Annual report 2011 - Highlights 2011

Global patent system

Upholding the gold standard for patents worldwide

The growing interdependence of technology markets leads many companies to file parallel patent applications for the same invention in several countries around the world. But businesses need to find comparable conditions in all markets if their global IP strategies are to succeed.

The EPO is leading the way in making the global patent system more user-friendly by improving quality and harmonising procedures as much as possible. In 2011 we continued to work closely with the World Intellectual Property Organization, and with the world's major patent offices, especially in China, Japan, Korea and the USA, which together with the EPO handle some 80% of the world's patent applications. With our reputation for high-quality products and services, the EPO has increasingly become a global benchmark for patent offices worldwide.

In the area of patent information, the EPO maintains the most comprehensive collection of patent-related literature in the world, making more than 600 million records, containing over 70 million patent documents, available to patent professionals across the globe and giving access to patent-related technical literature stored in over 120 specialised databases. Over the past year we continued to improve and expand this trove of information and made progress on machine translation of patents to break down the language barriers to accessing it. We also invested heavily in improving our cutting-edge electronic search tools for examiners, which are already used by more than 40 patent offices worldwide.  

Another area where the EPO assumed global leadership is the classification of inventions. In 2011 we made progress on a joint patent classification system, launched in 2010 with the US Patent and Trademark Office and known as Cooperative Patent Classification or CPC. Largely based on the European classification system, the CPC looks set to become the basis for a truly global classification system, as China and Japan have already indicated their interest in joining and further developing the scheme.

Another important milestone in harmonisation efforts was our joint launch with the Japanese and US patent offices in November 2011 of a new tool to make it easier to access results from patent searches carried out in parallel by multiple offices for the same invention. The Common Citation Document will boost the efficiency of our offices and save considerable time and effort for anyone using patents, for example inventors and patent analysts.

We also concluded several promising bilateral co-operation agreements in 2011 with important emerging economies such as Brazil, China and Russia. This will help export established European standards and make the IP landscape more similar in all these countries.

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