The European Patent Office (EPO) was set up by the European Patent Convention of 1973. It applies a single, uniform procedure to patent filings in any of its three official languages (English, French and German), and thus enables independent inventors, companies and researchers - from Europe and all over the world - to protect their inventions in a European market of over 600 million people.
From seven founder states in 1973, the Organisation has grown to 38 member states, including all 27 EU countries plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and most of the Balkan states. Today the EPO is Europe's second largest international public-service organisation. It employs 7 000 people (4 100 of whom are highly specialised engineers working in three languages) from over 30 countries at its five sites - including its Munich headquarters - in four European countries. The Office is financed entirely from users' procedural and renewal fees and receives no funding from its member states. It has an annual budget of around EUR 2bn.
The EPO receives and processes some 258 000 patent filings per year. The high quality of its products and services - such as the almost 66 000 granted patents in 2012 - attracts patent system users worldwide: More than 63% of European patent applications are filed by non-European companies, mostly from China, Japan, South Korea and the US. This is also one reason why the EU has asked the Office to grant and administer the unitary patent - a single European patent covering the entire territory of 25 EU member states.
In addition, the Office provides technical solutions on a global scale. Its search tool EPOQUE is used by over 40 patent offices, including those of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China and Mexico as well as most European ones.
The EPO is also a world leader in supplying technical information. Its public databases contain some 80 million patent documents featuring information on inventions and technological advances from countries all over the world. Known as Espacenet this technology library can be accessed free of charge on the EPO's website. Thanks to Patent Translate, a free patent machine-translation tool developed in co-operation with Google, the documents are now available in multiple languages. Launched in February 2012, this service already offers translation from and into English for 14 languages, namely French, German, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish, as well as Chinese, and is accessed 20 000 times a day.