The European Patent Office (EPO) was set up in 1973. It is the largest regional patent office in the world and applies a uniform procedure to examine patent applications in any of its three official languages (English, French and German). It enables inventors, companies and researchers to protect their inventions in up to 40 European countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. European patents can also be validated in four more countries, namely Morocco, the Republic of Moldova, Tunisia and Cambodia.
Moreover, the EPO will deliver and administer the Unitary Patent, a single European patent covering the territory of the participating EU member states.
From 16 signatory states of the European Patent Convention in 1973, the Organisation has now grown to 38 member states, including all EU member states plus Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, and several other countries. Today the EPO is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe.
The EPO employs 6 600 people, including 4 200 highly specialised scientists and engineers working as patent examiners.
The EPO receives some 180 000 patent applications each year, which is nearly 500 per day. The high quality of its products and services for which it is recognised globally, such as the almost 134 000 patents granted in 2020, attracts users from all over the world. More than half of all European patent applications come from companies outside Europe, mostly from the US, Japan, China and Korea.
In addition, the EPO provides technical solutions and information on a global scale. Its dedicated patent search tool EPOQUE is used by patent offices in over 45 countries worldwide, including Australia, Brazil, China, Mexico and Russia. Its public databases contain more than 130 million patent documents related to inventions and technological advances. Known as Espacenet, this technology library can be accessed free of charge on the EPO's website. Thanks to Patent Translate, a free machine-translation tool developed in co-operation with Google, the documents are available in 32 languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian.
Since 2006, the EPO has distinguished outstanding inventors with the annual European Inventor Award. An independent international jury evaluates inventions from all technological fields and selects the winners in five categories on the basis of their societal, economic and technological achievements. The competition also includes a Popular Prize, where the winner is chosen by the general public in online voting. The 15th edition of the award ceremony will be held on Thursday, 17 June 2021, and, for the first time in its history, will take place as a digital event.