The EPO (European Patent Office) has for some time now enjoyed a close and very successful cooperation with Standards Developing Organisations (SDOs) with the ITU being a leading example in the telecommunications area. This fast moving and particularly successful high-technology industry has contributed significantly to the continued growth in filings at the EPO, which reached another record year in 2012; while overall filings rose by 5.2% over 2011, those in the Telecommunications and Digital Communication fields increased even by 15.2% .
The growth is most evident in wireless communications technologies included in a variety of applications, particularly in “4G” systems, secure communications, IP services and improvements in transmission systems. Many of the most highly-valued applications include inventions considered to be candidates for new standards under development, and therefore potential Standard Essential Patents.
The EPO continues its cooperation with SDOs such as ITU with a view to ensuring that the patent and standardisation systems are able to work in harmony. This has proven particularly successful in the telecommunications industry, and resulted in high market penetration by offering highly attractive leading-edge products, including many of the latest inventions in what appears to a consumer to be a single multifunctional “Smartphone” product. This is the result of high degrees of interoperability arising from standardisation throughout the value chain, uniting many key players in a highly complex industry.
The EPO’s cooperation with SDOs includes the incorporation of standards-related documentation in its prior art searches to maintain a high quality in substantive patent examination and grant patents only for those inventions that strictly fulfil the criteria of novelty and inventiveness, and which contribute significantly to the prior art. In addition, the EPO is eager to maintain an active dialogue with the major stakeholders of the patent and standardisation systems, including the European Commission, and aims to promote development of synergistic practices between the two systems, including appropriate Intellectual Property Rights policies.
During the last year, growth in EPO patent filings was fuelled mostly by Asian countries, which today contribute over half of the world’s new patent applications. Samsung (South Korea) became the first-ever Asian company to be the EPO’s Number 1 applicant. As patent applications continue to grow on a global scale, the EPO intensifies its efforts to ensure that the patent system continues to support the needs of applicants and society alike. The EPO’s Patent Translate system, developed in cooperation with Google to deliver the most advanced machine translation services for patent documents, already supports 13 European languages as well as Chinese. The Cooperative Patent Classification developed in cooperation between the EPO and USPTO (the The United States Patent and Trademark Office) was launched in January 2013, and is considered to be the most refined patent classification system in the world. Both services are pillars of the EPO’s patent information system which is already considered to be the most comprehensive service of its kind at the global level.
The most significant development of 2012, however, was the EU’s adoption of the European patent with unitary effect, which will be granted and administered by the EPO. The first such patent can be requested as soon as the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court enters into force. The agreement enters into force as soon as 13 states, including France, Germany and the UK have ratified the agreement. The European patent with unitary effect will provide unitary legal protection for inventions in 25 EU member states on the basis of a single patent application filed with the EPO. Moreover, it will no longer be necessary for patent owners to have their patent validated individually in each member state by filing translations in the respective national languages, and to pay separate renewal fees. Together with the dedicated unified patent litigation system, the unitary patent will simplify post-grant administration and streamline litigation procedures, which are expected to lower the costs for patent owners and add to the legal certainty.
Since 2010, the EPO has developed a dedicated patent classification scheme to facilitate the access to patents for climate change mitigation technologies. It includes areas related to specific clean energy technologies, and also buildings, transportation and smart grids technologies, such as remote network operation, smart metering, electric and hybrid vehicles interoperability, and energy trading and marketing.
All the latest statistics and trends can be found in the EPO’s Annual Report 2012 , which is published on the EPO website.
By: Michel Goudelis and Gerald Owens, European Patent Office
Michel Goudelis is Director in Telecommunications in the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich
Ged Owens is Coordinator for Public Policy Issues at the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich