1990: EPO publishes Horizon 2000
This forward-looking strategy document addresses the rapid growth of EPO member countries and the Organisation's distribution over three (and soon four) locations. Horizon 2000 develops a list of five guiding principles for the EPO as well as looking at how bureaucracy can be reduced. Most importantly, it examines how the EPO can best serve its members in the wake of immense changes in Europe: the fall of the communism and the privatisation of many traditionally publicly-owned sectors.
1991: Vienna sub-office opens
After producing the first ESPACE CD-ROMs, the EPO increasingly aims to distribute digital patent information to a broader audience. The EPO then integrates the International Patent Documentation Center (INPADOC) into its information services and sets up a new Vienna sub-office.
When it joins the EPO, it has nearly two decades of experience providing patent search and documentation services. Its databases hold more than 95% of all patent documents published worldwide.
1993: EPO liaison office opens in Brussels
To facilitate communication with the European Union, the EPO established a bureau in Brussels. Although this office does not intervene directly in EU-run processes, the EPO delegation represents the voices of its EU and non-EU members.
The Brussels Bureau plays a significant role as the controversial issues of both genetic engineering and software patent come to the fore and a unified framework is necessary. In more practical matters, the EPO supports the establishment of the long sought-after European Unitary Patent.
1994: EPO moves into Shell building in The Hague
To extend its presence in the city, the EPO purchases a building in The Hague that formerly belonged to the Shell Corporation.
1995: EPOQUE provides electronic search tools
The EPO's computerised query service EPOQUE (EPO QUEry service) enables patent examiners to quickly look through important documents, giving them access to over 10 million documents in 1995, a number which will more than triple within three years.
The EPOQUE II viewer features optical character recognition (OCR) technology designed to scan 18 million pages of patents published in English, French and German at a maximum error rate of 2% per page. Developments like this help make the query service the most advanced search system in the world.
1995: PACE programme begins
The EPO develops and initiates a special fast-track search and examination procedure.
1996: Ingo Kober becomes new EPO President
Ingo Kober, former State Secretary of the Federal German Ministry of Justice, is elected as the third EPO President. He oversees tremendous growth in the EPO's searchable digital databases, which by the beginning of the 21st century grow to 20 terabytes of data on 20 servers. By the time Kober leaves office, the first former Eastern Bloc countries have joined the EPO and the Office is handling more than 170 000 patent applications per year.
1998: Espacenet launched
Espacenet has undoubtedly done more than any other single product to change the face of patent information. When launched, it makes nearly 30 million patents accessible free of charge. The information on offer covers virtually all the technical knowledge documented in patents. This means that for the first time companies worldwide - including Europe's small and medium-sized enterprises - as well as inventors, research institutions and universities, have free access to the most comprehensive range of patent information available on the internet.
1999: Intergovernmental conference on EPLA meets
The European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) unsuccessfully attempts to create an integrated judicial system to adjudicate patent law cases among EPO member states. It was designed to create the legal apparatus for long sought-after Unitary Patent.
In 1999, a Working Party on Litigation is set up among EPO member states to look into creating a centralised patent judicial system. Despite making significant headway, the EPLA is dropped in 2007 after the European Parliament determines that EU member states could not participate.
Decade in review
1990: Denmark joins European Patent Organisation
1990: Euro-PCT applications account for 25% of filings
1991: Monaco joins the European Patent Organisation
1992: Ireland and Portugal join European Patent Organisation
1992: All EU member states are now also EPC contracting states
1992: EPO publishes 500 000th patent application
1992: EPO grants 200 000th patent
1995: EPO grants 300 000th patent
1996: First EPO website launched
1996: Finland joins European Patent Organisation
1996: Half of all filings now Euro-PCT applications
1996: Internal classification system now included 160 000 sub-headings
1997: Over 100 000 applications flied in a single year
1998: Cyprus joins European Patent Organisation