https://www.epo.org/en/node/goal-2

Key achievements: Goal 2

Goal 2 – Simplify and modernise IT systems

In 2023, the EPO finalised SP2023 deliveries and intensified our business change efforts in preparation for the decommissioning of several legacy tools. At the same time, we reflected on our digital transformation journey and identified lessons for the future.

Digitalisation of the PGP

The Patent Workbench (PWB) has evolved, becoming the central hub for the PGP. By the end of 2023, we had successfully digitalised 99.5% of patent grant actions. The PWB was expanded to include the remaining workflows in examination and to integrate quality approvals made by the chairperson and line manager in search and examination. Extending the coverage of digital workflows streamlines the process and enables quality improvement, as well as increasing efficiency compared to sending emails for the same actions.

KPI: 99.5% of patent grant actions digitalised by end of 2023

In 2023, the Digital File Allocation service integrated in the PWB evolved from a prototype to a fully functional tool equipped with artificial intelligence (AI), which helps to allocate the right file to the right examiner. New features (such as AI suggestions for file allocation and redistribution) were implemented, including an extension to the opposition procedure. The implementation of AI support has reduced the need for manual support in re-routing files by 75%, resulting in improved quality and timeliness. For the remaining cases that still require manual intervention, files are re-routed and the tool is continuously refined to increase its accuracy.

Figure 13 – Digital File Allocation interface with AI capabilities

Source: EPO

Additionally, in 2023, we integrated new tasks related to user data management – such as changes of name, appointment of representatives and transfer of rights – into the PWB. A new tool was introduced within the PWB that enabled staff to easily perform batch changes to multiple files simultaneously. This simplified the work of formalities officers and generated efficiency gains by taking into account the phase of different proceedings. Most of these services will also be offered online to external users via MyEPO Portfolio. The success of the new tool enabled the legacy Universal Formalities Officer's tool (UFO) to be decommissioned, further simplifying our IT infrastructure.

The 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, is another key component of our PGP digital backbone. DFR was gradually extended to all areas of the organisation in 2023, including legal teams and the Boards of Appeal. This provided everyone with access to a single source of data, eliminating the need for cumbersome transfers between systems and improving efficiency of the document handling. Following extensive internal consultation and a substantial number of improvements in ergonomics and performance, we were able to smoothly decommission the legacy digital archives (DI+) for all users, contributing to the simplification of our IT toolset.

In the area of publication, some services were insourced, such as bulk data distribution, reducing risks and costs for the organisation. Each month, we distribute 10 terabytes of bulk data sets to 300 subscribers, providing them with non-confidential, structured and standardised data collections from internal EPO databases. In 2023, we also completed the insourcing of the production of the European Patent Bulletin. Since 2005, the Bulletin has been published every Wednesday in the form of a 6 000-page PDF that lists bibliographical data relating to newly published grants. Since the ninth edition of the Bulletin in 2023, we have been producing the PDF version in-house, and the contract with the external provider has come to an end.

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Improvements to classification and search

Quality in the PGP begins with high-quality classification and search. In 2023, our focus remained on enhancing the performance and usability of ANSERA, making it the primary search tool for the majority of our examiners. For instance, redesigned drawers in ANSERA were delivered to improve document management during searches and ease the transition from the legacy JViewer to the ANSERA Viewer, which is a necessary step before decommissioning the legacy EPOQUE search environment. The growing maturity of ANSERA's rich full-text search allowed us to decommission X-Full (an application that allows searching across full-text databases) for 95% of examiners, with the plan to fully discontinue this tool in January 2024, simplifying our IT environment and further consolidating search and classification tasks in ANSERA.

Figure 14 – Improvements to ANSERA

Source: EPO

Moreover, ANSERA TopUp (ATopUp) has replaced the former top-up search tool, XTopUp. ATopUp offers ranked results and filtering capabilities from within ANSERA and enables examiners to detect earlier national rights prior to grant, which is an essential component of the quality assurance of the EPO grant procedure and a requirement of the Unitary Patent procedure.

Since its launch in 2021, ANSERA PreSearch has been continually improved, incorporating the latest developments in machine learning and AI. The new tool improves the quality of search and written opinion by ensuring that the most comprehensive and advanced pre-search is performed efficiently for every search, based on a ranked list of highly relevant documents which can be filtered and further searched. User feedback, including from early adopters, has been taken into account for these enhancements, allowing for the decommissioning of the legacy pre-search tool for all examiners.

KPI: 93% ANSERA usage

In 2023, new classification tools – Classera and Canopée –made significant advancements, encompassing the full range of classification tasks. Given the progress made in modernising the search and classification ecosystem and consolidating it around ANSERA, we plan to decommission the legacy classification tools in early 2024, followed by the gradual decommissioning of the legacy search tool EPOQUE.

An essential part of our efforts to improve quality and efficiency is our ability to master the wealth of prior art published in many languages. We have extended our in-house machine translation service to new language pairs, providing examiners with access to 99% of high-quality translated patent data in our databases. The number of combinations of two languages used in the translation process (so-called language pairs) available to EPO examiners increased from 32 in 2019 to 56 in 2023.

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Interacting with the user community

Digital transformation is a journey that begins and ends with our users. With this in mind, we have focused on enhancing the ways in which we interact with our users throughout their customer journey.

As a fundamental part of our approach to developing our external tools, we work closely with our users to test major new features of MyEPO Portfolio during the pilot phase. In 2023, we successfully completed two pilot trials and released new features to all users. Among the most notable new functionalities is 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. In addition, the introduction of new business-to-business technical interfaces, known as application programming interfaces (APIs), enable users to streamline and improve their processes, both internally and while interacting with the EPO.

