The EPO's Reinforced Partnership programme seeks to further integrate and strengthen the global patent system by providing our partner offices with direct access to the work products produced by our 4 300 highly qualified and specialised patent examiners. This in turn will improve conditions for applicants filing patents internationally and foster innovation by supporting the partner offices in providing improved services to local applicants.
Reinforced partnership is a flexible co-operation model adapted to the specific needs and priorities of our partner offices. It is implemented through a comprehensive technical co-operation programme comprising:
National patents granted to non-residents are a stimulus for foreign direct investment and technology transfer, provided that investors can rely on the legal certainty attached to the granted patents and applicants on the ability to enforce their rights. The legal certainty attached to patents of foreign origin is also important for local innovators and potential competitors as they must have clarity on the granted scope of protection to avoid developing technologies that infringe the rights of others.
By contrast, national patent applications filed by residents are usually the product of local research and development, and the national patent system is expected to act as a catalyst for converting the commercial potential of these inventions into socio-economic development. The legal certainty attached to these patent applications and patents is essential to allow domestic patent proprietors to reap the full benefits from their inventions, whether in terms of commercialisation through licensing for instance, successfully preventing others from copying the invention or protecting it in foreign markets.
Patent applications filed by residents are usually "first filings" because the applicant has not yet filed patent applications for the same invention in other jurisdictions. Timeliness is an essential factor for first filings as applicants need to know whether their invention is patentable as soon as possible after the date of filing, and before the expiry of the 12-month priority period. They need early certainty regarding the patentability of their invention in order to take informed decisions on the further development of it, and possibly whether to extend the protection to other jurisdictions, in other words, to develop exports and foreign trade.
However, first filings normally require patent offices to carry out the substantive search and examination on patentability from scratch as there are no family members to consult. Hence, they are usually more time-consuming and complex to examine than second filings, where related work products from other patent offices often exist. Furthermore, many national patent offices face capacity constraints and do not have enough qualified patent examiners to examine the growing range of technology.
At many patent offices, second filings represent the majority of national patent applications. Through reinforced partnership, partner offices can substantially increase their productivity and timeliness in examining second filings by effectively reusing our work products. Since many second filings often have corresponding EP family members for which we have already produced search and examination results, frequently in our role as International Searching Authority and International Preliminary Examination Authority under the PCT, the impact of reuse under the Reinforced Partnership programme is particularly high. Furthermore, since our patent examiners are highly qualified and specialised, work in divisions of three and cover the entire range of technology, our work products are of particularly high quality and therefore provide a very reliable basis for examining related second filings across all technical fields. However, it should be noted that partner offices always perform the substantive examination in line with their own national/regional legal frameworks and independently decide on the grant or refusal of a patent application.
As a result of the increase in capacity, our partner offices can devote more examination resources to first filings and prioritise them in terms of timeliness and quality. Their examiners can focus on guiding resident applicants through the patent grant process and provide specialised services to the local user community. They can also participate in IP awareness and capacity-building initiatives organised by the national IP authorities for local stakeholders.
For more details on the Reinforced Partnership programme's reuse scheme, please refer to the FAQ.
Since 2018, the EPO has concluded Reinforced Partnership agreements with IP offices from eight countries and one regional IP organisation, namely Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, South Africa and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO). The network of partner offices is expected to grow significantly in the years to come.