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EPO launches first-ever reinforced co-operation programme with South Africa

29 June 2018

EPO President Benoît Battistelli and CIPC Commissioner Rory Voller

EPO President Benoît Battistelli and the Commissioner of the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) of South Africa, Rory Voller, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Reinforced Co-operation at the EPO in The Hague on 27 June. The ambitious co-operation agreement is the first of its kind the EPO has concluded with a non-member state. The meeting of the two heads of office was held on the occasion of an event to mark the inauguration of the EPO's new office building in The Hague, following a visit by a high-level CIPC delegation to the EPO in Munich in April.

"The signing of this agreement is a milestone for the EPO and testifies to the close partnership we have developed with South Africa in the field of patents in recent years," said EPO President Battistelli. He added: "We are very pleased and proud to have been selected as the preferred co-operation partner of the CIPC in supporting the further development of South Africa's patent system in line with international best practice and for the benefit of our companies and inventors. Under the reinforced co-operation scheme, partner countries such as South Africa can re-use the search and examination results produced by the EPO when granting national patents under their own legal framework."

"We are very pleased to see how our partnership with EPO has developed to date and the positive results that have been achieved since the signing of our initial MoU," said CIPC Commissioner Rory Voller. "South Africa has initiated a phase on unprecedented structural reforms of its patent laws which will see inter alia the introduction of substantive search and examination of patent applications. For us, it is important to build an accessible, robust and quality patent grant system that will instil confidence in our country and will ensure maximum benefits to the applicants of South African patents, and the people of South Africa. We now look forward to forging an even stronger partnership through this reinforced co-operation, to build national capacity in the area of substantive search and examination, and to raise the levels of education and awareness in the protection of patent rights, in line with our National IP Policy."

The reinforced co-operation programme aims to build up national capacity, while also serving European users and industry, who in future can expect to find similar conditions when protecting their inventions in the South African market. Under the MoU, the EPO will support the CIPC in establishing substantive search and examination of patent applications in line with South Africa's new National IP Policy. For this purpose, the two offices agreed to co-operate on undertaking a study which will make recommendations and proposals for the structural and legislative reforms required to implement the patent-related parts of that policy.

The reinforced co-operation on patent examination will also enable the CIPC to access, search and utilise available EPO work results (e.g. search reports with written opinions and granted patents) with a view to ensuring high-quality, timely and cost-efficient examination for applicants, while avoiding duplication of work and maximising capacity.

The CIPC and the EPO will expand and deepen their co-operation across all aspects of the patent system to ensure that the new system works for everyone and achieves the socio-economic objectives of the National IP Policy. This will include co-operation in other areas such as user support, patent information and awareness-raising.

EPO co-operation with South Africa
Bilateral co-operation between the EPO and CIPC was launched in February 2017 with the signature of a first Memorandum of Understanding, and a corresponding Biennial Work Plan setting out the technical co-operation activities to be undertaken within the framework of this MoU between 2017 and 2019. Since then, the EPO and CIPC have already implemented several important activities, including in the areas of examiner training, search tools and data exchange. 

South Africa is the largest economy in Africa and accounts for approximately 25% of the continent's GDP. It is the EU's most important trading partner in Africa; the EU accounts for 77% of all FDI in South Africa, and for approximately 26% of its total trade. Over 2 000 European companies operate in South Africa, accounting for 350 000 jobs. In terms of patents, South Africa is by far the biggest player in Africa. In 2016, the CIPC received some 9 700 patent applications, about a third of which originated from EPO member states. The EPO received 125 European patent applications from South African innovators in 2017, up by 33% over the previous year, and this number is expected to rise further as a result of reinforced co-operation.

About the CIPC
The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) is an agency of the Department of Trade and Industry in South Africa and was established in 2011 through the amalgamation of the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office and the Office of Companies and Intellectual Property Enforcement. CIPC acts independently with a focus on the registration and maintenance of corporate entities and intellectual property. The functions of the CIPC also include education and awareness, investigations, compliance and enforcement.

About the EPO

With 7 000 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Headquartered in Munich with offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna, the EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO's centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in up to 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. The EPO is also the world's leading authority in patent information and patent searching.

About reinforced co-operation

The EPO's new reinforced co-operation scheme seeks to establish a long-term partnership in strategic and technical areas of mutual interest. It can be offered to non-member state partner offices in the process of developing the national patent system and providing value added services to domestic innovators in order to foster innovation and economic development. Furthermore, it is aimed at increasing efficiency and quality in the patent examination process by avoiding duplication of work by the partner office for second filings and ensuring efficient processing of national first filings. The new co-operation scheme will therefore contribute to further integrating and strengthening the global patent system by extending the network of strategic partner offices that increase their capacities, productivity and quality through the systematic utilisation of both EPO search and examination results and advanced technical assistance.

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