Annual SACEPO meeting

Recent and future developments are discussed with user representatives to gather feedback, input and suggestions for maintaining the highest quality levels at the EPO.

On 20 June, the Standing Advisory Committee before the EPO (SACEPO) convened online to discuss recent and future developments in the European patent system. The annual meeting brought together 35 recently appointed members, including 20 new representatives, from leading industrial property associations, industry federations and European and international patent attorney associations worldwide. Topics discussed included quality, digital transformation, patent system accessibility, legal changes and the Unitary Patent. SACEPO serves as a vital platform for the EPO to gather user insights, enabling the organisation to better respond to user needs in an evolving patent system.

Taking actions and shaping the future of the patent system

The President welcomed all participants and emphasised the importance of this regular open and constructive dialogue in shaping the future of the patent system: “We are an Office that not only listens but also acts. The EPO is taking significant action in response to the input from these working parties. Already, we are receiving positive feedback from long-standing members of our working groups on this shared effort, leading to concrete tangible improvements for our Office.” He also addressed the new SACEPO members representing small and medium enterprises, adding: “I am especially pleased to welcome the SME representatives also taking part, crucial to our mission of broadening access to the wider patent system”.

Constructive exchanges on quality

Patent quality was a central topic of the meeting. The forum enabled representatives from private practice as well as large and small applicants to take the floor, with these exchanges reflecting diverse user perspectives and expectations on quality. The priorities defined in SP2028 were particularly well-received, as was the presentation on the EPO’s Quality Action Plan, which described the concrete measures being taken on search, examination, opposition and dialogue with users. Steve Rowan, EPO Vice-President Patent Grant Process, shared additional insights on objective setting, performance assessment and recognition for EPO examiners, explaining how objectives are customised according to technology fields. The systems in place for knowledge sharing and transfer were also explained.

Members acknowledged these measures, with one member remarking, “Quality at the EPO has improved enormously in recent years.” They also welcomed recent initiatives taken in response to exchanges in the SACEPO Working Party on Quality, including the recent study on third-party observations and the upcoming workshop with users on clarity. The plan for the 2024 Stakeholder Quality Assurance Panels (SQAPs) was welcomed by participants. In October, EPO experts and European Patent Attorneys will jointly assess the quality of EPO search reports and written opinions, grants and, for the first time, refusals. Many members praised the SQAPs during the meeting, recognising the value of joint quality assessments between the EPO and users.

Digital transformation to ease exchange and access to patent information

Users were informed of the significant progress made, with developments and new features in MyEPO Portfolio and the new SharedArea, which improves communication between applicants and examiners. These improvements were widely recognised by the users during the meeting.

Following a discussion on digitalisation, AI and their potential to improve accessibility to patent information, members were updated on improvements to the Deep Tech Finder. Several SACEPO members praised the platform for enabling easier access to investment-ready European start-ups with pending patent applications and granted patents, noting that it could help breathe more life into financing innovation.

Update on specific legal changes

The EPO presented a series of legal changes to the EP/PCT legal framework, which have been or will be implemented in 2024. These include measures supporting the digitalisation and simplification of the patent granting process. Members discussed several specific changes, such as enabling DOCX and colour application filings, online filing of third-party observations and the implementation of the Contingency Upload Service. These topics will be discussed again in the autumn by the SACEPO Working Party on Rules. User consultation on the next basket of legal changes, planned for 2026 and beyond, will begin in spring 2025.

Report on the Unitary Patent

SACEPO members reviewed a report on the first 12 months of the Unitary Patent (UP). The report outlined positive developments in the total number of requests, the UP dashboard and Romania’s accession to the UP system later this year, which will bring the total to 18 EU Member States. Some representatives thanked the EPO for the efficient operation of the UP system and expressed hope for its continued growth.

After a full day of intense exchanges, Christoph Ernst, EPO Vice-President Legal and International Affairs, thanked members for actively and constructively engaging with the EPO. He reaffirmed the organisation’s commitment to continuing exchanges within the SACEPO framework and through all available channels to facilitate dialogue with patent system users.