Reinforced Partnership (RP) is a co-operation programme launched by the EPO in 2018. Under the programme, the EPO and the respective partner offices engage in a deep and wide-ranging partnership comprising co-operation activities across all areas of the patent system. One of the key objectives is to improve conditions for applicants, both foreign and local, and thereby to facilitate access to the national/regional patent systems.
As part of the RP programme, the partner offices agree to systematically reuse EPO work products in their patent grant processes with a view to enhancing and expediting the search and examination of national/regional patent applications claiming the same priority. Although RP does not require any legislative amendments to the legal frameworks of the partner countries, the closer the alignment of the national/regional patent laws with the European Patent Convention, the greater the benefits of reusing EPO work products.
To date, our partner offices are:
Applicants filing a patent application previously filed at the EPO with similar claims for prosecution at a partner office will benefit from increased predictability, timeliness and ultimately legal certainty as related EPO work results will be effectively and systematically reused in the partner office's patent grant process.
There is no special or additional fee to be paid for participating in reinforced partnership. Applicants simply have to pay the fees normally due at the partner office for the search and examination of patent applications.
Partner offices reuse EPO work products in a standardised and streamlined manner. The reuse workflow is embedded in the established patent grant process and customised to the specific legal, procedural and operational requirements of each partner office.
The main difference between RP, PPH and validation relates to their application, who decides to apply them and the effect of their application in the partner countries.
The RP programme is an ”office-driven” scheme for the standardised reuse of EPO search and examination results with a view to enabling partner offices to enhance and expedite the processing of subsequent national/regional applications with the same priority date. While the partner offices commit to systematically reuse EPO work results in their patent grant processes in a timely manner and to the maximum extent practicable, they will however perform the substantive examination of the related patent applications in line with their own national/regional legal frameworks. The final decision on the grant remains with the national office.
In contrast, the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) is applicant-driven and allows an applicant to request accelerated patent prosecution at a participating patent office where a corresponding application has already been found to contain patentable/allowable claims at a PPH partner office. The programme allows partner offices to reuse work already available and, hence, process applications in an accelerated manner. Under PPH, the application is processed out of turn and the examiner is explicitly asked to take into consideration available work results. PPH-based utilisation at the EPO and most PPH offices follows the "discretionary approach", which means that examiners will themselves define the extent of reliance on the prior work results on a case-by-case basis.
Finally, the validation system provides applicants with a simple and cost‑effective procedure for obtaining protection for a European patent in a validation state. If an applicant submits a request for validation and pays the validation fee in due time, European patent applications (direct and Euro‑PCT filings) and patents can be validated in these countries, where they will in principle have the same effect as national applications and patents, will be subject to national law and will enjoy essentially the same protection as patents that the EPO grants for EPC contracting states. While the validation systems is based on the relevant national law, and hence subject to the national validation rules of the country concerned, the patent office in the validation state will not conduct any further formal or substantive examination but accept and reuse the result of the examination at the EPO.
The RP programme is an office-driven scheme applied systematically by partner offices to national/regional patent applications with a corresponding EP family member. Applicants therefore do not have to apply to participate in the programme and/or to submit additional forms and documents (one of the key advantages of reinforced partnership). It is important to note, however, that the respective national/regional patent filing and prosecution requirements are not affected by reinforced partnership and remain as they are. The final decision on the grant remains with the national office.
Partner offices systematically consult the related EPO applications and reuse corresponding EPO work products to the maximum extent practicable under their applicable national/regional legal frameworks. The reuse procedure is integrated in the patent grant processes of the partner offices and customised to take into account specific legal, procedural and operational differences and requirements. To ensure consistency in the implementation of RP among the participating offices, the EPO provides its partners with extensive technical support, tools and guidance on the reuse procedure.
No. When a patent application has been filed with a partner office, its examiners will automatically assess if reusable EPO work products are available and which ones are most relevant.
Partner offices reuse EPO work products to the maximum extent practicable under their applicable national/regional legal framework. Since the RP does not require the partner countries to align their legal framework with the European Patent Convention, current differences in the respective patent laws and examination practices will continue to exist and reuse may therefore not be applicable and/or practicable in certain areas of legal and/or procedural divergence. This means in practice that in some cases patent applications may be treated differently by certain partner offices and that the patent examination process may lead to different outcomes.
Furthermore, even in areas where there is no substantive or procedural divergence between the legal frameworks, partner offices may in some cases decide not to fully reuse available work products, for instance, because they have discovered additional prior art, wish to reuse other citations instead or simply have a different opinion on the application at hand.
Finally, in some cases the reuse of EPO work products by a particular partner office can be limited in scope and duration by the EPO and partner office agreeing to first undertake a pilot project on RP.
To ensure that EPO work products are available in time for reuse at a partner office, the EPO provides a number of ways to shorten search and examination procedures. Detailed information can be found in the Guidelines for Examination.
The RP programme, unlike the PPH procedure, is applied systematically for all patent applications. It is expected that the RP programme will improve prosecution at partner offices by reducing unnecessary duplication of work. However, due to the diversity of the patent systems, it is not possible to provide a general answer how long the grant procedure takes at the different partner offices.
Country-specific FAQs will soon be available.