Key achievements: Goal 2

Goal 2 – Simplify and modernise IT systems

The EPO continued its digital transformation journey in 2022, releasing state-of-the-art tools and platforms, while decommissioning obsolete legacy solutions.

Digitalisation of the PGP

A milestone was reached in 2022 with the digitalisation of our backend PGP via the new digital file repository (DFR), a digital archive storing all the relevant documents of a file and a tool allowing collaboration and sharing of intellectual work. DFR integrates fully with the internal patent workbench – the central hub for procedural workflows, end to end connecting seamlessly formality and examiner tasks – as well as with the external user area, MyEPO Portfolio, and other tools. This change enabled us to smoothly decommission the legacy digital archive tool (DI+), which is based on old technology, in our core business. Towards the end of the year, DFR was fully rolled out to all other areas of the organisation, including the Boards of Appeal (BoA). This gives everyone access to a single source of data, including annotations, and avoids cumbersome transfers between systems.

Figure 11 – Digital File Repository

Source: EPO

Workload management functions were gradually integrated in the patent workbench, including the first release of the digital file allocation (DFA). The DFA contains the basic functionalities allowing allocation to be performed from the patent workbench and facilitating more efficient file distribution – getting the right file to the right examiner. This will replace the digital file marketplace, reducing complexity.

In 2022 the integration of digital exchanges with WIPO in our PGP process started with the PCT Receiving Office (PCT-RO) and International search reports. The new process moves away from image manipulation into structured data for ex-officio corrections in the PCT-RO phase. The solution is integrated with patent workbench, relies on a modern platform and is ready to use with the ePCT application programming interfaces. We addressed the six main PCT data flows, which altogether represent two-thirds of the total volume of PCT data exchanged between the EPO and WIPO.

Concerning the Unitary Patent, we performed end-to-end user testing of new tools, focusing on their interoperability, and implemented necessary changes to the existing tools, so that our IT systems would be ready for the start of the Unitary Patent in 2023 (see "Unitary Patent package" under Goal 4).

Online Filing 2.0 had been launched in 2021. It incorporates and improves the features of the legacy online filing service (also known as CMS), covers all procedures before the EPO (including procedures before the BoA), and offers a more user-friendly interface. Following a transitional period when the two tools ran in parallel, the CMS eFiling was decommissioned on 1 January 2022, contributing to the optimisation of the toolset offered to our external customers. 

To support the digital transformation in the EPO's PGP, the Administrative Council adopted a first package of legal changes in October. The power to decide on presentation requirements for documents is delegated to the President and a first decision of the President restates these requirements. The EPO may make documents cited in search reports available to the public via digital services instead of transmitting them, thereby reducing paper consumption significantly. A new regime for notification and the calculation of time limits will enter into force in November 2023. It will align the EPO's notification regime with the digital reality and the PCT system, with 99% of communications being delivered online, and will abolish the additional 10 days calculated for delivery by postal services. Importantly, the EPO will maintain its duty of proof and the safeguards familiar under the PCT will be introduced. Communication and training for the new system is ongoing.

In response to external users' expectations, a digital patent grant certificate was introduced, upgrading the certificate to a modern and more appealing design. The new design reflects the EPO's commitment to digitalisation, modernisation, innovation, and sustainability. Proprietors or representatives can also now quickly and securely download grant certificates from their Mailbox.

Improvements to classification and search

In 2022, we focused efforts in the core business area on ANSERA, our main tool for all search work, which led to improvements in its stability, performance of search algorithms, visualisation of results, user interface, and overall reliability. The ANSERA viewer received a series of performance improvements and saw the implementation of new functions. A new search navigation, which improves the ergonomics and usability, lists all search actions taken in a panel and examiners can easily switch between the respective document sets and continue from the last viewed position.

An additional function was introduced in ANSERA, called ATopUp. Regular top-up searches for European and PCT applications at the end of examination constitute an essential element in the quality assurance of the EPO grant procedure. ATopUp improves on our legacy top-up tools as it is fully integrated into ANSERA, offering ranked results and filtering capabilities from ANSERA itself, and enables examiners to detect earlier national rights prior to grant as required by the Unitary Patent procedure. This means we can make ATopUp our single top-up search tool and decommission the legacy tools in early 2023.

