Reports on meetings of the Administrative Council
Report on the 43rd meeting of the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation (10 to 13 December 1991)
The Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation held its 43rd meeting in Munich from 10 to 13 December 1991 under the chairmanship of Mr Jean-Claude Combaldieu (FR).
This was the first Council meeting attended by the Principality of Monaco as a full member, Monaco having ratified the EPC with effect from 1 December 1991. Portugal joined the Organisation on 1 January 1992.
Mr Paul Braendli, President of the European Patent Office, presented his report on the Office's activities in the second half of 1991.
The President noted a levelling-off in the number of patent applications filed. The 1991 figure for European applications is expected to be 60 000. The trend towards the Euro-PCT route has continued: in 1991, 13 600 Euro-PCT applications entered the regional phase, 29% more than in the previous year.
The President reported on the results of studies carried out by the Harmonisation Groups in Directorates-General 1 and 2. They show that despite the increasing proportion of new examiners the number and nature of deviations from standard practice do not differ from previous years in any of the technical fields and whatever the level of experience of the examiners involved. The President also mentioned the study carried out by Professor Leberl on the assessment of inventive step and clarity of claims. The study was based on interviews and a questionnaire sent to European companies, patent agents and examining patent offices. One of the report's main findings is that the level of inventive step required by the Office is considered appropriate by about 80% of companies. The President said the study bore out Office practice and the suggestions made by applicants would be analysed in detail.
The seven measures introduced in 1990 to accelerate the examination procedure have been supplemented to assist applicants seeking a rapid examination. From now on, when the Office receives such requests it will endeavour to provide the first report within four months of the Examining Division's receipt of the case. It will also try to ensure that subsequent communications are drawn up within three months of receipt of the applicant's reply.
Turning to the patent information policy, the President noted that CD-ROM co-operation with the national Offices of Member States has continued and been stepped up. The programme includes the production of ESPACE-GB and ESPACE-AT discs containing British and Austrian documentation; ESPACE-DE will contain German documentation, which will likewise be in the same format as the ESPACE discs on which European documents are stored. The President reported that, following the tradition established by INPADOC, the Office had held the annual users' meeting in Munich in September. The meeting, attended by some 300 users of the EPO's patent information services, provided a good opportunity for the Office to assure ex-INPADOC users that it intends to maintain and even improve those services in the coming years. The second PATLIB conference, bringing together representatives of patent libraries from all over Europe, took place this time in Vienna. The main subjects addressed were the impact of CD-ROM technology and the possibilities being opened up by EPOQUE. Principal Directorate Patent Information will be moving to the sub-office's new building in Vienna in January 1992.
The President also gave the Council a progress report on the "oncomouse" patent application. The Board of Appeal had remitted the case to the Examining Division for further examination. After reconsidering the case the Examining Division informed the applicants of its intention to grant a patent. It took the unusual step of stating the reasons for its decision: when deciding whether to grant such a patent the benefit to mankind had to be balanced against the possible suffering caused to the animal; each case would have to be considered on its own merits. Thus, the decision to grant a patent for the oncomouse cannot be regarded as a precedent establishing the general freedom to patent new animals.
Moving on to international affairs the President reported on developments in co-operation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which have been receiving advice and technical assistance in the fields of documentation, patent information and data processing. In association with WIPO the Office organised a seminar in Budapest in mid-November on the development of industrial property in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The seminar helped to strengthen ties and was highly successful.
The Council approved a technical co-operation programme for 1992 with Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia as well as several other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. It also approved draft decisions on implementing the automation plan and awarding contracts for implementation of the ELFOS project (electronic processing of patent application files). The Council was informed of technical co-operation among the three trilateral partners (United States, Japanese and European Patent Offices). Japan has shown interest in the EPOQUE system being set up at the EPO, and trilateral co-operation on new data processing systems promises to be very fruitful.
The Council approved the 1990 accounts and, having discussed the auditors' report and heard the opinion of the Budget and Finance Committee, discharged the President for the 1990 accounting period. The Council then adopted the 1992 budget with income and expenditure balanced at DEM 1 108 million. It also approved a table of posts envisaging a staff complement of 4 006. These figures include 31 posts and DEM 15 million frozen until the Budget and Finance Committee and Administrative Council take a further decision in 1992.
On a proposal from the President, the Council appointed a chairman of a Technical Board of Appeal and eight members of Boards of Appeal, and reappointed several chairmen and members of Boards of Appeal and the Enlarged Board of Appeal, along with several members of Boards of Appeal under Article 160(2) EPC. It also renewed for a further two years the term of office of all members of the Research Fund Advisory Board.