Annual Report 2017

Working with our partners worldwide

Joint projects with our member states and patent offices from other regions are key to developing an efficient, quality-based international patent system. Tools and services developed by the EPO are often at the heart of these projects. Co-operation activities are increasingly incorporating feedback and input from user associations to better take into account the needs of companies and inventors.

Growing influence of the EPO worldwide

2017 was a year of dynamic developments in our co-operation activities both at the bilateral and multilateral level. The marked growth in the demand for patents worldwide and the challenges this poses for IP offices strongly shaped our co-operation with the national patent offices of our member states and other partners around the globe. In Europe, we continued to build on our close relations with national patent offices, for example by renewing bilateral agreements with France, Latvia and Lithuania to support their projects in office automation and expert training to better serve the needs of local businesses.

The EPO as a global player

Growing influence of the EPO worldwide 2 Outside Europe, the focus of our co-operation focused on three areas: Firstly, work within the "trilateral" (EPO, Japan, US), and the projects implemented in the context of co-operation with our IP5 partners (China, Japan, Republic of Korea and the US); secondly, bilateral co-operation with countries such as China, Argentina and Brazil; and thirdly the mounting interest of countries outside our organisation to recognise European patents on their territory by concluding validation agreements with the EPO.

From Trilateral to IP5

In our multilateral co-operation we took stock of achievements, and looked at how to take them to new levels. Trilateral co-operation with the patent offices of Japan and the US was launched 35 years ago, pioneering the exchange of data and the definition of global standards, which enabled the international patent system to effectively take off in the form of cross-regional patent filing. With China and Republic of Korea joining the scheme, the trilateral grew to become the co-operation of the five largest IP offices (IP5). Founded in 2007 to effectively respond to the challenges of increased globalisation, the IP5 is now the recognised forum for developing work-sharing initiatives and streamlining procedures to eliminate unnecessary duplication of work among the offices. The EPO has a leading role in many of these projects. Most recently and on the EPO's initiative, IP5 co-operation has been extended to include users of the patent system, and has thus established itself as a platform for dialogue on improving patenting across multiple regions.

Growing influence of the EPO worldwide 1Celebrating the 10th anniversary of their co-operation in 2017, the IP5 offices agreed to further enhance harmonisation of practices and procedures by launching a "Collaborative Search and Examination" pilot under the international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). The IP5 regions generate about 80% of all patent applications worldwide, many of which are cross-filed at two or more of the five offices, and are responsible for 95% of all work done under the PCT. One priority therefore is to further improve joint tools and services such as the Global Dossier, which offers free-of-charge file inspection straight from our website for patent applications filed with any of the IP5 offices.

Strengthening bilateral ties

In our bilateral relations with China we reached another milestone in November 2017, signing a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement with the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO). The agreement, which reinforces a historic co-operation going back more than 30 years, is the first and only one of its kind signed by the EPO or SIPO with any other patent office. Strategic co-operation with China is an essential element of the EPO's policy to strengthen the international patent system by promoting high-quality patents.

Growing influence of the EPO worldwide 4 In the same spirit we intensified our dialogue with partners in other regions, in particular Latin America. We initiated co-operation with Argentina to help the country modernise its patent system. As part of this co-operation, as of 2019 Argentina will start using the Cooperative Patent Classification, which is already in use at the EPO and some 25 other patent office worldwide. We also concluded the first-ever agreement of a patent office from Europe with Brazil, which concerns the fast-track procedure (Patent Prosecution Highway) for patent applications pending at both offices in parallel. Similar agreements were signed with Russia, Malaysia, the Philippines and the Eurasian Patent Office, bringing the total number of such pilot programmes to 15.

Extending the reach of European patents

But our dynamic bilateral relations were not restricted to fast-track agreements. For a growing number of countries, the possibility of creating access to a quality-based patent system by signing a validation agreement with the EPO has become a preferred solution: Following Morocco and the Republic of Moldova, an agreement with Tunisia entered into force in 2017. With Cambodia, the first ASEAN country and a fast growing economy signed up to recognise European patent applications and patents on its territory as of March 2018. As a result, European patents can be granted for 44 countries on the basis of a single European patent application, covering a market of some 700 million people. Similar negotiations are underway with Georgia, Lao PDR and Brunei Darussalam, as well as with the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) and Angola. Other countries in Asia have also signaled their interest on evaluating the possibility to enter into a validation agreement with the EPO.

Growing influence of the EPO worldwide 5

EPO: the leading PCT authority

We also continued to improve our services offered under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which is increasingly used by applicants wishing to extend their patent coverage worldwide. In 2017, around 60% of all patent applications at the EPO came via this route, and the EPO produced 34% of all international search reports and 64% of all international preliminary examination reports established globally. In order to make the PCT system more attractive for users and efficient for offices, the EPO took the lead on several key projects such as the PCT Collaborative Search and Examination Pilot, the PCT Fees Netting System and the review of the PCT Minimum Documentation, in close co-operation with the World Intellectual Property Organization, the IP5 offices and other patent offices.

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