A new internal machine translation engine was introduced within our PGP tools, capable of translating unpublished documents from several languages into English. This improves both pre-classification and pre-search results as documents in other languages (French and German) can now be included in the pre-search results and get a pre-classification from our AI tool. Previously these documents were excluded from automatic processing and needed to be manually processed. Extension of AI-based machine translation services to Chinese and Japanese was a significant step, as 46% of the full-text patent data in our databases are in these two languages.

Figure 12 – ANSERA search results view

Source: EPO

The Initial Search and Data Analysis Ecosystem (EPyQUE), allows internal users to explore prior art and other data in a rich collaborative way, and provides a replacement for preparations for personal search and data analytics.

We focused on supporting our users in adopting ANSERA and efficiently using its new features by providing a wide range of training opportunities, written and recorded learning materials and tool demonstrations during "unboxing events".

In 2022 the new classification tool, Canopée, was fully integrated with and allowed classification of documents from ANSERA, without the need to switch to another application to perform normal classification tasks. In addition, Canopée offers an improved user experience and better performance and provides a foundation for achieving efficiency gains as well as improved quality and precision of classification due to its readiness for integration with artificial intelligence (AI). The tool was adapted to offer AI-generated predictions for Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) symbols, which examiners can accept, reject, or modify. This service will be operational early 2023.

Figure 13 – AI-supported classification for examiners

Source: EPO

The new classification tools (Classera/Canopée) complementing the new search environment will allow us to decommission the legacy classification tools in 2023.

Built in-house, our AI-based pre-classification engine was launched in 2021. Running in parallel to the legacy service, it demonstrated the ability to allocate files with greater accuracy, making the commercial product redundant. The contract with the external supplier of pre-classification symbols was terminated in 2022.

For the first time in 2022, the assignment of CPC symbols to new incoming documents in Y02/Y04 (sustainable technologies) was fully automated using an AI model. It replaced the semi-automatic classification based on examiner-maintained EPOQUE-preparations, improving timeliness and consistency of the classification, while ensuring high data throughput. In a similar way to the AI-assisted classification, the new tool makes suggestions to support reclassification for patent and non-patent literature. The solution is piloted for CPC reclassification in some revision projects.

EPO Translate was made available to all EPO staff and can translate between 56 languages, of which French, German, Dutch, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese are available for confidential translations. The new portal gives access to all machine translation engines of the EPO machine translation system. While some of these engines are specifically trained for processing patent text, EPO Translate also offers an engine for general language text translation. With the progress of machine translation, the Office has replaced the outsourced human title translations with in-house secure machine translation.

 Figure 14 – Feedback mechanism in EPO Translate

Source: EPO

We delivered a priority-document blockchain prototype that includes a distributed system of computers and participants. Owning a working solution that allows the exchange of encrypted documents with external entities constitutes a major knowledge gain on the blockchain technology. Now we are waiting for partners willing to explore with us future applications, such as the exchange of priority documents.

Interacting with the user community

A key aspect of the EPO's digital transformation is to improve our interactions with users, making interactions more efficient and helping to reduce paper consumption. After a seven-month pilot phase involving over 180 external participants, MyEPO Portfolio was launched on 1 June 2022. It is a web-based online service that offers a simplified approach in procedural submissions. Parties to proceedings and their representatives before the EPO can now use the EPO Mailbox to view their applications and documents and reply to EPO communications. International agents and non-European applicants in the international phase of the PCT can also access their communications via EPO Mailbox thanks to the first delivery of a second new pilot that was launched in November.

Figure 15 – MyEPO Portfolio user interface

Source: EPO

Usage of the Mailbox by companies continued to grow, reaching 1 306 active companies by the end of 2022, a 26% increase over the previous year.

