https://www.epo.org/en/node/goal-3

Key achievements: Goal 3

Goal 3 – Deliver high-quality products and services efficiently

Assessing our quality – strengthening our independent audit processes

Directorate Quality Audit (DQA) results show that, although there is still work to be done to achieve excellence, there was a positive trend in quality overall in 2023 compared to 2022. Major findings related to grounds for opposition at both search and grant stages were reduced.

Key to the search task is finding the right prior art and evaluating its relevance (in terms of novelty and inventive step) to the claims made in the application. Since search audits began, auditors have checked whether better documents could be found and whether the relevance of the cited documents was accurately indicated. In 2021, the number of audited search files with no findings against these two criteria hit an all-time high of 96.6%. At that time, user feedback indicated that the quality of the written opinion was also important. Responding to this, the EPO implemented an extended search audit in October 2021 with five additional criteria, which enabled the completeness and correctness of written opinions to be evaluated for the first time. Due to these additional stringent checks, audit results from 2021 and before cannot reasonably be compared with the audit results from 2022 onwards.

Figure 18 – Search: quality audit findings

Source: EPO

The results show that the proportion of findings that potentially affect the validity of a future patent improved from 8% of the sampled files in 2022 down to 6.8% in 2023. Novelty and inventive step findings 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. This indicates the continued high quality of the retrieval of the right prior art documents.

Overall, the number of files with no findings was stable at 81.7% in 2023, with a confidence interval of +/- 2.7%.

As intended, the increased granularity of the extended search audit has revealed several opportunities for improvement. The most frequent issue is still the correctness of objections in the written opinion (11.5% of files in 2023). Often the examiner has been too strict in raising concerns. These preliminary opinions on patentability can be adjusted in the examination phase based on the applicant's arguments.

Moving to grant audit, in 2023 the proportion of sampled grant files for which DQA had no findings increased to 77.9%, an improvement of 1.3% compared to 2022. The number of audited files increased to 1 050, narrowing the confidence interval to 2.5%.

Findings potentially affecting the validity of the future patent improved from around 15.4% in 2022 to around 13.3% in 2023. The most significant improvement was in the assessment of novelty and inventive step (an improvement of 1.6%), while findings in added subject matter also improved (by 0.9%).

The improved granularity of the findings at grant since 2022 enables us to identify further potential areas for improvement, including clarity. Feedback from the 2023 SACEPO Working Party on Quality meetings indicates that a common understanding of the assessment of clarity is important for both applicants and examiners. In 2024 we will therefore look more closely into the underlying reasons for the clarity findings in a workshop with selected users.

Figure 19 – Grant: quality audit findings

Novelty and inventive step: files with at least one finding under Arts. 52-57 EPC raised against an independent claim.

Added subject-matter: files with at least one finding under Art. 123(2) or Art. 76(1) EPC raised against an independent claim ("novelty and inventive step" files are excluded).

Clarity and insufficient disclosure: files with at least one finding under Art. 84 EPC raised against an independent claim or a finding under Art. 83 EPC ("novelty and inventive step" and "added subject- matter" files are excluded).

Quality improvements: all remaining files, i.e. those with only findings raised against a dependent claim, the description or a drawing.

Source: EPO

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SQAPs: assessing quality with our users

The Stakeholder Quality Assurance Panels (SQAPs) are a crucial component of the EPO's user outreach programme, providing users with a platform to directly engage with EPO experts and discuss product quality of specific files in a collaborative setting. The SQAP format provides the time and space for open and frank discussions on detailed aspects of the quality of specific files. As a result, the feedback gained is extremely rich and substantial. The setup allows users to clearly express their interpretations, needs and expectations with regard to various steps of the PGP, and even specific types of objections. The SQAPs report to the Working Party on Quality which serves as the primary platform for the EPO's engagement with its users.

In 2023, the SQAPs were revised and expanded. Three sessions were held, bringing together 50 EPO experts and experienced European patent attorneys. They jointly 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 for the EPO's 2024 Quality Action Plan. The new expanded SQAPs concept was very well received by SACEPO Working Party on Quality and the SQAP programme will continue to evolve under SP2028's Driver 3.

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Quality assurance: a complete and accurate search report and written opinion

The EPO has the world's most extensive prior art collection. With an increase from 146 million to 153 million patent publications between 2022 and 2023, the collection now comprises 86 million patent families. This includes 60 million patent families containing 76 million publications of Asian origin (from China, Japan and Korea). An accurate classification of this massive volume of prior art is essential to provide high-quality searches. AI plays an essential role to help us manage these very large numbers: the EPO enhances the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) symbols provided by other Offices for their publications with our internal AI classification systems. The high accuracy of the latter ensures that classification quality is according to our internal standards including consistency, while saving resources.

