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Interaction with users was again high on the EPO's agenda of priorities for 2019. Our "Partnership for Quality" meetings once again proved a highly successful channel for engaging in meaningful exchanges with our users from industry. These events offer a unique opportunity to meet user representatives from the IP5 regions and openly discuss a wide range of topics: from quality management issues, to guidelines, search and examination practices and opposition procedures and decisions.
In 2019 we held six meetings with major user associations from Japan, Korea, the USA and Europe. For the first time, some of these meetings were organised together with patent drafting events to raise awareness of the European patent system and take full advantage of the presence and participation of EPO experts at these events.
The EPO was also well represented at user association events across Europe and beyond, promoting the European patent system, showcasing our products and reaffirming our commitment to quality and excellence. User associations also participated very actively in the EPO's consultations, showing their clear commitment to enhanced dialogue.
In 2019 the EPO and the EUIPO renewed and expanded their Memorandum of Understanding to enhance the co-operation between the sister organisations in charge of granting pan-European IP rights in Europe. The primary policy objectives for this close co-operation are to create:
For the first time, the EPO and EUIPO established a detailed work plan aimed at increasing the number of common initiatives and endeavours. From joint webinars to comprehensive conferences and economic studies, the EPO and EUIPO are working closely together to foster a holistic approach to IP education and raise awareness for the benefit of all stakeholders. Another joint co-operation activity with the EUIPO, the flagship Pan-European Seal (PES) traineeship programme, entered its fifth year in September. A total of 52 interns from 27 universities in 17 member states were admitted to the programme in 2019 and are currently gaining on-the-job professional work experience at the EPO.
As of mid-2019 we started expanding the PES programme to include more partner universities. On top of promoting the programme in member states that have not yet joined the network, we also targeted other high-ranking technical universities in Europe and worldwide.
In terms of co-operation with other international organisations, the EPO has extended its Administrative Arrangement with the EU Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO) for another three years until 2022. Under this agreement, the EPO and the CPVO enhanced their bilateral co-operation and information exchanges with a view to supporting innovation in the plant sector.
As part of the EPO's co-operation with the European Commission, numerous activities were undertaken to inform and support the policy-making process. In 2019 the EPO is striving to establish a framework for this co-operation with clear objectives to reap the benefits of synergies between SP2023 and the European Commission's work programme.
The EPO also successfully implemented a new, extensive co-operation work plan with WIPO in 2019. The plan covers areas ranging from common actions in classification and the PCT to enhanced data exchange and access, as well as training for regional patent examiners. It aims to ensure a well-functioning international patent system and promote European patent granting practices worldwide.
At the 13th Annual Meeting on Co-operation in Kilkenny in May 2019, discussions with present and future member states focused on SP2023 and their expectations of the plan. We reached an agreement on principles, priority areas and how to manage co-operation in the future. The outcome of these discussions is comprehensively reflected in Annex 2 of SP2023.
After the meeting we entered a transition phase that involved balancing ongoing activities with defining and implementing future activities as SP2023 projects. The underlying objective of future co-operation activities is to strengthen our relations with all member states and relevant stakeholders to positively impact the European patent network (EPN) and the European patent system.
Member states continued to participate in Academy and EPN events in 2019, as well as taking advantage of language training support and IP pre-diagnosis services. The candidate support programme (CSP) also sponsored candidates from member states with few qualified patent professionals to prepare for the European qualifying examination (EQE).
We also continued to promote working agreements on search with the EPO, with several agreements reaching the final stages of negotiation at the end of 2019. As part of SP2023 we are looking to make this scheme simpler to implement in the future, so it is more attractive for both existing and future participants.
In 2019 several back-file data collections from another eight member states were digitised and captured in full-text format and others are still in the pipeline for 2020. This was a bridging activity between the former "quality at source" project and the new "data quality" co-operation project.
In the second half of 2019, the Federated Register saw the addition of Lithuanian (October) and Maltese data (December) and progress was made towards adding data from Serbia in 2020. We also deepened our internal reflections and consultations on future co-operation policy with member states. The objective is to draw up a consolidated document that will be tabled for adoption by the EPO's governing bodies in 2020.
One of the highlights of the EPO's international co-operation activities in 2019 was our signature of a historic agreement with CNIPA. This agreement provides for the launch of a two-year pilot enabling Chinese applicants filing their international applications with the CNIPA as receiving office to select the EPO as their international searching authority (ISA). It represents a landmark in the co-operation between the CNIPA and the EPO, particularly because this is the first time that the CNIPA has allowed another ISA to carry out international searches for Chinese applicants. Both offices continue to work on the specifications of the pilot, which is expected to be launched later in 2020.
