Search and examination

In 2008, the EPO made further progress on bringing its core business into compliance with the internationally recognised ISO 9001 quality standard. The decision to adopt this standard was very much in line with developments in a number of national patent offices. The EPO has not yet taken a decision to seek full certification as an ISO 9001 authority, and compliance with the standard is not expected before 2010.

The EPO also started work on a major revision of its search and examination guidelines, with several objectives. Firstly, the current structure does not match the reality of search and examination very well now that they are combined in a single process. Secondly, the case law has developed considerably over the last few years, and this has not been properly reflected in amendments to the guidelines. Finally, as the written instructions to examiners are to a large extent internal and not communicated to the user community, the EPO intends to make them public as far as possible by incorporating them in the guidelines. It envisages completing the revision some time in 2011, and thereafter changes will be made on a regular basis to ensure that the guidelines keep up to date with the latest case law developments.

The Office registered 263 user complaints, a slight increase compared to 2007, and examined them for underlying procedural flaws. It considered 40 % of them to be justified and found remedies in co-operation with the departments concerned.

To take full account of users' views, the EPO continued with its user satisfaction survey programme, which aims to ensure that each field of technology is covered once every two years. The opinions of applicants and professional representatives are presented and discussed with examiners in the fields covered by each survey. Regular contacts are also maintained with attorney associations in both Europe and the USA through "Partnership for Quality" meetings, which have proved to be a highly successful means of cooperation between the Office and its partners in the patent community.


In the course of the year, the number of electronically searchable documents in the EPO's main search database covering 84 countries, publicly accessible via the esp@cenet patent information service, rose to over 64 million, and the number of scanned facsimile documents, both patent and non-patent literature, rose by more than 9 million to 86 million.

Efforts continued to improve the oriental patent data coverage of the Office's search collections by acquiring more data for countries such as China, Korea and Japan, and in the field of non-patent literature work continued on adding new databases covering standards, a highly relevant and much-cited source of prior art in some technical fields.

Over three million documents were added or updated in the bibliographic master database, which now contains the bibliographic data for over 68 million documents, and around a million corrections were made to improve data quality. The EPO citation database containing information on patent and non-patent literature cited in applications and publications was further extended and now features 85.5 million references to 13 million applications or publications. Quality control and correction work yielded over half a million corrections relating to 5.6 million cited documents.

More than 500 000 documents were classified in the ECLA European Classification System, enabling them to be efficiently retrieved by patent searchers inside and outside the EPO.


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