https://www.epo.org/en/node/goal-4

Key achievements: Goal 4

Goal 4 – Build a European patent system and network with a global impact

Unitary Patent package

2023 saw the culmination of decades of effort and the completion of Europe's patent architecture: on 1 June 2023, the Unitary Patent system became a reality, offering a simpler, more cost-effective alternative for obtaining and enforcing patent protection across the 17 participating member states.

Figure 33 – UP launch event

Source: EPO

Figure 34 – States participating in the Unitary Patent system at launch

Source: EPO

The ramp-up to the launch began with the adoption of transitional measures from 1 January 2023, allowing applicants to request early access to Unitary Patent protection, or to delay the grant of their European application until the launch of the system. In all, around 7 000 applications benefited from these transitional measures.

Throughout the year, the Office and its partners engaged in a comprehensive communication campaign to promote awareness and disseminate knowledge of the Unitary Patent system among its many actors and stakeholders, for example through events such as the European Judges' Forum, Opposition Matters, Litigation Matters, the EPO User Day and Guidelines2Day. In parallel, the EPO participated in public events organised by user associations and held bilateral exchanges on the Unitary Patent with user associations in Europe and beyond – such as the US Bar, AIPPI, EFPIA, JPAA, JETRO and Union IP.

Figure 35 – Requests for Unitary Patents

Source: EPO

By the end of 2023, the Office had received over 17 000 requests for unitary effect of a European patent. In the period from June to December, over 22% of European applications turned into a Unitary Patent, greatly exceeding the expected uptake rate of 17%.

To ensure full transparency on the performance of the new system, the EPO launched the Unitary Patent Dashboard, which contains detailed information by technology field and geographic origin as well as a list of the top 25 adopters, most of them European. In fact, approximately around two-thirds of Unitary Patents are owned by users from Europe, including from EPC contracting states which are not part of the Unitary Patent system. And 34% of those European users are SMEs or individual inventors – a much higher proportion than for European patent applications.

Figure 36 – Profile of European proprietors of a Unitary Patent 

Last update: 31.12.2023.

Source: EPO

Additional transparency for users is ensured via the Unitary Patent Register, where everyone can see all details of the Unitary Patents registered, including the registration of transfers and licences.

Co-operation between the EPO and the new Unified Patent Court (UPC) was essential to ensure the smooth launch of the system and to provide legal certainty for users. Building on this co-operation, the EPO implemented measures to accelerate opposition proceedings when there are parallel pending proceedings before the UPC, providing a swift decision on the patent-in-suit and enhancing the efficiency of the European patent system. These measures entered into force in January 2024.

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European co-operation

Since its inception, the EPO has been steadfast in its commitment to serving users of the European patent system. The EPO is a central pillar in fostering innovation and protecting intellectual property within Europe, holding the unique authority to grant patents valid across 39 member states, one extension state and, as of 15 January 2024, five validation states. This mission has been significantly bolstered by collaboration within the European Patent Network (EPN), which has played a pivotal role in achieving milestones, especially in the transformative year of 2023.

Central to the EPO's mission is its collaboration with its member states and extension state to enhance patent products and services. The Office has concluded 39 bilateral co-operation agreements, which provide a solid foundation for collaboration. These agreements were extended until June 2024 to ensure a smooth transition between strategic plans. New agreements aligning with the objectives of SP2028 will be drafted in collaboration with the member states, enhancing the combined effect of joint activities and initiatives.  

Under the work sharing pillar of the EPO's co-operation policy, 2023 saw the working agreement on search co-operation with Austria come into force and the signature of a new agreement with Slovenia – taking to 17 the number of contracting states participating in this programme. Collective initiatives aimed at promoting the Unitary Patent system included supporting nine IP outreach events carried out in co-operation with contracting states and translating promotional materials into national languages.

Figure 37 – A new working agreement on search co-operation with the Slovenian Intellectual Property Office

Source: EPO

In 2023, the European Patent Network (EPN) convened for its 17th annual meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, to discuss various strategic aspects of co-operation. At this meeting, the EPO also unveiled several platforms, including the firefighting technologies platform, showcasing its commitment to enhancing accessibility to patent information and sustainability.  

