IP & international relations

EPC 2000

In early 2008 the Office completed technical implementation of the revised European Patent Convention (EPC 2000), and the simplified filing regime, the limitation procedure and the review procedure before the Enlarged Board of Appeal in particular are now all operational. 85 limitation requests, 18 requests for central revocation and 11 petitions for review have been filed since the revised Convention entered into force on 13 December 2007.

Member states

On 1 January 2008, Norway and Croatia joined the European Patent Organisation, and in October the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia deposited its instrument of accession, becoming a member state on 1 January 2009. Thus the Organisation now has 35 member states, and with its three extension states it is the gateway to patent protection in a total of 38 countries.

In the course of the year, Serbia and Albania were invited to accede to the EPC, and along with San Marino (invited in 2007) they are expected to become member states in the near future, while Montenegro was provided with technical and legal assistance in drafting its patent law, establishing its IP office and preparing its extension agreement.

The implementation phase of the policy for co-operation within the European Patent Network (EPN) has started in most member states, the underlying approach to co-operation being the exchange of best practices and tools and the transfer of knowledge and expertise among member states.

The second annual meeting on co-operation between the EPO and the member states was held in Sofia in June. A set of new programmes focusing on co-operation in classification and the profession of representatives before the EPO was prepared at workshops over the course of the year.

London Agreement

On 1 May, eight years after its conclusion, the London Agreement - under which contracting states largely or entirely waive the requirement for translation of European patents - entered into force for Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. This was the fruit of long-standing efforts to reduce postgrant costs.

Developments in the European patent system

The focus of discussions about the Community patent in 2008 was on the translation regime (machine translation) and the distribution of renewal fee income from Community patents. As regards the patent litigation system, the Slovenian and French EU Presidencies tabled a draft Agreement for an EU Patent Court applicable to both European and Community patents. The discussions once again revealed that it will be difficult to reach agreement on these issues in the near future.

The EPO has drawn up a number of cooperation agreements along the same lines as the working agreements under which it performs national prior art searches on behalf of the member states of the old International Patent Institute (Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Turkey). The new agreements with Italy and Malta entered into force on 1 July 2008, and those with Greece and Cyprus were due to take effect on 1 January 2009.

Neighbourhood policy

Co-operation with EU neighbouring countries (Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine) was reshaped along the lines of the European Union's Neighbourhood Policy. The aim is to harmonise legal and technical tools of the patent systems of these countries with European standards with the support of the European Commission.

The founding event for this new co-operation framework was a two-day workshop in October, a meeting which ensured a common understanding of the process of harmonisation with European IP standards and established the EC-EPO partnership as one of its key factors.

EC-funded activities

In January 2008 the CARDS (Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation) project on behalf of Croatia was completed. In the course of the year two new projects were put together under the EU's Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance: the regional programme for intellectual and industrial property rights for the Western Balkans and Turkey, which started in November 2008, and the national programme for Serbia for the creation of an Education and Information Centre on IP at the Intellectual Property Office in Belgrade, due to start in early 2009.

The EU-China Project on the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR 2) started full implementation with approval of the overall and annual work plans and with various activities in China and Europe. Aimed at improving the effectiveness of IPR enforcement in China, the project has delivered technical assistance to Chinese legislative, judicial, administrative and enforcement agencies and institutions, and has provided support to the European Commission in its IP dialogue with the Chinese authorities. A conference in Brussels presented the project to industry representatives and collected their views of what is needed to improve IP enforcement in China.

Trilateral co-operation

The EPO has been leading a drive to design a quality management system based on ISO 9001 principles for the Trilateral Offices (the EPO and the patent offices of Japan (JPO) and the USA (USPTO)). It has also proposed identification of divergent search and examination practices as a means to facilitate the various work-sharing schemes implemented by the three offices, as well as the development of mutually agreed measurement criteria to aid in the quality process. The EPO is also involved in the development of e-learning training modules to be used at trilateral level.

2008 saw the launch of two significant co-operation programmes developed within the trilateral co-operation framework. The Triway pilot programme, launched in late July, enables the Trilateral Offices to explore ways to enhance co-operation during the search phase while providing applicants with the benefit of having the Offices' search results for corresponding applications available within a short time.

In September, the USPTO and the EPO launched the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) pilot programme. The PPH optimises the existing schemes for accelerated prosecution of patent applications in both offices so that applicants can obtain corresponding patents faster and more efficiently. It also permits each office to exploit work already done by the other, thus reducing work duplication.

In November, The Hague was the venue for the annual Trilateral Conference, at which agreement was reached on the need to develop the PCT as a main vehicle for work-sharing.

In the course of the year, in an effort to establish mutually beneficial relationships and better understand their stakeholders' needs, the Trilateral Offices invited patent information users to round-table meetings in Europe, the United States and Japan. The European round-table meeting took place in Stockholm in October. It addressed patent information policy across the Trilateral regions and was attended by representatives of the epi, PatCom (an association of commercial providers of patent information), the Patent Documentation Group and the Confederacy of European Patent Information User Groups, as well as by all three Trilateral Offices.

The Five IP Offices

The heads of the world's five largest IP offices (EPO, JPO, KIPO (Korea), SIPO (China) and USPTO) met in Korea in October, agreeing on the steps that need to be taken to address workload issues through worksharing and identifying timeliness and quality in the patent system as being of prime importance in this process. Ten foundation projects were identified as means of guaranteeing a level of quality suitable to promote work-sharing.

Bilateral projects

Following signing of the strategic partnership, the main activities with China focused on gaining access to Chinese prior art. International seminars on automatic machine translation and access to traditional knowledge databases were jointly organised with SIPO in China.

Workshops on the revision of Chinese patent law for European attorneys and industry were organised in five European cities, together with the respective national patent offices, while seminars were organised in China to raise awareness of the European patent system.

The EPO continued to provide SIPO with technical assistance in the harmonisation of procedures, quality management, planning and automation tools through expert missions and study visits in Europe.

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