The completeness of the EPO's search reports also relies on access to non-patent literature, such as articles in scientific journals. The volume of non-patent literature varies by technology and is a fundamental pillar of search quality: for example, in 2023, non-patent literature made the highest contribution to total citations in the area of pure and applied organic chemistry. This is why the EPO has continued to expand our non-patent literature database: it now comprises more than 126 million groups,[1], compared to 95 million in 2019.

Further to that, our collection contains over 445 000 English-language abstracts and summaries of traditional knowledge documents originally published in India, China and Korea. We also have 13 900 records from the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO) which enable EPO examiners to provide even more legal certainty to applicants seeking protection for plant-related inventions.

The EPO's collection of standards-related documents has continued to grow, up from 4.6 million in 2021 to 5.1 million in 2023. Standards ensure the compatibility and interoperability of components, products and services while promoting dissemination of new technologies, effectively constituting a central pillar of the modern knowledge economy. The EPO has signed agreements with a number of standard-developing organisations (SDO) and ensured that the relevant standards documentation can be used in the patent grant process. This makes the EPO the focal point of expertise in Europe and the world when it comes to standards search.

Throughout 2023, the Office maintained its focus on modernising tools and integrating AI when deemed beneficial to our examiners. This ongoing investment underscores our commitment to delivering high-quality end products and services to our users, by ensuring the completeness of the search and accuracy of the written opinion.

Figure 20 – Overview of EPO tools

Source: EPO

The EPO's pre-classification process is the first step to enabling the right file to reach the right examiner and examining division. The AI-based pre-classification engine launched in 2022 has been upgraded and fine-tuned. The introduction of machine learning makes it possible to automatically adapt the pre-classification service in the event of changes in the definitions of over 1 400 broad technical fields and/or revisions of the classification scheme, resulting in a 90% routing accuracy.

The Digital File Allocation tool piloted in late 2022 has now been fully integrated into the PWB and increasingly leverages the power of AI to identify the appropriate technical area of incoming dossiers, suggesting appropriate examiners and finding related dossiers that must be treated consistently. This more holistic approach to allocating the right file at the right time to the right examiner is now used in over 85% of applications and will bring greater consistency and quality to the products that we deliver.

Following the decommissioning of the Dossier Inspection tool in February 2023, the DFR is now the single repository used by examiners, formalities officers and Boards of Appeal members to access electronic files and citations, upload documents and annotate them, all within a single interface. It currently stores over 1.3 million files and integrates fully with the PWB. DFR is gaining traction as a collaboration tool for members of the division, with 28% of annotated files containing annotations from more than one user.

During 2023 we developed our tools significantly to support a more collaborative procedural approach, for both the division and the applicant. The new Active Division Area has been integrated in the DFR and enables real-time online co-editing of a DocX document to facilitate consultations and collaborative drafting within the examining or opposition division. Alongside the applicant's MyEPO Portfolio online service, in July 2023 we launched a new feature called Shared Area. This allows simultaneous collaboration on documents, making informal consultations between the examining division and the applicant or their representative easier.

Collaboration at the search stage has always been encouraged and routinely takes place in many forms – for instance by consulting the chairperson or another expert or a specialist on a specific aspect of an application, by collective group consultation to discuss search strategy and in the form of team search jams. In response to the need to focus more on the completeness of search and written opinions, the EPO piloted a more formal engagement of the division at the search stage in 2022 by involving the chairperson for every file. For the duration of the pilot, the searches/written opinions produced by the six pilot teams were sent to the chairperson for review before sign-off by the line manager. From 1 November 2023, the whole division of three examiners is involved in, and digitally endorses, all searches and written opinions and the team manager is involved in the quality loop. Already we see cases being improved thanks to the interaction and collaboration of all the division members and the team manager on every file. Collaboration will be enhanced in 2024 by expanding the use of mixed divisions of examiners with differing technical expertise to examine applications spanning different fields. Increased use of this collaborative approach will improve the thoroughness of our searches, resulting in higher-quality patents and greater harmonisation.


[1] The term "group" is used to avoid double counting of non-patent literature articles; an article might appear in one or more abstract databases, but we count only one record. A group therefore represents the original article and all published references to the same article (from different sources).

