Working together to simplify the patent system: First common practices agreed by EPO member states

12 February 2021

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In a move to align administrative practices between the EPO and Europe's national IP offices more closely, EPO member states have agreed on common practices under a joint initiative.

The first two common practices - in the areas of examination of unity of invention, and designation of the inventor - were endorsed by member states at a meeting of the organisation's Administrative Council in December 2020.

"I am pleased to announce this milestone in our convergence programme," said EPO President António Campinos. "We know that companies and inventors seeking patent protection in Europe are sometimes confronted with different practices at national patent offices and the EPO. This can complicate the European patent system, and lead to increased costs and inefficiencies. Through this initiative we are working together to tackle this issue head on, and closer alignment will benefit both patent system users and the offices alike. This is of particular importance for SMEs, for whom differences in practice can be a major obstacle to operating internationally."

Under the initiative, launched in 2019 as part of the EPO's Strategic Plan 2023, six areas for convergence of practices were chosen jointly by the national patent offices, the EPO and representatives of industry and the IP profession. They were selected as the areas in which a more uniform approach between the EPO and Europe's national IP offices is likely to deliver the most tangible benefits for users and patent offices.

More closely aligning administrative practices is expected to improve predictability and legal certainty in the European patent system, and provide simpler, more streamlined and cost-efficient proceedings for applicants. It will also increase efficiency for the EPO and the national patent offices and bring down costs, through the potential re-use of work products.

In addition to the two common practices already adopted, the areas to be examined in future are: accordance of priority date; re-establishment of rights; claim drafting and structure; and examination practice for computer-implemented inventions and AI.

The common practices are developed in dedicated working groups made up of representatives of EPO member state patent offices, who examine the different approaches in Europe and agree on best practice. Once approved, they will be implemented by the offices on a voluntary basis.

More information about the initiative, and the first two common practices (examination of unity of invention and designation of the inventor) are available on the EPO website.

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