29 June 2021
The EPO published its Annual Review 2020 today. The publication, accompanied by a video, highlights a year of rapid transformation to adapt to the multiple challenges of the pandemic. As the Office continued to implement its Strategic Plan 2023, the successful switch to a largely digital workspace required greatly accelerated digitalisation and a more flexible approach at every level of the organisation. These two factors were crucial to many of the main achievements and activities of 2020, which are outlined in the review under each of the Strategic Plan's five clear goals. In addition to key operational results, there are also detailed reports on specific areas such as quality, environmental sustainability, social aspects, staff engagement, IT, data protection and communication.
EPO President António Campinos said: "Thanks to the determination and ingenuity of staff, our close co-operation with partners worldwide, our fresh strategic approach to quality and our accelerated digital transformation, the Office has been able to both manage the challenges presented by the pandemic and maintain our commitment to excellence for all our stakeholders. We've forged ahead in implementing the goals of our strategic plan and, what's more, explored new opportunities for collaboration which have helped the EPO community to emerge stronger."
The Annual Review 2020 shows that demand for European patents remained nearly on a par with last year. The Office received a total of 180 250 European patent applications, 0.7% fewer than in 2019. To meet this demand during the pandemic, the EPO accelerated the digitalisation of the patent grant process and extended teleworking to almost all staff, introducing changes that were originally due by 2023 in a matter of months. The output of our patent examiners reached 401 996 search, examination and opposition products. Further, the EPO published 133 715 European patents in 2020, -3% compared with 2019, but well above its target of 120 000. While there was a slight increase in the mean time taken for search, the timeliness of the Office's examination and opposition work continued to improve.
As the EPO works towards a new normal in which online user services become more accessible and comprehensive, the Office can leverage the lessons learned during the pandemic to help realise its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Looking at the entire volume of workflows at the EPO, 97% had been digitalised by the end of 2020. As a result, the EPO used 58.6 million fewer sheets of paper compared to the previous year. An 80% decrease in duty travel during 2020 also resulted in a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions. These encouraging trends were supported by the large-scale switch to oral proceedings by VICO, which also ensured access to justice and greater transparency.
 For all the latest statistics and trends on European patent applications and granted patents, see our Patent Index 2020 published on 16 March 2021.