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A thorough, consistent and harmonised examination

During meetings with users, the topic of consistency in the EPO's approach to applications in emerging technologies has occasionally been raised. This is particularly important in applications spanning multiple traditional fields and comprising a mixture of technical and non-technical features. Following this user feedback, we organised an iLearn day, with a specific focus on AI and computer-implemented inventions (CIIs) in patent applications. Presentations were given on topics including driving innovation through CII; the legal framework for CII and its development (EPC, Guidelines for Examination, Enlarged Board of Appeal decision G 1/19); how to spot and how to handle CIIs (and what to do with them); and examination of AI-based inventions across technical fields in a collaborative, interdisciplinary manner with mixed examining divisions.

Although we do not believe that stringency alone should be a measure of quality, it is important to remind ourselves of the essential role that the PGP plays in helping investors to decide whether it is worth pursuing a development. Our examination services and search and opposition processes are perhaps the most complete in the world. Figure 21 shows that 40% of our patent applications do not make it to grant stage, largely due to the complete opinions of our examiners that allow applicants to gauge the potential scope of their inventions. We are aware that opposition and appeal proceedings are influenced by a myriad of factors and interests. However, the exceptionally high level of legal certainty of our examination actions contributes to less than 1% of European Patents being finally revoked.

Figure 21 – Overview of file flow in the patent granting process: longterm averages

Source: EPO

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A fair and impartial opposition procedure

In the opposition area, harmonisation and continuous improvement are at the core of our quality actions. We also try to leverage the opportunities offered by the evolving digital environment to streamline our processes and improve the dialogue with all stakeholders. One of our focal points in 2023 was to create a more complete and more integrated picture of all internal and external feedback received, building on targeted operational quality checks, regular observation of oral proceedings, regular discussions with experienced chairs, complaints and observations by external parties, and lessons learnt from appeal. These inputs were then discussed and distilled into action plans in quarterly opposition Quality Round Tables bringing together a wide variety of internal stakeholders from the operational, quality and patent law and procedures areas.

The Office has also consolidated best practice for all opposition communications including the handling of the procedural documentation and citations with the support of our procedural specialists and experienced chairs. We have paid special attention to the completeness of the summons ensuring that the preliminary opinion of the opposition division is clear and all relevant facts and submissions are attached. After a pilot at the end of 2023, we plan to extend structured summons and decisions in 2024. This is expected to contribute to a more structured exchange with all parties in opposition proceedings, ultimately benefiting quality, transparency and efficiency.

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Opposition by videoconference

Now that videoconferencing (VICO) has become the standard for dealing with oral proceedings, we continued in 2023 with dedicated workshops for our chairpersons, with a special focus on soft skills, to ensure an inclusive, objective and effective process to come to a high-quality decision. We have observed that the average duration of an oral proceeding by VICO continued to go down and is now comparable with the situation before the pandemic, with over 90% of cases finished within one day. The new digital environment has also allowed 20 times more public observers (more than 2 000 per year) to attend oral proceedings, which clearly supports the transparency of the decision-making process.

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Training and continuous learning

To ensure that new examiners have the in-depth skills to perform their complex tasks to the required high standard, the initial training programme at the EPO is pivotal. The new examiner academy has been developed over recent decades. It is constantly amended and improved based on feedback from course participants and presenters, and as a response to specific needs and changes in procedures or tools. New examiners benefit from 45 to 48 classroom training days, depending on technical background, plus an additional nine days learning through work on their own files. The classroom time is spent in seven courses spread over two years, during which the new examiners are progressively introduced to all the skills and tools needed to deliver high quality and efficiency. This formal, harmonised and controlled classroom training is complemented during the first two years by working closely together with and under the supervision of one or more examiner coaches, who are experienced examiners from the same or a closely related technical field.

Legal training ensures that staff are always up to date on the applicable legal framework, as well as on our users' IP strategies. In 2023 our main user associations, the EPI and BusinessEurope, started to give lectures to EPO staff on the most recent developments. We also co-operated with the epi and BusinessEurope to implement a new training module for newcomers that increases their understanding of the importance of high-quality patents to industry. This module was rolled out in June 2023 and is delivered by epi and BusinessEurope representatives to every induction academy.

In another development in 2023, and reflecting the increasingly online nature of our interactions, eight iLearn days took place. Organised by colleagues for colleagues, these online presentations and discussions cover practical matters related to the quality of examiners' daily work – for example writing clear communications.

