Executive summary

2023 was a landmark year for the European patent system as it marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the European Patent Convention (EPC). The EPO's 50th anniversary celebrations honoured all those – our member states, our staff, our partners, our users and all the inventors – who have worked to realise the vision of the signatories of the EPC, united in the belief that closer co-operation between European states benefits innovation and supports peace and prosperity.

2023 was a notable year in other respects too. It was the final full year of the Strategic Plan 2023 (SP2023) and the EPO made progress toward fully delivering the five goals of SP2023.

Under Goal 1, the Office continued to invest in attracting, developing and retaining the best talent through agile recruitment, meaningful training and sustainable career development. In 2023, we hired 100 new examiners, who reflect the diversity of the organisation in terms of nationality, gender balance and professional experience. Five of the new examiners were either current or former members of the Pan European Seal Young Professional Programme, demonstrating its importance in developing young talent.

The EPO is now more diverse than ever before: 45% of recruits in 2023 were women, compared to 30% in 2019. To promote transparency in assessing the impact of the Office's efforts in increasing diversity and inclusion, a D&I Dashboard was launched in 2023. The dashboard provides information on important key performance indicators (KPIs) such as geographical diversity and gender balance of staff and managers. 

The Office invests significantly in learning and development. Based on the skills framework (which identifies expiring, evolving and emerging skills for different job profiles) in 2023 we launched development programmes for profiles including legal professionals and finance and data protection experts. By the end of 2023, 91% of EPO staff were covered by a tailored development programme. The pilot New Ways of Working scheme provides staff with flexibility to balance personal and professional lives and contributes to staff wellbeing.

Under Goal 2 of SP2023, the EPO prepared for the decommissioning of several legacy tools. At the same time, we reflected on our digital transformation journey and identified lessons for the future.

The proportion of processes digitalised in the patent granting process (PGP) and in corporate areas has grown from 51.3% in December 2019 to 87.8% at the end of 2023. During this period, we accelerated the implementation of remote work solutions and paperless workflows and implemented new procurement and financial planning and analysis tools.

During 2023, the Patent Workbench (PWB) evolved, becoming the central hub for the PGP. By the end of the year, we had successfully digitalised 99.5% of patent grant actions. We also integrated new tasks related to user data management into the PWB and introduced a new tool enabling staff to easily perform changes to multiple files simultaneously. This simplified the work of formalities officers and generated efficiency gains by considering the phase of different proceedings. Most of these services will also be offered online to external users via MyEPO Portfolio.

In 2023, we successfully completed two pilot trials to test new features of MyEPO Portfolio and released new features to all users. Notable new functionalities include the Shared Area, which supports a more collaborative and non-sequential examination process by allowing the examining division and the applicant to work together in real time and at an early stage in the examination process. This early alignment and common understanding between the division and the applicant will ultimately lead to better quality.

The adoption of MyEPO Portfolio is rapidly increasing, and many users now benefit from the convenience of accessing their digital communications through the user-friendly EPO Mailbox – with more than 7 500 patent attorneys connected to the Mailbox by the end of the year, compared to just 2 300 at the end of 2019.

In September 2023, we launched the new external EPO website, which features an improved search experience, informative sections for inventors and SMEs and a Transparency Portal. A "New to patents" page explains the fundamentals of intellectual property protection to non-patent experts. The new EPO website has been optimised for all devices and is designed to meet the evolving needs of users in the digital age.

Information security is a priority across all our tools and in 2023 the EPO successfully passed our first surveillance audit for the ISO 27001 information security standard. Work on improving the availability and stability of our IT systems continued and at the end of the year we reached our target of 98% availability.

The quality of search and grant (Goal 3) remained stable at high levels throughout the SP2023 period, demonstrating our commitment to deliver high-quality products and services efficiently. During SP2023, the EPO has intensified efforts to deal with the examination stock and to handle old examination files effectively while processing the high incoming search workload. As a result, at the end of 2023, 77.2% of standard examination products were delivered within 36 months.

Search quality audit shows that the proportion of findings that are potential ground for opposition of a future patent fell from 8% of the sampled files in 2022 to just 6.8% in 2023. Novelty and inventive step remained stable at around 6%, demonstrating that standards with this assessment were maintained despite an ever-increasing volume of prior art and increasing complexity and integration of applications. In only 4% of search reports sampled in 2023 did auditors find a better prior art document.

In 2023, we revised and expanded the Stakeholder Quality Assurance Panels (SQAPs), an important means of reviewing quality. Three sessions were held, in which 50 EPO experts and experienced European patent attorneys assessed the quality of EPO actions and identified opportunities for improvement and best practices with regard to search and written opinions, intermediate communications and grants. EPO staff and SACEPO Working Party on Quality members joined these sessions as observers. Feedback from the 2023 SQAPs provided valuable input into the EPO's 2024 Quality Action Plan.

Our efforts on quality are founded on the world's most extensive prior art collection. The number of patent publications increased from 146 million in 2022 to 153 million in 2023. This represents 86 million patent families, including 60 million from China, Japan and Korea.