Figure 38 – 17th annual meeting of EPC member states

Source: EPO

The EPO successfully launched two new professional mobility initiatives in 2023 to support EPN expertise and knowledge sharing. Under the Seconded National Experts (SNEs) scheme in 2023, national experts from 12 member states applied to join various EPO services. By December, 12 SNEs from seven NPOs had started their secondment and 20 member states showed interest in hosting an EPO Young Professional under the EPO Young Professional Secondment scheme. By the end of the year, four EPO Young Professionals had begun their secondments at National IP Offices. Both schemes continue in 2024.

The EPO's commitment to co-operation was further evidenced by the sustained increase in expenditure on co-operation activities, which grew from EUR 4.6 million in 2018 to EUR 25.9 million in 2023.

Figure 39 – epi pre-council seminar; meeting with BDPA

 

Source: EPO

Furthermore, the EPO recognises the importance of a sustained and meaningful partnership with users and in 2023 engaged extensively with user representatives in Europe and across the globe, in particular through national or regional associations including epi, BusinessEurope, AIPLA, EPLAW, KPAA, Ordre, Union IP, FICPI, AIPPI, CIPA, the IP Federation, BDPA and EFPIA. Discussions focused on topics such as the Unitary Patent, digital transformation and quality at source, highlighting our commitment to excellence and responsiveness to feedback from the global IP community.

Figure 40 – Meetings with AIPPI and EFPIA representatives

 

Source: EPO

Through these collaborative efforts, the EPO reaffirmed its dedication to fostering a user-centric and sustainable European patent system, underlining its strategic emphasis on innovation, quality, adaptability and accessibility. In this last regard, the new fee policy – designed in close collaboration with our stakeholders and adopted by the Administrative Council in December 2023 – not only aims at simplifying the fee structure and incentivising efficient digital working methods, but also provides a 30% reduction on various fees for micro-entities, including universities and public research organisations.

Co-operation efforts with European Institutions continued in 2023. In February, the EPO finalised an annual work plan with the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and on 30 March we signed Phase II of the pilot project with the European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA). The EPO also made the first steps in deepening co-operation with the European Commission Directorate General for Trade (DG TRADE) with an exchange of letters in 2023.

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European convergence and harmonisation

The convergence of practice programme was one of the pillars of the EPO's Strategic Plan 2023. It was launched in December 2019 with six jointly selected topics for convergence on the agenda, for which common practices were agreed based on the invaluable input from working groups that bring together experts from EPC contracting and extension states and from the EPO as well as user representatives. The initial work programme was concluded with the adoption of the last pair of common practices in March 2023, on claim drafting and structure and examination practice for CII and AI.

In view of this success, and the considerable positive feedback from member states and users, a new convergence cycle was launched at the beginning of 2023. The EPO identified six new topics to be dealt with in pairs again. The work on the first pair, on allowable features in drawings and issuing and accepting electronic priority documents, was launched in January 2023 and had delivered common practices by the end of year, which were eventually adopted by the Administrative Council in March 2024.

For increased transparency toward users, the EPO also developed a new convergence dashboard that provides an overview of the implementation of agreed common practices across member states. The concept, including a preview of the dashboard, was presented at the meeting of the Committee on Patent Law in November 2023. The dashboard was published on the EPO's website at the beginning of 2024. It showed that, on average, each of the agreed common practices has been adopted, at least in part, by almost three-quarters of contracting states.

Figure 41 – Convergence dashboard

Source: EPO

Looking farther afield, the EPO continued its activities in the framework of Substantive Patent Law Harmonisation (SPLH) with the objective of creating a more streamlined and sustainable global framework for the protection of innovation through a multilateral effort. A two-part symposium held in March and May in hybrid format brought together delegations from 32 states, as well as 25 European user associations and the European Commission. The symposium marked the launch of a European alignment exercise on outstanding matters relating to the grace period, conflicting applications and prior user rights.

In July, the EPO hosted the annual plenary meeting of Group B+ and reported on the progress of the European alignment process. The Group B+ Working Group on SPLH presented a comparative analysis of user views and proposed a workplan for further investigation. The Group confirmed the mandate to continue work on SPLH.

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International co-operation

Beyond Europe, the EPO pursued an extensive co-operation agenda in 2023, aiming to extend the reach and effectiveness of the European patent system for its users. Validation agreements were a significant focus throughout the year. Preparatory work concluded for the entry into force of the agreement with Georgia while the groundwork was laid for agreements with several countries, including Costa Rica, the Lao PDR and Ethiopia. These agreements aim to enhance accessibility to the global patent system and support innovation in those regions.

