UK: Stephen Blake Examines New Proposals From The EPO On Deferral Of Examination

Last Updated: 27 November 2017
Article by Stephen Blake

An innovative economy is something to be celebrated, but increased numbers of patent applications can cause problems for intellectual property offices tasked with examining them. It has long been known that the European Patent Office (EPO) has a large backlog of patent applications to examine, with applicants waiting years to receive a first examination report. At the meeting of the EPI Council last week in Warsaw, I learned of a new proposal presented to Council by Alberto Casado, Vice President of the EPO, for tackling this backlog. If implemented in its proposed form then it is likely to have implications for applicants, but most notably for third parties who may be significantly disadvantaged.

In recent times, the EPO has introduced a number of initiatives known collectively as “early certainty” initiatives with the aim of speeding up the prosecution of European patent applications and the opposition proceedings for granted European patents. One of these initiatives is that the EPO aims to give preliminary opinion on patents within six months of filing the application. While the EPO has seen success under this initiative, a further initiative to reduce the average time for examination to 12 months has been less successful – the current average time for examination is just under two years1. The EPO has therefore considered further measures to alleviate the backlog.  One such measure is a proposal to defer examination at the EPO for up to three years on request from the applicant.  I understand that the EPO thinks this will mean less time is spent examining applications that the applicants are not too concerned about.  Presumably, all deferred applications will be removed from the statistics on average examination time, allowing the EPO an opportunity to drive down the numbers without actually doing any further work.

Detail is light at the moment, but as we understand it, deferment requests for direct European patent applications would need to be filed by the examination request deadline, and for patent applications filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (Euro-PCT applications) the request would need to be filed by the deadline to confirm the application is to proceed under R161.  

There is expected to be no requirement to respond to the European Search Opinion or the Written Opinion of International Search Authority until the end of the deferment period – with the EPO sending a reminder six months prior to that date. Importantly though, renewal fees will still be payable during the deferment period so the EPO will still be generating fees!

Rather than providing early certainty, this proposal seems to provide increased uncertainty and third parties are likely to suffer as a result – companies will not be able to determine what claims the EPO is likely to grant, which may stifle the opportunity of those third parties to conduct their business. Pre-empting these concerns, the new proposal allows third parties to lift the deferment on request. There are caveats here however, with a fee needing to be paid and substantive third party observations to be filed with the request to lift deferment.

Also, controversially, under the proposed new rules such third party observations would be non-anonymous – so the names of those filing them would be disclosed. There are clearly concerns about the impact this might have on companies looking to lift deferment as it puts the commercially useful information of who has an interest in their patent application in the hands of the applicant, seemingly without good reason.

These proposals are, at the moment, just that, but anecdotally I understand that the EPO has all but decided to implement them - it seems likely we will see them rolled out in some form next year. In the meantime the debate will go on. Clearing the backlog at the EPO is crucial to keeping the innovation economy moving, and giving applicants the assurance that their ideas are properly protected and enforceable. In clearing the backlog however, it’s important that we don’t place undue burden on third parties and possibly stifle the wider economy. 

Council discussed the matter at some length and the view of the current proposal was broadly negative.  Indeed, many were against any form of deferment of examination at all.  Chris Mercer, former (and likely next) Chairman of the European Patent Practice Committee of the EPI will be submitting a letter to the EPO giving Council’s views and requesting reconsideration of the proposals where necessary.

Footnotes

1 https://www.epo.org/about-us/annual-reports-statistics/annual-report/2016/statistics/quality-indicators.html

Originally published in Intellectual Property Magazine.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions