A European patent remains alive, or valid, as long as the yearly renewal fee is paid. You can find information on this in the European Patent Register, but what's the deal with granted European patents that are no longer in the administrative hands of the EPO?
It's true that, when a European patent is granted, it leaves the jurisdiction of the EPO and enters the national or "post grant" phase to become a bundle of national patents. From then on, all subsequent administration of these national patents, including the yearly renewal fees, is handled by the national offices.
Even so, the national offices remain in contact with the EPO and provide it not only with essential fee information but also with information on the legal status of their national patent, namely on whether it has lapsed or perhaps reached the end of its term in their state. It is this information that is then shared with you via EPO services such as the Federated Register and Espacenet.
In each contracting state for which it is granted, a European patent gives its proprietor the same rights as would be conferred by a national patent granted in that state. As for all other national patents, these rights must be renewed each year by paying a fee.
Once a national patent based on a European patent is under their authority, the contracting states are responsible for providing information on its legal status. The EPO is only in charge of administering the initial European patent until the end of the opposition period and so, after that, it becomes the contracting states' exclusive responsibility to publish any lapse of their resulting national patent. This explains why lapses are sometimes not visible in the Register, and you instead have to visit the online register of the contracting state's national office for this information.
The Federated Register is a one-stop shop where you can find post-grant event information in a single overview. Because it is a service provided in co-operation with the national offices, you may come across different terms for the same status, but you can find the meaning of all of them in the Federated Register's help section.
Figure 1: Example of post-grant events in the Federated Register.
If you are seeking legal certainty, e.g. to establish freedom to operate, it is recommended that you consult the national office registers. That is why each of the country codes in the overview has a deep link taking you directly to that country's online register. Nonetheless, it is important to always bear in mind that EP data alone may not be enough to establish freedom to operate and you may need to consult other databases too.
INPADOC codes for post-grant events are displayed in the Legal events navigation tab in Espacenet to give an indication of a national patent's legal status.
The following codes are used in INPADOC for post-grant events:
* These codes are "announced via post-grant information from national office to EPO".
There are several possible reasons why a patent might have lapsed. Where information about the reason is available, it is shown in the Details column.
Figure 2: Example of INPADOC event code PG25 in Espacenet.