Artificial intelligence is essential in helping us manage the classification of this volume of prior art to deliver high-quality searches, building on the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) provided by other Offices. The high accuracy of AI classification systems ensures that classification quality is according to our internal standards.

Our examiners also have access to more than 126 million groups of non-patent literature, such as articles in scientific journals. In 2023, non-patent literature made the highest contribution to total citations in the area of pure and applied organic chemistry. With a collection of over 5 million standards-related documents, the EPO is the worldwide focal point of expertise for standards search.

Timeliness is an important aspect of quality and legal certainty: 86.4% of search, examination and opposition standard files were produced on time in 2023. Search timeliness (standard cases) also remained strong, with 92.3% of searches and written opinions being despatched on time and a mean duration of 5.0 months.

Demand for EPO products and services remained high in 2023, and the EPO received a record 199 275 patent applications. We received 2.9% more requests for searches than in 2022, 77% of them second filings.

The EPO is committed to strengthening our network of partners supporting the European patent system (Goal 4). Since June 2019, the number of reinforced partnerships has grown from two to 13 and the population coverage from 0.87 billion to 2.16 billion, resulting in an increase in the size of the market for European patents of almost 1.3 billion inhabitants (+150%). At the beginning of 2024, the EPO covered 39 member states, one extension state and five validation states.

2023 saw the completion of Europe's patent architecture as the Unitary Patent system became a reality on 1 June, offering a simpler, more cost-effective alternative for obtaining and enforcing patent protection across the 17 participating member states. By the end of 2023, the Office had received over 17 000 requests for unitary effect of a European patent. Uptake rate greatly exceeded expectations, with over 22% of European applications turning into a Unitary Patent since the system was launched in June.

2023 was an eventful year for co-operation, with the working agreement on search with Austria coming into force and the signature of a new agreement with Slovenia. The EPO successfully launched two new professional mobility initiatives in 2023 to support European Patent Network (EPN) expertise and knowledge sharing. Under the Seconded National Experts (SNEs) scheme, national experts from 12 member states applied to join various EPO services. By December 2023, 12 SNEs from seven NPOs had started their secondment and 21 member states showed interest in hosting an EPO Young Professional in the framework of the EPO Young Professional Secondment scheme. By the end of the year, three EPO Young Professionals began their secondments at National IP Offices. A revision of the EPO's fee policy enhanced the accessibility of the patent system for our stakeholders, especially SMEs and micro-entities.

In 2023, the EPO Academy's live online training activities reached 26 480 participants, a 20% increase compared to 2022. Additionally, 18 748 active users are registered in the EPO e-learning centre, from both member and non-member states, with the greatest growth coming from non-member states.

During 2023 we published a series of patent insight reports on state-of-the-art technological fields such as quantum computing, quantum simulation, mRNA technologies and offshore wind energy. We also ran the second edition of the European Patent Administration Certificate (EPAC). The EPAC training course had 869 participants in 2023 and the EQE pre-examination tutored course had 661.

The EPO is committed to building a more sustainable future and in 2023 we made significant progress in environmental sustainability, societal impact, governance and transparency, and financial sustainability (Goal 5). In terms of environmental sustainability, we have reduced the EPO's overall carbon footprint by 56% during SP2023.

The Observatory on Patents and Technology, launched on 6 October 2023, quantifies and explores trends and challenges throughout the innovation ecosystem, offering reliable evidence for informed decision-making by industry, innovators, investors, policymakers and other stakeholders. Serving as a globally accessible digital platform, which facilitates transparent and open discussions on innovation, it provides valuable insights into technology trends that will shape the lives of current and future generations. The Observatory's first online event, "Boosting startups with intellectual property", took place on 17 October 2023.

Other developments in 2023 included the launches of the Deep Tech Finder, a free new digital tool for the public to explore investment-ready deep tech startups in Europe, and a new technology platform in Espacenet, which makes patent data more easily accessible to the public through smart searches.

In July, the EPO's flagship European Inventor Award and Young Inventors Prize again promoted the benefits of innovation for society. The 2023 award ceremony was streamed live from Valencia, Spain to more than 25 000 viewers. It reached more than 28 million social media users and generated 4 500 media reports.

The EPO continues to uphold the highest standards of governance and our operations maintained the ISO certifications for occupational health and safety management, information security management, and quality management. We also maintained diligent oversight of our financial health. Despite challenging macroeconomic conditions, the coverage ratio of assets to liabilities improved by 8% in 2023 and reached 76.6% at the end of the year. We continued to monitor our long-term financial situation with a new Financial Study. The first phase of the study was completed in 2023 and found that the measures implemented by the Office since the previous study in 2019 have had a positive impact on the Office's financial situation. The study will continue in 2024.

The successful delivery of the five goals of SP2023 puts the EPO in a very strong position as we build on these achievements in SP2028, to create a more sustainable patent office.

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