In addition to the measures to improve consistency in examination mentioned earlier, an iLearn event on the Unitary Patent took place in 2023. This focused on operational matters for examiners and formalities officers such as requests for Unitary Patents, register entries and changes to the ANSERA TopUp search tool. The combined attendance for the three sessions totalled nearly 1 800, meaning this event had the highest average attendance per session of any iLearn event on quality to date.

Continuous training kept our examiners up to date with the latest developments in technology, tools and the law – for example, two days of training for 200 examiners on the latest 6G technology; six hours of training on our search tool ANSERA delivered to 1 500 examiners, resulting in an increase of searches being completed in ANSERA from 63% to 93%; and talks by Unified Patent Court (UPC) and national judges as well as Boards of Appeal members.

Figure 22 – Training on new tools

Source: EPO

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Legal changes to support digital transformation

In October 2022, the Administrative Council adopted a first basket of legal changes in support of the Office's digital transformation. By 1 November 2023, all measures in this basket had been fully implemented. For example, documents cited in search reports are now transmitted to applicants (and made available to the public) via digital services rather than postal delivery, significantly reducing paper consumption. Similarly, the EPO's notification regime and calculation of procedural time limits have been aligned with digital reality.

Building on the successful implementation of these measures, and in close consultation with its stakeholders, the Office began work on a second basket of changes aiming to make the patent grant procedure simpler to use, and even better suited to our digital age. Having collected over 100 proposals from our users, we identified 20 concrete measures to achieve those objectives – including five changes to the Implementing Regulations, which were adopted by the Administrative Council in December 2023 and will be implemented during 2024. These include increased flexibility in the use of electronic signatures and the definitive decommissioning of fax as a means of filing.

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Active dialogue with our users

In 2023, the EPO continued its programme of one-to-one meetings with applicants, holding 24 such meetings. Four of those took place in a hybrid environment, while the other 20 took place virtually. In 2023, there were 15 technical sessions held with applicants from industry and IP law firms, along with nine high-level strategic meetings involving key applicants from industry and various associations. Among those meetings, we met 11 of the 2022 Patent Index's top 100 applicants, and users from 14 different countries.

Throughout each exchange, the EPO aimed to collect feedback on strategic and operational matters – in particular on quality, alongside gaining insights into filing strategies, emerging technologies and applicants' plans. Notably, meetings with SMEs played a significant role in enhancing the Office’s understanding of their requirements while also increasing their awareness of our range of products and services. EPO delegations varied based on the meeting type, but consistently featured senior management, senior experts, examiners and formalities officers. This ensured thorough representation across the technical fields relevant to each applicant's area of focus.

The topics covered during meetings were mainly selected by the users and therefore reflect the main areas of discussion or concerns from our key applicants such as quality, harmonisation, communication with examiners, timeliness of the PGP, the Unitary Patent and MyEPO Portfolio.

Figure 23 – Exchanges with users: key figures

Source: EPO

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Regular meetings with user groups

User feedback is an essential part of our quality assessment, ensuring that we are delivering the expected quality and that the actions in place are the right ones. We count on numerous channels to discuss with and listen to users. We have gradually been expanding the portfolio of user engagement activities, and the transition to the digital ways of working has enhanced the possibilities for dialogue.

SACEPO is the EPO's main forum for exchanging views with user representatives. It is consulted on all major initiatives relating to the development of the European patent system. In addition to the main SACEPO meeting, nine meetings with the different working parties were organised, comprising one on e-patent process; two on guidelines, including consultation on guidelines; two on quality; two on rules; two on documentation and information; and the SQAP discussed above.

The SACEPO Working Party on Quality comprises 74 user representatives from industry, the patent profession, public research institutions and SMEs. Members come from 42 countries across four geographical areas and represent all fields of technology. In 2023, consultations were held around relevant topics such as EPO quality audits and the User Satisfaction Survey. Detailed discussions in breakout sessions were held on the quality of search and examination – as a result of discussion at the WP Quality the EPO will conduct a review in 2024 of the consistency of its practice on handling third party observations. We further enhanced the transparency of our consultations with the SACEPO Working Party on Guidelines. The preparation for this edition saw a more interactive and transparent consultation process with our internal and external users; we also pursued the gradual introduction of gender-neutral language into our legal texts.

Following the success of the 2022 SQAPs, which focused on grant stage quality, and the feedback obtained from the SACEPO Working Party on Quality, the SQAP programme expanded in 2023 to three sessions, which are discussed in greater detail above.

Another well-established feedback channel is the user satisfaction surveys, which aim to continually improve products and services throughout the PGP. The 2022/2023 cycle was closed in April 2023, following a total of seven in-depth surveys conducted by telephone and online by an independent external service provider. The interviews were held in Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.

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Promoting new online services such as MyEPO Portfolio

MyEPO is a good example of the digital transformation the EPO is undergoing. It enables users to interact more smoothly and efficiently with our systems. MyEPO services were launched in 2022 and include Online Filing 2.0 as the tool of choice for initial filing, MyEPO Portfolio for interacting with the EPO on files, and Central Fee Payment for managing fees and refunds. 

In delivering MyEPO services, we have engaged closely with user consultation bodies such as eSACEPO and the Online Communication Committee (OCC), focus groups (with 10 meetings and over 135 members in 2023) and pilot companies to better understand users' needs.  We continuously strive to enhance the quality, timeliness and consistency of these services, while improving the user experience at every step. 

Regular input from user associations and iterative exchanges with practitioners from both industry and the patent profession are indispensable to continuously enhance the quality of our products and services. In 2023, 30 constructive and mutually advantageous meetings with European and international user associations were held, and MyEPO Portfolio was addressed in the majority of these.

A key event was the annual User Day, which was held for the third time in digital format and is an excellent opportunity to engage with users and to provide a platform to share the latest developments at the EPO. In 2023 the User Day had an all-time high attendance of over 10 300 viewers (combined on both days and including live streaming and social media) and representation from 70 countries (compared to 46 in 2022). The event had 55 speakers, including 15 external guests.

In addition, our key account managers (KAMs) played a crucial role in promoting MyEPO services to the EPO's top users, who include IP professionals from across the spectrum, i.e. staff of companies filing directly at the EPO, patent attorneys, paralegals and IP support staff. The KAMs not only supported the main EPO filers, but also presented the tools to the general public during several public seminars. Across 2023 eight virtual seminars in the three official languages were held, attracting 2 800 viewers. Additionally, the KAMs organised 16 tailored workshops with potential users of MyEPO. All these activities were supported and complemented by an intensive campaign via mass mails, newsletters, social media and podcasts.

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Direct support to our users

Customer enquiries serve as a valuable source of information. Changes in the volume of enquiries or patterns in the types of questions asked can help us identify potential process or quality issues. In total, 74 849 cases were successfully handled across the EPO in 2023, which constitutes an increase of 15% from 65 097 in 2022. This amounts to more than 6 200 per month on average. The main reasons for the increase are a transfer of unanswered calls to the First Line Customer Enquiries Unit (1LCEU) and enquiries coming in on the new Unitary Patent.

The EPO offers different support channels for submitting customer enquiries, which are all used to a similar extent. In 2023 most enquiries came in by e-mail, followed by webform and phone. Total calls received by the agents in 1LCEU increased by more than 9% from 24 411 in 2022 to 26 635 in 2023. The EPO managed to resolve 96.7% of all cases in 2023 (95.8% in 2022) within the set internal time limits (16 business hours, five days or 20 days, depending on the enquiry), above the target of 95%. In fact 95% of phone calls were answered within 10 seconds, and 90% of related cases were resolved within two business days.

2023 also saw the launch of the "New to patents" section on the EPO website. This new area is aimed at users with no or very little experience of patents. It guides them through the main decision-making steps, starting with assessing whether a concept should be protected by a patent. The relevant aspects of the PGP are explained in a user-friendly way and there is a reference to some key aspects to be considered before fling an application, such as fees and tools. Tailored guided tours of the new online section are also offered by our experts upon user request.

Figure 24 – Customer enquiry cases closed in 2023

Source: EPO

In 2023 only 214 complaints and feedback cases were filed, down from 265 cases in 2022. In 92% of cases (86% in 2022), complainants received a detailed reply within 20 days, meeting the target of 90%. The number of complaints in search and examination fell from 99 in 2022 to 66 in 2023. Of these, 37 (58%) were deemed justified or partially justified, leading to a re-issued examiner action in 14 instances. However, 2023 saw a rise in complaints related to online tools, increasing from 35 in 2022 to 56 in 2023. In this category, 76% of cases were considered justified or partially justified.

Figure 25 –Feedback and complaint cases

Source: EPO

Figure 26 – Justification for feedback and complaints across all areas of EPO

Source: EPO

During 2023 there was a steady uptake in use of the Ombuds Office, which received 79 cases. By the end of the year, 75 of these had been successfully concluded with four still in progress. Lessons learned are helping the EPO to develop its integrated management system for continuous improvement in the consistency and predictability of service delivery.