Figure 42 – Meetings with the Lao PDR and Ethiopia

 

Source: EPO

Reinforced partnerships were also forged with Chile and Ukraine, alongside a work plan with the Saudi IP Office as part of an ongoing Reinforced Partnership initiative, fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange. Technical co-operation initiatives, such as bilateral agreements with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and IP Australia, and renewed in-person examiner exchanges with the Japan Patent Office (JPO), aimed to enhance access to patent information and improve patent quality.

Figure 43 – Technical co-operation with IP Australia and the IP Office of Singapore

 

Source: EPO

The EPO participated in multilateral co-operation efforts within the IP5 group, focusing on addressing global challenges such as climate change through sustainable innovation, and harnessing the latest technologies to enhance co-operation, including through the blockchain-based IP5 Global Assignment project. The 2023 Trilateral Conference, hosted by the EPO, aimed to devise collaborative strategies to fulfil the UN SDG 4: "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality of education". Discussions in this session emphasised the importance of education to inform and nurture intellectual property among young people.

Figure 44 – 2023 Trilateral Conference

Source: EPO

March 2023 marked the 10th anniversary of the CPC, with events involving both participating offices and industry associations. A noteworthy development was the launch of an AI-powered classification predictor tool.

Under the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT), the EPO collaborated with WIPO to improve international patent systems and support users. Efforts include enhancing patent filing tools such as ePCT integration into the Front Office platform, streamlining application processes for member states. Additionally, amendments proposed by the PCT Minimum Documentation Task Force, led by the EPO and USPTO, were adopted, aiming to enhance the legal framework for PCT documentation by 2026.

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Patent intelligence

Aiming to provide high-quality training and education on intellectual property to European countries and beyond, the European Patent Academy offers training in three main areas: patent granting, technology transfer and patent litigation, relying on the pillars of digitalisation, modularity, co-operation and certification. The principles of accessibility and democratisation guide the means of delivery and most training is done digitally and free of charge.

2023 marked the introduction of the Modular IP Education Framework (MIPEF) designed to be integrated into university curricula. The learning offer in the area of certifications was consolidated, with courses for candidates to the EPO's flagship exams enjoying high demand. The Academy also supported the deployment of the Unitary Patent with new offerings such as the Litigation Matters conference, and strong partnerships with the main players in the field, including the UPC, IJA, EPLAW and EPLIT. Last but not least, in 2023 the EPO launched several initiatives aimed at fostering the values of innovation and entrepreneurship among younger audiences, combining learning modules and science fairs.

Figure 45 – Modular IP Education Framework (MIPEF)

Source: EPO

In 2023, the live online training activities offered by the Academy reached 26 480 participants. This is a 20% increase compared to 2022, surpassing the previous record for the third year in a row. Additionally, 18 748 active users are registered in the EPO e-learning centre, from both member and non-member states. Efforts in international co-operation, especially with validation states and reinforced partnership countries, have resulted in higher growth of new users among non-member states, confirming a growing global interest in the European patent system and, more broadly, in the EPO learning offer. 

Experience in 2023 indicates that digital formats have a positive impact in terms of gender parity: 53% of participants in Academy training in 2023 were women. Some areas, notably those learning towards certification, largely attract women. In terms of evaluation, the average rating of the Academy training was 4.35 (out of 5), which is in line with the ratings received in previous years.  

As of January 2024, the PATLIB network includes 320 information centres in 37 countries offering advice and services on IP, patent information and technology transfer to local industries, SMEs, researchers and individual innovators. The EPO supports the PATLIB centres by providing training, funding, certification and networking events such as the PATLIB annual conference. By the end of 2023, 26 African countries and 64 universities had joined the Knowledge Transfer to Africa (KT2A) programme, which aims to strengthen technology transfer capacity in the continent by promoting co-operation between the PATLIB network and African universities.

Figure 46 – PATLIB annual conference 2023 held in Tallinn on 11 and 12 May

Source: EPO

Central to our patent knowledge strategy are simplifying and digitalising our portfolio, democratising access to our data and maximising our impact. The implementation of this strategy has started to deliver results. Notably, the integration of Unitary Patent data into our patent knowledge products has culminated in the comprehensive update of 13 products, significantly enriching our portfolio. Our patent collection in Espacenet continued its upward trend, reaching almost 150 million patent documents and 445 million legal events in 2023.

