President Battistelli's speech at the EPO Patent Information Conference 2011

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EPO Patent Information Conference 2011

18-20 October 2011, Kilkenny, Ireland

EPO President, Benoit Battistelli's speech

Minister, Mr Laird, ladies and gentlemen,

I thank the Minister for his words of welcome. On behalf of the EPO, let me also greet you to this year's conference. Throughout all the political and technical developments of the past twenty years, this conference has remained a fixed point in the calendar. It is still the only patent information conference where all the players are available for major strategic discussions and fruitful exchanges.

I would personally like to tell you how happy I am to be here. I consider that a patent office has two main missions - the first one is of course to grant patents. The second one is to disseminate patent information. This is perhaps less discussed but it is as important as patent granting. When I was President of the French office, I was honoured to welcome this patent information conference in Biarritz in France. Since I became President of the EPO, I also participated in the conference last year in Lausanne. And I'm very pleased to be here in Ireland for this year's event. I thank Eamonn Laird, the head of the Irish office, and all his staff for the valuable contribution they have made and in welcoming us here.

Kilkenny occupies a special position in EPO history: it is the place where the EPO logo was designed.

The logo, was created by Kilkenny Design Workshops, was selected in 1977 following a competition with entries from all over Europe. When submitting their proposals, the designers wrote, "The fingerprint is universally recognised as an identifying mark and symbol of individuality. In stylised form, it embodies the qualities required by the EPO. It is appropriate, striking, attractive and functional." This is what we try to be.For over 30 years, the EPO has granted high quality patents and making patent information available. Today, the organisation includes 38 member states, representing a market of some 600 million people. We have a staff of 7000 of which about 4000 are qualified engineers and scientists, and they come from some 30 countries. In 2010 we received 235 000 patent applications and granted about 60 000 European patents.  

What are main priorities for the coming years? I can answer this with only two words: quality and efficiency. This is particularly true in the field of patent information.

Why the high priority on patent information? The answer is, to this audience at least, evident. A patent is a privilege and it is only granted if two conditions are fulfilled. Firstly, it must be worthy of such a privilege and we have rules for testing that. Novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability are the main criteria. Secondly, the inventor must disclose his invention, allow us to publish his patent application, and so inform the public of his privilege.

It is quite simply the public's right to have access to patent information. Which makes it our duty to publish patent data with maximum transparency. And to ensure that the public have access to it.

We all acknowledge the fact that data form the foundation of patent information. We have therefore placed a strong emphasis on data in the programme at this year's conference.

The reasons for this are the follow:

  • Data lies at the core of patent information
  • Worldwide patent databases, free or not, are nearly always built on the foundation of the EPO's world patent data
  • The EPO has a unique and special responsibility for world patent data.

We take that responsibility very seriously.

EPO is a world leader in collecting patent data and disseminating it. However, patent data is only part of a bigger, global data landscape. And this global data landscape is currently subject to revolutionary developments. Here some key facts:

  • The internet is changing our information expectations - young people today don't expect to SEARCH for information, they expect simply to HAVE it.
  • People expect information to be free, especially if it comes from a public body.
  • The day that President Obama took office, he signed his Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, stating, "My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.

Based on this commitment, President Obama set up the website data.gov, a central place for accessing U.S. government data. Gordon Brown, who was Prime Minister of the UK at the time reacted by asking Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the internet) and Nigel Shadbolt to set up data.gov.uk, as a central place of UK public data. We are pleased to welcome Nigel Shadbolt as a speaker here today.

My own country, France, has launched data.gouv.fr. Again, at the level of the Prime Minister office.

The UK, France, and US are not alone. There is a wave national and regional open government initiatives throughout the member states of the EPO. This is in the finest tradition of our common European values, and the European Patent Office welcomes it wholeheartedly.

We are seeing a clear demonstration of a strong political will at the highest levels of government. That will is for the public to have free and open access to public data.

I am proud to be able to say that the EPO was a pioneer in this respect. It has pursued a policy of free, open access to its data for many years. We have shown that providing raw data at minimum cost gives the market the best conditions for developing high quality tools to access that data. In addition, our own easy-access tools, like Espacenet, have changed the level of public awareness of patent data.

Open Government is moving forward. This is proof that the EPO took the right path years ago. It is my hope that all patent offices will identify with these developments and adopt similar open data policies. This is key to our success - anything other than full, open patent data will jeopardise the great progress we have made so far.

In patent information, technical standards have always been important. They will become crucial as we enter the new era of Open Government.

