Allegations that the European Patent Office’s efficiency strategy is resulting in a decline in patent quality have been brewing for some time. Now, in an open letter to the current president Benoît Battistelli and his designated successor, António Campinos, the law firms are calling for action.
Law firms Grünecker, Hoffmann Eitle, Maiwald, and Vossius & Partner have addressed an open letter to the current EPO president Battistelli, and successor Campinos, due to concerns regarding the quality of its patent granting procedure. The letter was also addressed to the chairman of the Administrative Council, Christoph Ernst, and the principal director for user support and quality management, Niclas Morey.
The four law firms behind the letter are among the major European patent law outfits. According to their own figures, they represent more than 9,500 of the approximately 166,000 applications filed at the EPO each year. Clients include numerous international players from the pharmaceutical and mobile phone industries, with all four firms covering a broad technical spectrum.
“For several years now we have followed with great concern the developments at the European Patent Office,” write the firms. The letter continues that the new incentive system for the examination of patent applications and the internal directives seem to reward quick proceedings and lead to greater productivity.
The number of patent applications rose last year by 3.9%. Although Hoffmann Eitle & Co. welcomes the “increased average speed of the proceedings,” it also considers that the desire for high productivity has led to problems in patent examinations, and thus to poorer quality. Hoffmann Eitle & Co. criticises the patent examiners for having too little time for the individual applications, and states that EPO fees are too high in international comparison.
The firm also express concern that a lack of due procedure could lead to patents with an erroneous scope of protection, and a distortion of competition within the economic area of the 38 EPO states. In addition, owners can no longer fully enforce patents against competitors.
Finally, Hoffmann Eitle & Co. fears that the EPO will become less attractive to its customers, which in turn will have an impact on the European patent system.
Indirectly, the four law firms call for a reduction in fees in view of the EPO’s surplus. Since the system is self-funded, a further increase in productivity is not appropriate. The law firms recommend that the EPO management introduces a new incentive system for patent examiners. This should restore the high quality of searches and examinations for which the EPO was known before the recent reforms.
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