Date: 16 May 2017
By Hugh Dunlop and John Parkin
The European Patent Office showed a significant increase in its output across its various functions. In particular, the number of patents proceeding to grant showed a 40% increase.
Anecdotal indications are that this merely represents a focus on "easy" cases. For example, if applications in which the European Search Report shows only "A" category citations are given top priority. But we believe there is a genuine improvement in productivity at the office.
Output of search reports, first examination reports and oppositions are also showing significant improvements.
The historical trend of outcomes of opposition proceedings remains; around one third of patents survive opposition in amended form, one third are revoked and in one third of cases the opposition is rejected.
Of particular note is that, according to EPO figures, the backlog of work has fallen by 25% over the last two years – i.e. the total months of work in the backlog (searching, examination and opposition) has dropped from 19.5 months at the end of 2014 to 14.7 months at the end of 2016.
The backlog does not tell us what is the average time to grant for a European Patent application (those figures are no longer published), but the EPO claims to have reached its target under the Early Certainty from Search initiative of delivering all search reports (with written opinions on patentability) within six months of filing of applications with the EPO.
EPO aims for 12 months average examination time by 2020
The EPO says, in its 2016 Annual Report, that the time taken to conclude the examination procedure is already falling and has announced an aim to bring this down to 12 months on average by 2020.
Among the initiatives to achieve this goal, the Office is selecting cases at random to inform applicants about the intended start of examination. This is intended to prompt the applicant to consider withdrawal and associated examination fee refund. Withdrawals before examination reduce the stock of pending applications and allow the EPO to focus on applications in which applicants have a real interest.
By 2020 the EPO also aims to cut the overall duration of opposition procedure for "straightforward" cases to within 15 months.
The Office is achieving these impressive results with an increase in numbers of Examiners but no increase in total staff.
Designations continue to increase
The top six most attractive states in which to designate EP Patents remain (in order): Germany, France, UK, Italy, Spain and Netherlands. In 2016, there was a 2% increase in designations outside the top 3, with Norway and Poland showing the greatest increases. This builds on similar increases of 3% in 2015 and 5-6% in 2014.
The number of EP applications originating from the UK rose by 1.8% in 2016, with 80 applications per million inhabitants. Particularly noteworthy was an increase of 22.4% of applications in the Medical Technology field, 20.9% in the Biotechnology field, 13.9% in the Digital Communication field and 17.0% in the Computer Technology field.
Relative to other countries, the UK has a broad range of patent filing interests. The even distribution of UK applications across technology sectors contrasts with applications from China which are heavily biased to Digital Communication (31%) and Computer technology, or Germany where the emphasis is in Transport and Electrical Machinery, Apparatus, Energy.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017