Figure 15 – MyEPO Portfolio mailbox access to digital communication

Source: EPO

The adoption of MyEPO Portfolio by our users is rapidly increasing, and many are now benefiting from the convenience of accessing their digital communications through the user-friendly EPO Mailbox. In March, we reached a new milestone with the partial discontinuation of fax usage. While we will continue to accept incoming faxes from users until mid-2024, we no longer send them as part of the patent granting process. By phasing out obsolete communication channels we are continuing to modernise access to our services, simplifying user communication and supporting a fully digital and paperless PGP.  

Figure 16 – Adoption of MyEPO Portfolio services in 2023

Source: EPO

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

In line with ambitions outlined in SP2023, we continued moving towards cloud and cloud-native technologies and away from legacy technologies to simplify and modernise our IT landscape. As part of this transformation, our revamped external website epo.org and New Espacenet, which provides access to the world's largest free collection of patent documents, have been successfully migrated to the cloud, ensuring better performance and availability.

KPI: 85% satisfaction rate with our external tools as measured in 2023 survey

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Digitalisation of corporate services

We are on a journey to digitalise not only the PGP, but also our corporate services.

In 2023, the EPO's HR management system was modernised to further automate and simplify processes, including enhancing existing tools in areas such as payroll and health and safety to reduce manual data entry by HR staff and internal users. The implementation of new digital processes, such as leave requests and self-service certificates, has led to significant efficiency gains and contributed to increasing internal user satisfaction.

Our new document management platform, which manages administrative document repositories and related workflows, was gradually extended to more areas of the Office in preparation for the introduction of the new EPO retention policy on 1 January 2024. The platform ensures that staff can easily access knowledge and expertise, even after the creators of the data have left the organisation. Modern document controls and features also facilitate collaborative work – building on each other's ideas and complementing past knowledge with up-to-date information.

In response to staff feedback, we have made significant improvements to our workplace booking tool to enhance the user experience and simplify the booking process. A major component of our New Ways of Working pilot has been grouping teams into neighbourhoods within our buildings. To support this approach, we have added new options to the workplace booking tool, making it easier and faster to book a workplace in a team's dedicated area and bringing colleagues closer together for collaboration and networking and to promote a sense of belonging.

Figure 17 – Neighbourhood view in the workplace booking tool  

Source: EPO

The EPO has made the necessary changes to our financial systems to support activity-based budgeting for all external expenditure in the 2024 budget. We have successfully improved the budget management process and laid the foundations for integrated budget reporting, leveraging data from our financial and procurement systems and SAP Analytics Cloud. With these advances, we took a significant step towards financial transparency by allowing all units to report the purpose of expenditures and better monitor their budget consumption consistently.

Additionally, we have launched a pilot of our new procurement process with a modern tool (iValua), including a new procurement portal for providers. The introduction of our procurement portal for suppliers is a first step towards a joint digital purchasing process, offering optimised communication, collaboration and co-operation between the EPO and our suppliers. Suppliers can maintain their information and contact details, view existing or amended contracts and finalise the contract process using digital signatures.

In 2023, our data analytics platform underwent a significant transition, with statistical reports and data services migrated from the legacy SAS software to the open-source WYRM solution. For 20 years, SAS has provided the Office with valuable statistical reports and data services. However, in recent years it faced limitations in handling increasingly complex data. Since its initial roll-out, WYRM has become the preferred tool for analysts across the Office, supporting various business areas. With over 100 000 monthly visits, the portal is used by approximately 6 000 staff members each month. The legacy SAS platform is scheduled to be decommissioned in early 2024, bringing savings of EUR 590 000 per year.

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Strengthening information security

At the EPO, we prioritise information security to protect our users, staff and data across all our tools. In recognition of our efforts, we successfully passed our first surveillance audit for the ISO 27001 information security standard.

We have also refined our authentication solutions, introducing self-service features for external users and extending these to all relevant online systems, including legacy ones. This allows external users to transition away from smartcards to more secure, simpler and more flexible means of online authentication based on two-factor authentication (factor 1: email address plus password; factor 2: another authentication method).

In 2023, we continued to raise awareness of cybercrime through communication campaigns and phishing simulations, with a focus on increasing staff awareness of IT security, physical security and related policies. Although some recipients fall for the phish, the majority of users exhibited high levels of awareness and the ability to identify and report suspicious messages. These findings highlight the significance of our ongoing efforts to combat cybercrime through a cybersecurity education programme.

We also built upon our experiences in securing our cloud applications and infrastructure, investing in the latest solutions for confidential computing and encryption techniques. This ensures that the Office remains in full control of the data entrusted to us, including when it is stored in the cloud.

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Modernising infrastructure

In 2023, we continued our efforts to improve the availability and stability of our IT systems, recognising the direct impact any failure can have on our activities and our ability to provide high-quality services to users. At the end of the year, we reached our target of 98% availability of our IT systems.

KPI: 98% availability of IT systems (internal and external)

The EPO completed a long-term project to deliver comprehensive disaster recovery capability, allowing us to switch operations from our primary data centre in Luxembourg to our backup data centre in Munich. This was successfully tested, building on major changes to our IT infrastructure, including decommissioning the mainframe, moving the primary data centre to Luxembourg, and implementing a new storage solution.

Our EPO Cloud Policy was updated to incorporate the latest technical, legal, contractual and sustainability requirements, reflecting our experience in using cloud services. As part of the digital transformation, we are increasingly using cost-effective, high-performing and secure cloud services to support our goals. The EPO Cloud Policy, in line with the EPO's Data Protection Rules, defines the appropriate, controlled use of cloud services during all lifecycle phases and enables fact-based decisions on their use in specific situations.

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