as much as three or four national patents. 
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The European procedure is conducted in one of the three official languages of the EPO (English, French, German), specifically the one in which you file your application or a translation thereof. In addition, if you are from a contracting state whose language is not one of the EPO's official languages, you enjoy certain advantages as regards languages and fees if you use an official language of your contracting state (see points 44-46).
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In the final phase of the European patent grant procedure, however, you are required to file a number of translations. You have to provide the EPO with translations of the claims in its other two official languages. Some contracting states require you to file a translation of the European patent specification or of the claims in one of their official languages, if different from the language of the proceedings, in order for the European patent to take effect there (see point 177). Further information is available on the website of the European Patent Office (www.epo.org).
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The European patent grant procedure lasts about three to five years from when the application is filed. It breaks down into two main stages. The first comprises formalities examination, search report preparation and the drafting of an opinion on whether the application and the invention to which it relates seem to meet the requirements of the EPC. The second comprises substantive examination. 
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In the first of these stages there is no need for your active involvement unless the Receiving Section finds formal deficiencies. However, in the second stage - substantive examination - your application is assigned to an examining division, which usually communicates with you or your representative before deciding whether to grant the patent or refuse the application (see points 131 and 155-176).
Competent preparation of the patent application and of all procedural steps before the EPO is a crucial factor in ensuring that the examination procedure runs quickly and satisfactorily (see point 3).