Figure 16 – Usage of Mailbox

Source: EPO

Online services were further improved with a new Central Fee Payment platform, which also allowed for the decommissioning of the Online Fee Payment and Multipay tools. The Central Fee Payment is based on a standard e-commerce platform and makes available all payment methods via a single platform. It offers deposit account management, automatic debiting management, and the possibility to claim refunds. It is also future-ready with all the features required for the Unitary Patent.

The quality of customer care was improved with new state-of-the-art Customer Relationship Management technology introduced, integrating modern best practice processes from ServiceNow Customer Service Management and built-in integrations with collaboration tools and the IT service management solution which supports end-to-end delivery of IT services. This has created a platform for all first-line agents, formalities officers, and other case handlers to have all required information at a glance allowing them to focus on the user's enquiry and concerns with assistance and documentation from the tool, and ultimately provide a higher quality service to the user. After the implementation, the legacy toolset was decommissioned.

 The EPO has also redoubled efforts to enable users to carry out a number of changes to their own portfolios by themselves. This will streamline selected client data changes, making application management more agile for our users.

Digitalisation of corporate services

The EPO's digital transformation encompasses not only the PGP, but also its corporate services. In 2022, core HR processes continued to be simplified and digitalised, supporting the objectives set in Goal 1. The recruitment process was digitalised end-to-end with the introduction of revamped internal and external job portals. Other changes in the HR area included digital processing of medical certificates and a new self-service portal for reimbursement of education costs under the recently renewed regulations, providing greater transparency and control over data.

With the ambition to improve the financial steering capacity of the Office, supporting the objectives of Goal 1, a new state-of-the-art controlling and accounting software tool has been implemented, providing the foundation for an end-to-end digital budget process. The tool has been made available to all budget planning stakeholders, allowing us to replace manual spreadsheet-based submissions with digitalised workflows, and has been successfully used for the annual budget cycle 2023. 

The roll-out of an office-wide single point of storage and management for documents started in 2022, with the aim of safeguarding the EPO's knowledge and history. Designed to manage administrative document repositories, the platform is being gradually extended to cover the various areas of the Organisation. The Office also prepared and adopted a Retention Policy for its documentation, supporting its sustainability agenda and extensive digitalisation. The policy provides a framework of general principles, rules, and conditions for the retention of several types of files and records at the EPO.

Strengthening information security

It is of utmost importance for the EPO that we can rely on the highest levels of information security to safeguard our data in order to protect users and staff. Building on the Information Security Policy framework approved in 2021, in 2022 we focused on embedding information security management best practices in our daily work. Following an external audit, the EPO received ISO/IEC 27001:2013 certification of our information security management system in October 2022. This certification confirms the EPO's ability to use a globally recognised method to manage information security risks and reinforces the trust our clients place in us.

In 2022 we continued to develop our authentication systems. A new Customer Identity and Access Management portal was deployed, providing a uniform and secure platform for external users to manage their accounts and preferences. This also enables alternative authentication methods, replacing the traditional EPO smartcards. This functionality is already available in the Central Fee Payment platform.

Cyber defences were expanded and enhanced in 2022 and campaigns to highlight the importance of user awareness of cybercrime continued.

Modernising infrastructure

Today, technology powers nearly every aspect of modern organisations. To keep up with the fast-paced digital landscape, IT infrastructure needs to be reliable, secure, and most of all flexible and accessible. In 2022 we completed two major projects which directly contribute to the long-term sustainability of the Office: decommissioning of the mainframe and migration of data centres. The outdated, expensive, and complex legacy mainframe was replaced by a modern system as a foundation of a fully digital PGP. The EPO Production data centre is now located in Luxembourg and all IT systems have been migrated.

Figure 17 – EPO data centre in Luxembourg

*pB = petabyte. Measure of memory or data storage capacity. It is a multiple of a byte, equal to 1 000 terabytes.
Source: EPO

Following the completion of the mainframe re-platforming and data centre migration, we continued working on the availability and stability of our IT systems with a full understanding that any failure of our IT systems has a direct impact on our activities and on our ability to provide high-quality services to users. This resulted in achieving 97.04% availability at the end of 2022 and meeting the excellence target set in the BSC (96.5%).