Our international role creates a requirement for harmonisation across countries. We need to be able to take UK data, French data and data from around the world and link this data into one worldwide data collection. This data integration is a constant demand from our external and internal users.

One challenge for the future will be to coordinate national and international standards. We can expect Open Government to lead to more standards appearing - often at national level. Our task will be to ensure that we are ready for them.

Choosing when to play the pioneer and when to adopt existing solutions is a red thread, not just in the area of standards, but across the EPO's future IT strategy.

One of my first actions as President of the EPO was to commission two external audits, one related to Finance and one on the IT systems of the Office, to have a clear picture of where the Office stands.

Both studies were finalised in January of this year. The IT study describes an EPO which is recognised as an influential leader in the field of automation, but in a world where others have made significant advances. It concluded that the EPO would probably be able to continue to serve its own needs and those of its stakeholders, but that there was a risk of falling behind in the longer term.

To address this, the Office drew up an IT Roadmap, approved by our governing body, the Administrative Council, in June. It focuses investment in two key areas: search tools and information management, and the patent granting process.

In the area of search tools, we will adopt a common approach to developments for examiners and for the public. The projects we implement will be user and business driven.

One project will focus on search services for the public. It foresees that we will expand Espacenet's search capabilities beyond Boolean search - based on experience gained from solutions used internally at the EPO.

I would like to also to mention our IP5 activities. IP5 represents and informal gathering of the five biggest patent offices in the world: US, Korea, China, Japan and the EPO. Two milestone achievements of the past year are worth mentioning.

First, in October 2010, the EPO and the USPTO agreed to build a Common Patent Classification for patents and patent literature, based on the European classification - ECLA. This represents significant progress in terms of the IP5 Foundation Project focused on the creation of a common hybrid classification. This new classification system, called CPC or Common Patent Classification, will be operational in January 2013, just over a year from now. We are investing maximum resources in order to achieve this goal, which will be a big step forward for the world patent system.

Secondly, a Common Documentation Policy has been agreed, establishing the basis for the creation, maintenance and enhancement of a common documentation dataset to be consulted by IP5 Offices when drawing up searches. Following this policy, we will see IP5 Offices evolving toward a commonly searched collection that will obviously result in an increased trust in the results of other Offices. Efficiency gains are made possible with such harmonisation efforts.

We also have the Trilateral cooperation with the JPO, USPTO and the EPO. I am pleased that we have a stand at the exhibition outside this room, showcasing its successes. One that I would like to single out, is related to patent information - the Common Citation Document.

The Common Citation Document will combine in one display all citation data relating to a family of patent applications. It will be accessible by both patent offices and the general public. I expect the "Common Citation Document" database to be launched at the Trilateral Conference next month in Paris. This is an example of how existing data can be disseminated under a new format to answer a long standing information need. 

I would like now to mention another important issue which is machine translation.

I think we are all aware that one of the biggest challenges we have in the patent system is access to prior art. The more you have patents which are not known in some parts of the world, the more difficult it is to have access to this prior art. You just have to think about patents in Chinese to understand the importance of this issue. You will remember we announced our intentions at last year's conference to develop a partnership between the EPO and Google to have high quality machine translation system available on the EPO site and on Google 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

I am pleased to report that this technical partnership is making good progress. Our goal is to have the 28 European languages (we have three working languages at the EPO, but among the member states, we have 29 languages). We will cover all these 29 languages to and from English in a first step. Then to and from French and German. We will also include key non-European languages: Chinese, Korea, Japanese and Russian.

Our goal is to have all these languages covered by the machine translation system by 2014, which is quite soon. Before the end of 2011, seven languages will be covered: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Swedish. I think this will be a very important step forward. The other language pairs will follow in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

I don't want to talk too long and to enter into too many details. So here is a quick summary of major development relevant to you as delegates of the Patent Information Conference and which illustrate the important given to patent information and patent information dissemination.

Information, data and transparency are topics not only for patent offices, but now also on Prime Ministers' and Heads' of states agendas. The EPO is keen to play its role in ensuring that patent data is swept up in this political wave. We want to be certain that when tomorrow's generations look at information on their computer screens, and smartphone screens, that patent information will be available.

In parallel, we accept our responsibility as guardian of the world's most important patent data. We will maintain and improve the search systems we offer to the public, drawing on experiences with our state-of-the-art internal tools.

And finally, we will miss no opportunity to work with our international partners to improve quality and efficiency in all that we do.

I'm convinced that this conference is an opportunity to discuss all these issues and that you will all take part actively.

Thank you.

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