2016 saw significant advances at the EPO.
A dynamic innovation sector ensured applications were sustained at a very high level, while the number of filings increased substantially.
Improved quality processes and efficiency measures have enabled the EPO to better meet demand, control costs and ensure that our fees remain stable.
In 2016 we achieved a record number of search, examination and opposition products. Production has never been higher, reaching almost 400,000 products - and all without any compromise on quality. That quality goes from strength to strength, as a result of further measures, such as more training for examiners and leading access to Asian prior art.
We have consulted extensively with our users and our User Satisfaction Surveys have been extremely positive. This was also confirmed in an independent survey last June. It was a source of great pride for everyone here to learn that the EPO had been ranked number one for the quality of products and services for the fifth consecutive time.
But just like our applicants we must continue to innovate, so this year we have even more ambitious quality targets. In addition, we are preparing to upgrade to the very latest ISO9001 certification for our end-to-end patent granting process, including patent information and post grant activities.
Timeliness is also an essential element of quality. Today, applicants requesting a search report, with a written opinion on patentability, can be sure to have it within six months. These are the direct fruits of our Early Certainty from Search initiative. From this success, Early Certainty was expanded last July. It now covers examination and opposition, streamlining procedures to deliver patents faster. Thanks to these kinds of re-designed processes, we have reduced backlogs and seen a jump in patent grants.
2016 was also an important year for looking at other elements of our office, beyond the core business. We implemented a significant change for the better - with a reform of the Boards of Appeal. This will increase its judicial autonomy and its efficiency, helping to reduce the number of pending cases.
And, we took time to have extensive, independent assessments carried out - on the social conditions, on finances and the Office's Health and Safety risks. The results were very positive in all three areas, particularly for the long term financial sustainability of our Office. On social issues, the external study confirmed that the EPO's legal framework complies with recognised best practice and international standards. It also underlined that the working conditions we are offering to EPO staff compare very favourably with other European and national organisations.
2016 was therefore a very positive year. We consolidated some great core results and assessed our current situation. To say it simply, the outcome is that we are in a better situation than we were six years ago.
Looking ahead, in 2017, we will continue to implement successfully our quality and efficiency strategy. Adjustments will also be made so the EPO becomes a fully digitised organisation, using the most modern working processes.
We are also expecting the Unitary Patent. Last year there were three more ratifications of the Unified Patent Court Agreement and a renewed commitment from the UK to ratify in the first half of 2017. With the recent ratification by Italy, twelve member states have now ratified the Unified Patent Court. This means the EPO will be in a position to deliver the first Unitary Patent by the end of this year.
In all, 2017 will be an exciting year for the EPO and for our users.
"Production has never been higher, reaching almost 400,000 products – and all without any compromise on quality. "