EPO and users from around the globe meet to discuss quality

The first SACEPO Working Party on Quality meeting of 2024 focused on the EPO's Quality Action Plan initiatives and the vital role of user feedback.

The 12th meeting of SACEPO Working Party on Quality (WP/Q) took place on 11 June 2024. With a membership of 72 user representatives from 15 EPO member states and 25 non-European countries, the working party is the EPO’s main consultative body for discussing quality matters.

Steve Rowan, EPO Vice-President Patent Granting Process, highlighted the EPO’s commitment to deepening user dialogue. He noted that quality is a shared journey between the EPO and its users, and that cooperation is essential in both maintaining high standards in the patent system and identifying improvement opportunities.

New members, open and constructive exchange

This was the first meeting of the newly appointed Working Party members, who brought their fresh perspectives and energy to the discussions. Following an on-boarding presentation, some of participants who had been members of the WP/Q since 2017 shared their experiences so far. One member remarked SQAPs have really demonstrated the EPO is opening itself up to a high level of scrutiny. I have seen significant actions by the EPO in response to Working Party recommendations, for example on Asian prior art.” In the open and constructive exchanges that followed, many members took the floor to offer valuable suggestions.

Users welcome more transparency on essential topics

The meeting also enabled the EPO to provide users with the information they had requested.  Amongst other topics, the EPO presented the Quality Action Plan 2024 and announced the programme for the 2024 Stakeholder Quality Assurance Panels (SQAPs).  Three sessions will take place in October, with dedicated sessions for search and written opinions, grants and refusals. Members appreciated that many of their suggestions following previous SQAPs had been taken on board for this year’s programme. In addition, the User Satisfaction Survey planning for 2024-2025 was shared with members.

The EPO presented the results of a recent study on third-party observations. Members appreciated the insights, which showed that the Guidelines are adhered to in most cases, and highlighted some areas where the EPO can improve the consistency of handling third party observations.

Members were given an overview of the EPO’s quality audit procedures and results, which provide greater transparency on the stringent audit method.

Collaboration was a key theme of the meeting, and members expressed their appreciation for the new Shared Area in MyEPO, which facilitates interaction between examiners and representatives. The EPO and users agreed that this tool should be further promoted. They also voiced their interest in exploring additional ways to enhance collaboration within the Working Party.

Enhancing the partnership  

Reflecting on how the Working Party has evolved since it began in 2017, one delegate said that he had experienced a “constantly improving quality of meetings and topics discussed – a really pleasant journey. In this Working Party, we are able to ask questions, provide feedback and even criticise – the EPO listens and is willing to respond to needs. In 2017, we were a small group of quality enthusiasts. I’m very happy to see to how the Working Party has evolved over the years.”

This first meeting with the new members marked a positive continuation of the partnership between the EPO and the Working Party members. All agreed that quality is a joint responsibility and as such, the Working Party pledged to be a significant contributor to the EPO’s efforts to enhance quality in the European patent system.

About SACEPO Working Party on Quality

The SACEPO WP/Q is the primary platform for active user consultation on quality matters. Its purpose is to foster a common understanding of quality, exchange ideas on quality-improvement initiatives in the patent granting process and review the EPO’s actions to enhance dialogue with users.

The next SACEPO WP/Q meeting is scheduled for the end of November 2024. Members will review the results of the October SQAPs on search and written opinions, grants and refusals, and evaluate the progress of the EPO’s Quality Action Plan.