President Battistelli's speech at the EPO Patent Information Conference 2012

EPO Patent Information Conference 2012
6-8 November 2012, Hamburg, Germany

President’s speech
6 November 2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

  • I would like to thank Ms Grundmann, the State Secretary of the German Ministry of Justice, for her words of welcome and for her presence here today in Hamburg. On behalf of the EPO, let me also welcome you to this year's conference, which is still the only patent information event where all the major players participate. I was told that there are 450 participants from 42 different countries, which represents a new record for this event. I would like to thank all of you for participation.
  • This year's event takes place in Germany and I would like to take this opportunity to warmly thank the German Patent and Trademark Office, its President, Mrs Cornelia Rudolf-Schäffer and her staff, for their support in the organisation of the meeting.
  • Germany has a long history of innovation and a highly developed IP culture. It therefore gives me particular pleasure to hold this year's EPO Patent Information Conference in Hamburg.
  • Last year, the EPO received almost 250 000 patent filings, 33 000 of them from Germany. This represents 14% of the total, putting German users in third place, after the US and Japan but ahead of China. SIEMENS was our top applicant for the second year in a row. The EPO is very pleased to count German companies among the main users of its services.
  • Let me now take the opportunity to give you a brief overview of our activities during this last year.

General activities - overview

  • In general, 2011 was a very good year for the EPO, with the same trend continuing in 2012. Filings will be up at least 4% by the end of December, compared to 2011, which was already a peak year. More and more people are using the services of the EPO. Sixty-two per cent of our users are non-European, which underlines our position as a global player.
  • In this context of increasing activity, we have been able to deliver more products with the same staffing levels and, most importantly, while maintaining and even improving our quality. The quality of products and services is our first priority, I am very pleased that it is rated as one of the best by the users. Our granting rate is around 47%.
  • On the operational side, the Office is steadily implementing its five strategic roadmaps (IT, quality, cooperation, HR, buildings), while respecting calendar and budget constraints. The IT roadmap is of particular importance to you, as it delivers new tools and services to facilitate your daily business with the EPO. Our approach in supporting those projects is to put the users at the centre, to make the system more user-friendly.
  • For example, a new service called Mailbox has now been in place for several months, which allows the applicant to follow the daily progress of the examination procedure relating to his European patent applications and to exchange comments, directly and easily, with the patent examiners at the EPO.
  • At the international level, the cooperation with the EPO continues to be highly valued by many patent offices across the world. We are engaged in strategic partnerships with for instance China, Brazil, Russia, the ASEAN countries for which the European standards and tools are considered as a benchmark.
  • Because of the expert nature of the EPO, we are able to foster technical cooperation in patents where political considerations might otherwise limit progress in relations between the patent offices of different countries.
  • The EPO is also the voice of Europe among the five largest patent offices in the world - the so-called IP5. This group of offices, representing the US, China, Japan and Korea, in addition to the EPO, accounts for 85% of the world's patent activity. The IP5 activities are focused on technical cooperation and the EPO plays an active role in facilitating the approximation of the procedures and practices of the five big partners.
  • We are also engaged in a broad-ranging exercise aiming at adapting and upgrading the services we offer in connection with the PCT. Most of our filings are now coming via the PCT and we want to ensure that our services continue to meet the expectations of our users. A number of projects have already been implemented and some further proposals have been put forward for feedback from our user community. We really would appreciate your thoughts and comments, so please do visit the dedicated consultation page on our website.
  • After this brief overview, I will turn now to the topic which interests you more specifically at this conference: patent information.

Patent Information as a priority

  • Many actors in the patent system focus their attention on the patent granting process. At the EPO, however, we treat patent information with an equal level of priority.
  • Year after year, we continue to enrich our databases, which are the most comprehensive in the world. Just to give you an example, our Espacenet web service will soon cover 80 million patent documents. Recently, we signed two regional agreements in Geneva, known as LATIPAT and ARABPAT, concerning patent data from Latin American and Arab countries.
  • The EPO understands that good patent data is critical for industry, innovation and the economy. We want to be the provider of world patent information and are conscious that we deliver a unique service. And we know that you, the users, rely on it. This is why we take a great deal of trouble to ensure that the raw data collected worldwide reach the appropriate level of quality.
  • Public access to data in general has become a topic of some importance in recent years. The EPO has always been a pioneer in this regard. Espacenet, our biggest database, which I mentioned just now, is continually upgraded and freely accessible, 24 hours a day, all year long, and it will stay that way.
  • The last year has been particularly interesting in terms of breakthroughs in the patent information area. Two specific developments are especially significant.

