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EPO member states recently have agreed on common practices under a joint initiative with a view to aligning all the administrative practices more closely between the EPO and Europe's national IP offices. The first two common practices upon which member states agreed to include the practices in the areas of examination of the unity of invention, and regarding the designation of the inventor. However, these practices were endorsed by all the member states at a meeting of the organisation's Administrative Council in the month of December 2020.
"I am pleased to announce this milestone in our convergence programme," said EPO President António Campinos. "We know that companies and inventors seeking patent protection in Europe are sometimes confronted with different practices at national patent offices and the EPO. This can complicate the European patent system, and lead to increased costs and inefficiencies. Through this initiative, we are working together to tackle this issue head-on and closer alignment will benefit both patent system users and the offices alike. This is of particular importance for SMEs, for whom differences in practice can be a major obstacle to operating internationally."
This initiative was launched in 2019 as a part of the EPO's Strategic Plan 2023. Six different areas for convergence of practices were chosen jointly under this initiative by the national patent offices, the EPO, representatives of industry and the IP professionals. They all were selected as the areas in which a more uniform approach can bead opted to deliver the most tangible benefits for its users and patent offices working between the EPO and Europe's various national IP offices.
If we look at this initiative more closely then we can observe that the alignment of administrative practices is expected to improve predictability and a further improvement in legal certainty in the European patent system. This initiative also aims at providing simpler, more streamlined and cost-efficient proceedings for all the applicants. It will further help in increasing the efficiency of the EPO and the national patent offices and in bringing down costs through the potential re-use of various work products.
In addition to the two common practices which are already adopted, the areas needed to be examined in future are as follows:
- the accordance of priority date;
- re-establishment of rights;
- claim drafting and structure; and
- Examination practice for computer-implemented inventions and AI.
The common practices are being developed in various dedicated working groups. However, these groups are made up of representatives of EPO member state patent offices. These representatives examine different kind of approaches in Europe and further agree on best practice. One such best practice gets approved then they will be implemented by the offices on a voluntary basis.