Figure 27 – Ombuds Office external cases in 2023

Source: EPO

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Timeliness: an essential element of quality

Timeliness is an important aspect of quality and legal certainty. Overall, 86.4% of search, examination and opposition standard files were produced on time in 2023. Search timeliness (standard cases[1]) remained strong in 2023, with 92.3% of searches and written opinions being despatched on time and a mean duration of 5.0 months.

Figure 28 – Duration of search (in months)

Source: EPO

Examination timeliness is also an important element of our quality policy – delays in the process can cause unnecessary costs and uncertainty for competitors and society. For standard cases,[2], timeliness deteriorated slightly in 2023 as we focussed on the older files. 77.2% of standard cases were finalised within the 36-month target starting from the valid examination request, with a mean duration of examination of 24.9 months.

Figure 29 – Duration of examination (in months)

Source: EPO

In 2023, we managed to keep the number of old files under control, with only 15.7% of the examination stock older than 36 months. As the result of targeted action, we finished the year with only 5 194 old examination files pending with a valid examination request from before 2018 that could be processed by examiners (i.e. not awaiting applicants’ action) and there were only 3 416 actions pending in examination without examiner action for more than 30 months. Overall, our processing time from filing to grant in 2023 was 36.9 months for standard cases[3] (38.4 months for all cases).

Figure 30 – Processing time from filing to grant (in months)

Source: EPO

In 2023, we managed to reduce the opposition stock to 3 595 pending files, less than the pre-pandemic number of 5 000. With the shift to VICO for oral proceedings in opposition, opposition timeliness (standard cases[4]) is slowly improving again as we deal with the backlog caused by the pandemic. The overall mean duration is 19.3 months (with 43.4% completed within 18 months).

Figure 31 – Duration of opposition (in months)

Source: EPO


[1] Standard searches exclude (1) non-unity, (2) unclear and (3) incomplete cases.  

[2] Standard examinations exclude cases with (1) more than one request for extension to reply, (2) more than one late fee payment and (3) rescheduling of oral proceedings.

[3] Standard cases are applications with a standard examination – for EP direct: time to grant from European filing date/for PCT: time to grant from entry into the European phase.

[4] Standard oppositions exclude cases with (1) multiple opponents, (2) legal members to take evidence and (3) rescheduling of oral proceedings or multiple oral proceedings taking place.

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Increasing demand for our services

Demand for EPO products and services remained high in 2023. We received 1.9% more requests for searches than in 2022, 77% of them second filings (see Table 1).

Table 1 – Breakdown of incoming requests for search in 2023

Search type

Count

First or second filing

European first filing

29 921

first

European second filing[1]

48 590

second

PCT Chapter I first filing

6 027

first

PCT Chapter I second filing[2]

81 140

second

Euro-PCT (where EPO was not International Search Authority)

65 891

second

National first filing

24 336

first

National second filing[3]

1 151

second

Total search

257 056

 

Source: EPO

Legal certainty and thoroughness contribute to such strong demand, with the EPO remaining the number one International Search Authority (ISA) in the world: overall we find prior art relevant to novelty in close to 90% of our first filings, and even when we carry out a search after another ISA or patent office, for example in PCT-Bis proceedings, we still find potentially relevant prior art in almost 90% of cases.

In terms of examination workload, 175 894 applications entered the European examination phase, with a further 5 000 entering PCT Ch.II, bringing our total incoming workload to 439 838 patent products (searches/written opinions, examinations and oppositions) during the year.


[1] Following a priority filing

[2] Following a priority filing

[3] Following a priority filing

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Production statistics

Careful planning and management of incoming work resulted in production in 2023 which was 143 products above budget. This is an increase of 15 862 compared to 2022.

Our renewed focus on examination allowed us to publish 104 609 patents in 2023 (budget target: 96 057).

Figure 32 – Published patents in 2023

Source: EPO

Productivity also continued to improve: supported by improved tools and simplified processes, examiners required 9% less time in 2023 to finalise a search compared to 2018. In SP2028 we will focus investment on the tools supporting the examination phase and look for gains in both quality and efficiency similar to those we saw in the search phase during SP2023. Efforts will not just focus on improved tools but also on simplified processes for examiners, formalities and applicants. Overall, examiner productivity improved by 3% in 2023 versus 2022, with 106.4 products per examiner FTE.

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