The European Patent Office (EPO) was set up in 1973. It is the biggest regional patent office in the world and applies a uniform procedure to examine patent applications in any of its three official languages (English, French and German). It enables inventors, companies and researchers - from Europe and all over the world - to protect their inventions in up to 40 European countries, covering a European market of some 600 million people.
Soon the EPO will be granting and administering the unitary patent, a single European patent covering the territory of the 25 EU member states that have joined the scheme so far. The EPO is also known and respected for the quality of its products and its freely accessible patent data services.
From sixteen signatory states of the European Patent Convention in 1973, the Organisation has now grown to 38 member states, including all 28 EU member states plus countries such as Norway, Switzerland and Turkey. Today the EPO is Europe's second-largest international public-service institution.
The EPO employs 7 000 people, including 4 100 highly specialised scientists and engineers working as patent examiners. It is currently headed by President Benoît Battistelli of France. The EPO has five offices - including its Munich headquarters - in four European countries. Its annual budget of around EUR 2bn is financed entirely from procedural and renewal fees for European patents.
The EPO receives and processes some 266 000 patent filings per year, which is more than 725 per day. The high quality of its products and services such as the almost 66 000 patents granted in 2013 attracts patent system users worldwide: two-thirds of European patent applications are filed from outside Europe, mostly by companies and inventors in the US, Japan, China and South Korea. This strong international position is one of the reasons why the EU asked the EPO to also grant and manage its future unitary patent, a supranational European patent covering the entire territory of 25 EU states.
In addition, the EPO provides technical solutions and information on a global scale. Its search tool EPOQUE is today used by patent offices in over 40 countries worldwide, from Australia to Canada. Its public databases contain more than 85 million patent documents related to inventions and technological advances. Known as Espacenet, this technology library can be accessed free of charge on the EPO's website. Thanks to Patent Translate, a free machine translation tool developed in co-operation with Google, the documents are now available in 32 languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian.
Since 2006, the EPO has distinguished outstanding inventors with the annual European Inventor Award. An independent international jury evaluates inventions from all technological fields and selects the winners in five categories on the basis of their societal, economic and technological achievements. The competition also includes a "Popular Prize", where the winner is chosen by the general public in online voting. The next award ceremony will be held in Berlin (Germany) on 17 June.
Benoît Battistelli (France) has been President of the European Patent Office since July 2010. Before joining the EPO, he was Director General of the French National Institute for Industrial Property (INPI). In the course of his long career he has also acted as Chief Advisor to the President of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine, and as Minister for Industry in the French Government. Born in Paris in 1950, Battistelli is married with three children.