Machine Translation

  • The first of these is our Machine Translation programme.
  • As you know, one of the main challenges of the patent system nowadays is overcoming the language barriers in access to patent information. This is particularly true when one looks at the marked increase of patent applications from Asia, especially China, Japan and Korea, over the past years.
  • No one is able to master so many different languages and no one can afford the costs of translation of millions of pages for those patents, in order to assess their effect. This leads to a situation where the users of the patent system have to live with ever-growing black holes in the prior art, potentially affecting the legal certainty of their intellectual property.
  • The EPO, as a leading provider of patent information tools, is committed to resolving this issue and offering an efficient but cost-effective solution to the public. To this end, we engaged in a major strategic partnership with Google in March 2011.
  • Our goal is to make patent information available in the full range of 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 German and French. We will also include key non-EPO languages: Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Russian.
  • We are working hard to have all these languages covered by our machine translation system by 2014. Some of you may remember that last year during the EPOPIC in Kilkenny (Ireland), I voiced my optimism that this new tool would be available soon.
  • And indeed, on 29 February of this year, less than twelve months after signing the partnership agreement, we were able to launch the system from Espacenet under the trade name Patent Translate. Six pairs of languages from and into English were offered, with German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Swedish. I need hardly mention that that this service too is also accessible free of charge all year long.
  • I am pleased to report that the system is a success, with a daily average of 20 000 connections. Unsurprisingly, German - English is statistically the most popular language pair.
  • On 25th October, seven new pairs were launched, covering Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Norwegian and Polish. One piece of hot news for you at the EPOPIC is that the English-Chinese pair should be available before the end of this year. The first pairs built from and into German should also be launched soon.
  • Of course, these machine translations are for information only, and have no legal value. We do not claim to provide a perfect product equalling the work of a skilled human translator. But the new tool does at least enable the user to understand the general content of a patent and decide whether it is worth asking for a full human translation.
  • I would very much encourage you to use this tool, which would also make you a participant in the programme. With the Google technology, the machine is trained by the users: the more it is used, the better the translations. For the first batch of languages launched in February this year, we have already seen an improvement in quality.

Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC)

  • The other big-impact project closely related to patent data is the Cooperative Patent Classification, which will enter into force in the new year.
  • The development of a common basis for classifying inventions is a further step forward in bringing the European and US patent systems closer together.
  • As you may know, the CPC is based on ECLA, the European patent classification system, and is IPC-compatible. After a lot of hard work on both sides of the Atlantic, we now have a complete set of classification symbols. This new scheme with
  • 250 000 entries is by far the most refined patent classification in the world.
  • The CPC was already published on 1 October this year, so that you can look at it and familiarise yourselves in advance with the new scheme.
  • It will enable patent examiners and patent searchers everywhere to conduct thorough patent searches with efficiency. The CPC has the potential to become a world standard. We are already holding advanced discussions with some big patent offices, including those of China, Brazil, Russia and many European countries.
  • The CPC is a significant achievement on the way to greater harmonisation in the patent system.
  • The innovation market is a global market, and in order to efficiently support it with a quality-based patent system, it is essential that patent offices in the large economic regions align their procedures and tools.
  • These two important projects - Patent Translate and the CPC - illustrate our commitment to offering better services to innovators and industry. Our aim is to make it easier for innovators to use the wealth of information contained in patent documents.
  • Among other major projects launched recently, I could mention the Common Citation Database which consolidates the prior art for family members of a patent application. It currently includes the data of the EPO, the JPO and USPTO and will soon be extended to the Chinese and Korean patent offices.
  • The EPO also plays a very active role in the development of a specific tagging in the patent classification scheme which facilitates the identification of green technologies in our patent databases. In 2010, we started with applications in relation to the mitigation of climate change. This scheme is about to be completed in the areas of transport, buildings and smart grids.

Conclusions

  • This quick summary of major developments relevant to you as delegates at the Patent Information Conference shows, I believe, the ever-growing importance of patent information.
  • Patent information is a core element of the patent system. Thanks to the advances in search engines, data management and machine translation, we can say today that we are witnessing a dramatic improvement of access to patent information and innovative technologies.
  • The EPO is keen to play its role in furthering developments with regard to information, data and transparency. By taking advantage of new technology, we shall continue to improve the tools we offer to our users.
  • We shall also keep on pushing this subject in the framework of the cooperation with our international partners, and we encourage every initiative to ensure that patent information specialists get the recognition they deserve as professionals. Their efforts, your efforts, are invaluable and must be rewarded.
  • This conference is your opportunity to discuss all these issues. I am sure you will find plenty to interest you, and I urge you to take an active part in the proceedings.


Thank you for your attention.

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