The EPO also enjoys longstanding and close working relations with both the Japan Patent Office (JPO) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This co-operation started some 30 years ago and developed historically, mainly under the umbrellas of trilateral co-operation and, more recently, IP5 co-operation. In autumn 2019 the EPO signed its first bilateral Memoranda of Co-operation with both offices to formalise and expand its co-operation activities with these important patent jurisdictions.
Another highlight of 2019 was the EPO's signature of a validation agreement with Georgia, bringing the total number of validation agreements signed up to five. We are now waiting for Georgia to take the legislative steps required to enact the entry into force of the validation agreement. Advanced discussions are also underway with Laos, Brunei, Angola, OAPI and Jordan which, in January 2019, became the tenth country or IP organisation to initiate validation negotiations.
The reinforced partnership, the EPO's new co-operation framework for non-member states, has generated a great deal of interest among countries all over the world. After the signature of the first Memorandum of Understanding of its kind with South Africa in 2018, the EPO has signed and launched another seven reinforced partnership agreements with Ethiopia, Argentina, Malaysia, Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil and ARIPO. This wide-reaching co-operation programme aims to further integrate and strengthen the global patent system by extending our network of partner offices. By systematically using EPO work products, tools and standards, our partners can increase their capacity, productivity and quality.
The convergence of practices is one of our flagship co-operation initiatives under SP2023. This applies both to our co-operation with member states and our international co-operation activities. Convergence between IP offices will bring significant gains in the quality and validity of patents, as well as in the predictability of the legal process. A first round of harmonisation efforts in the areas of unity of invention, citation of prior art and written description/sufficiency of disclosure was successfully concluded by the IP5 offices. The unity of invention project (led by the EPO and CNIPA) introduced significant improvements in the way offices raise non-unity objections, enhancing transparency and predictability for users.
Following the agreement reached at the Heads of Office meeting in June, a new interdisciplinary IP5 task force was created at the initiative of the EPO to explore the legal, technical and policy aspects of NET and AI. It aims to identify those areas that stand to benefit the most from joint IP5 responses and prepare a roadmap for forthcoming initiatives.
The EPO also started developing a concept to promote synergies and increased collaboration between the IP5, ID5 and TM5 co-operation frameworks for the benefit of offices and stakeholders in industry.
A new innovative infrastructure to support Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) data exchanges was successfully deployed in close co-operation with the USPTO. With this cloud-based infrastructure, the CPC data provided by national offices, the EPO or the USPTO is associated with the patent family. This puts the CPC of all offices on an equal footing.
The European Patent Academy is a global centre for training on patent matters. In 2019 the Academy was again very active in developing content and offering training events that address the needs of national offices, industry (and particularly SMEs), academia, patent professionals, judges and innovators in general.
When it comes to the Academy's catalogue, a significant number of events, whether physical or (increasingly) online, focus on supporting knowledge access, transfer and exchanges with national offices. In 2019 the EPO organised around 30 Academy seminars for examiners in our member states and from other partnering national offices, including several customised expert-level seminars and various discussion platforms on patenting procedures. These events once again proved a highly successful way of promoting stronger convergence with national offices and a better understanding of emerging patent-related issues across Europe.
The Academy's flagship events "Examination matters" and "Search matters" for patent professionals and patent searchers were each attended by nearly 200 participants in 2019. These events offer both examiners and practitioners a unique opportunity to meet and debate on key issues related to search and examination.
In 2019 the Academy continued to expand its portfolio to areas beyond the EPO's core business. After signing a MoU with the Licensing Executives Society International (LESI), we offered joint technology commercialisation training for SMEs in a number of European cities. A top-level "High-growth technology business conference" on business strategy and IP management, followed by a full day of training sessions, also attracted 300 participants to Dublin. In close consultation with its member states, the Academy will continue to further develop its offering in this field.
In 2019, we launched our third call for research proposals in the framework of our academic research programme. The programme covers IP commercialisation and technology transfer topics and attracted a total of 43 proposals in 2019. The EPO also published its first six research reports developed with grants totalling € 300 000 resulting from our first call for proposals in 2017. The launch of these reports had a major impact on the European academic community that conducts research in the field of IP.
In terms of training for IP judges, the Academy organised the annual "Boards of Appeal and key decisions" conference in co-operation with the Boards of Appeal. It also held an expert workshop to discuss patentability issues with national judges and representatives of the Boards of Appeal. The event featured in-depth discussions on added subject-matter, plausibility, and current issues in computer-implemented inventions.
The Academy also continued to support the certification of IP professionals in 2019, with 672 candidates passing the European Qualifying Examination (EQE), marking a 27% increase versus 2018. In the framework of the candidate support project (CSP), 57 candidates from 17 member states have successfully completed the EQE to date.
Lastly, 300 participants actively participated in the first joint webinar organised in co-operation with the EUIPO. The webinar compared design and patent protection in human-machine interfaces. In response to extremely positive feedback from participants, the EPO and the EUIPO will include more joint events on a broad range of different IP rights in its 2020 workplan.