A couple of years ago, in 2007 the European Patent Office (EPO) was pleased to invite to its annual Online Services conference, which that year took place in the Lake Como area, Italy, on 13 and 14 November. The conference theme was ‘End-to-end electronic processing – how to survive when the EPO no longer accepts paper‘. In fact, within the broader context of the European Patent Network EPN, the EPO strived to modernise itself by announcond advanced electronic digital network superstructures.
The intention was to eliminate paperwork also with regard to communication to and from the applicants, that is, in many cases, their patent attorneys, well before the end of the decennium; see Barbara Cookson’s report here. A message on the EPO website (which, meanwhile, is long gone) said:
“[...] EPO President Alison Brimelow has assured applicants that the European Patent Office will only stop accepting paper applications once both industry and the Office are “ready”.
Her comments came at the sixth EPO Online Services Annual Conference in Como, Italy on 13 and 14 November, which was subtitled ‘end-to-end processing – how to survive when the EPO no longer accepts paper’.
‘We are moving in a rapidly changing landscape to which we need to adapt,’ she told the conference. ‘Changing the way we work is one way to respond to these changes.’
Speaking in the opening session, Ms Brimelow said that the future will happen ‘one step at a time’ and stressed that the move to the electronic world would be accompanied by training to ensure that applicants – as well as the Office – are prepared for the transition.
Ms Brimelow said that the Office would carry out research to assess users’ needs and requirements and that products would be developed to meet these requirements.
The President went on to announce a new range of online filing tools that will be launched by the Office. She thanked Sweden in particular for pushing forward a browser-based client, aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). [...]“
Sometimes socio-economic technical developments move forwards slower than originally expected. In 2012 we still can communicate with EPO by means of exchanging printed papers. Now, at last, under the date of April 19, 2012, a press release was published on the EPO website:
The EPO and Logica have announced an important project that will contribute to significantly reducing costs and improving timeliness for the patenting process in Europe. Logica and the EPO are set to introduce one of the most advanced, fully digital patent offices in the world, enabling applicants and inventors to register their patents and all concerned in processing them in a more efficient and cost effective way.
Under the agreement Logica will help the EPO establish a comprehensive, secure and innovative case management system, that will digitally process patent applications at all stages of the patent grant process including:
- Patent searching
- Filing the application with the Office
- Substantive examination
- The handling of legal remedies, such as opposition and appeal
[...] According to EPO estimates, the new system will reduce the number of applicant-Office interactions significantly which could result in annual savings of tens of millions of euros for the user community.
The new case management system will replace almost all of the EPO automated processes that currently exist. It will support the filing of 250,000 patent applications the EPO receives annually, plus the electronic handling of some 2.5 million transactions being processed.
Under the current plan, some users will begin using the new process for filing as early as April 2013. The project will then be rolled out gradually until 2015. National patent offices in Europe will also benefit from this project, through plans to offer them the new online filing tool under the EPO’s co-operation policy with its 38 member states.
The way I read this means that at latest in 2015 patent attorneys will be forced to communicate with the European Patent Office exclusively via some paperless electronic system.
This – taken as such – is not evil; it merely reflects the progress of technology.
At the time being, in most cases Official communications sent out by the EPO are delivered in a push-style fashion: Printed on paper they are physically delivered to the recipient’s office. Under the new paperless regime, recipients most probably will have to implement procedures and workflows to download Official communications in digital form from some sort of EPO servers. On the one hand this serves efforts for digitisation at the recipient’s end but, on on the other hand new risks of liability emerge should some importatnt message from EPO ever slip through the system.
However, the crucial question will be how open this transition will be. What about utilisation of open standards when it comes to interfacing the new EPO case management system with the IT infrastructure of patent departments of applicants and also of law firms? My fears are that the EPO might be tempted to uncompromisingly focus on solving their own problems at the expense of everyone else.
Backed by the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation, i.e., that legal body that runs the actual operations of the European Patent Office, patent departments as well as patent attorneys might in very few years well see themselves confronted with a binding demand to implement some proprietary and non-portable IT (sub-)system running only on a certain platform (well, say Windows) and be left alone with all tasks of seamless integration.
It would be highly desirable if the EPO is prepared to openly inform on all technical details of coming EPO-/Recipient interfaces not only a small bunch of commercial suppliers of case management but also broader circles of stakeholders as well as of the general public.
Axel H. Horns
German & European Patent, Trade Mark & Design Attorney
The k/s/n/h::law blog
Some of the patent attorneys of the KSNH law firm have joined their efforts to research what is going on in the various branches of IP law and practice in order to keep themselves, their clients as well as interested circles of the public up to date. This blog is intended to present results of such efforts to a wider public.
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