Figure 47 – Espacenet approaching 150 million documents in 2023

Source: EPO

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 in 2023. These reports have garnered over 23 000 downloads, underscoring the high demand for and relevance of our insights. In addition, we launched specialised platforms dedicated to specific technologies, including firefighting and clean energy, with a particular focus on carbon capture and storage technologies. These platforms attracted over 14 000 page views, reflecting a growing interest in sustainable and life-saving technologies.

In our commitment to sustainable patent intelligence, the EPO ceased the distribution and sale of all physical books and papers, a significant pivot given we had sold over 5.3 million books since 2002. Moreover, we removed the yearly service fee to our data platform, lowering the barrier to entry and facilitating broader access to our valuable data. Our Patent Knowledge Week event set a record with nearly 5 000 online viewers from 92 countries, highlighting our advancements in AI, the Unitary Patent and data analytics.

Figure 48 – Patent Knowledge Week 2023, discussion panel on Focus on AI

Source: EPO

An extensive reform process spearheaded by the EPO and epi concluded with the Administrative Council's approval of a revised regulation on the European Qualifying Examination (EQE) for professional representatives. This has paved the way for the formal launch of the new EQE in 2025. Its phased introduction, leading to full implementation by 2027, will ensure a smooth transition for all EQE candidates, accommodating different situations and professional needs. 

2023 also saw the second edition of the European Patent Administration Certification (EPAC), co-created with the member states, and developed and implemented in close co-operation with external partners including epi and the European Platform of Intellectual Property Administrators (epipa). Since its launch in 2022, more than 850 candidates from 26 EPC contracting states as well as 12 non-member states have sat the examination in a fully digital format. Successful candidates demonstrated that they possess the required knowledge and skills to deal independently and autonomously with the procedures associated with the filing, prosecution, grant and maintenance of European and international patent applications before the EPO, as well as with post-grant procedures.

With the early launch of EPO legal texts on the new epo.org, a long-standing wish of users has been achieved: all issues of the Official Journal from 1978 to the present can be searched using a single interface. The Office has taken important steps in a complex and comprehensive end-to-end revision of the process for publishing the EPO's legal texts with the aim of simplifying, streamlining and digitalising our legal text publication process.

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IT co-operation

In 2023, the IT co-operation programme of SP2023 was completed, with teams reorganised and reinforced to support the practical implementation of projects in participating member state NPOs. Knowledge-building and technical support activities were consolidated.

The programme accomplished several milestones, including the successful implementation of Front Office across five countries (Spain, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Greece and Iceland), with nearly 10 000 filings made using the software. This allows NPOs to plan the decommissioning of the decades-old eOLF system where it is still in use. eOLF has become very complex to maintain, both in terms of hardware and software, making its planned replacement by NPOs an important objective for the next few years.

Over 1 000 users in 27 countries either started using ANSERA-based SEARCH on a daily basis or participated in the pilot. Based on the EPO's internal ANSERA search tool and updated to take advantage of cloud technology, ANSERA-based SEARCH benefits from a rich feature set, scalable and secure implementation, and a continuous improvement path. The tool has matured over time, including in security aspects, and now offers necessary capabilities to replace EPOQUENet. 

The data quality working group continued leveraging the data transfer platform, with data exchange established with Denmark, the Czech Republic, Malta, San Marino, Türkiye and Italy to facilitate the transmission of high-quality prior art data. In total this represents the reception and integration of approximately 450 000 new documents in our prior art data collection. The automation of this data flow and standardisation of the data structure has also helped to increase data quality.

The Single Access Portal saw further improvements, becoming a powerful information hub by offering rapid, secure methods for exchanging information and training between NPOs and the EPO. MICADO, the system used since the mid-1990s to access Administrative Council documents, was rebuilt and integrated into the Single Access Portal, providing sophisticated search possibilities and state-of-the-art document filtering. The Single Access Portal makes it easier for the EPO's member states to access and exchange information.

We also launched a new AI-powered text categoriser to make it easier to find suitable terms in the CPC. This online symbol predictor makes the CPC system more accessible, returning suitable CPC symbols from text inputs in English, French or German in a fraction of a second.

Figure 49 – AI-based CPC text categoriser

Source: EPO

Information security and cloud solutions have become a core part of our work in IT co-operation. NPOs continued to align and exchange knowledge on these topics in 2023, with a focus on implementing security features for the ANSERA-based SEARCH tool and exploring other security-related projects.

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