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01.03.16

What the European Patent Office (EPO) Looks Like to European SMEs

Posted in Europe, Patents at 10:49 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

European SMEs need to queue up to the right, unlike the well-dressed foreign corporation on the left

Summary: A set of personal experiences which serve to show just how the ‘European’ Patent Office discourages patent applications from actual inventors who are actually European

N

OW that patent neutrality at the EPO is officially dead, there is no room for doubt and plenty of reasons for frustration over the real goals and motivations of the EPO. We moreover wish to present one among many stories that we got from various patent applicants. A lot of European lawyers, including some who represent SMEs and inventors, have complained to us about an agonisingly slow and often discriminatory patent granting process at the EPO. They’re not happy. Several of these stories will be the subject of focus in the coming week. More people all across Europe must recognise this problem in order for it to ever be tackled. We humbly hope that raising several key points — should they be laid out publicly (including to EPO examiners, many of whom read Techrights) — will help necessary changes take place. It’s well overdue and public awareness is belated (by nearly a decade).

“It takes a very long to be granted a simple patent (already enshrined and accepted as patentable in the national patent office).”“I think my experience would represent all that is wrong with judge and jury EPO,” told us one person who had applied for a patent. ” It is clearly a complicated and difficult area to get people to follow.”

We have gone through a lot of texts related to this case and have identified several points of relevance to our past coverage of the whole EPO fiasco. Among them:

  1. Lack of communication with small(er) applicants. Readers can still see the internal document which we published some months ago, a document titled “Closer Contact with Major Applicants”.
  2. It takes a very long to be granted a simple patent (already enshrined and accepted as patentable in the national patent office). This indirectly relates to (1) and it’s not surprising that when large corporations with thousands of applications receive a ‘fast lane’ other people are left stuck in ever-broadening/lengthening queues. Some people reported to us in Twitter that applications took over a decade to be processed (even initial contact)!
  3. The cost of the process and the incentive to file (apply) is diminished by structural deficiencies that the management of the EPO can be held accountable for.

We have several examples of this and have spoken to numerous parties (both applicants and their lawyers) to ascertain the legitimacy of their accusations against the EPO. To quote some of the relevant bits: “I have already been granted a patent on this invention. Theoretically securing a European patent should have been straight forward.”

“The cost of the process and the incentive to file (apply) is diminished by structural deficiencies that the management of the EPO can be held accountable for.”There seems to be no eagerness to accept applications (almost) in bulk, as in the case of “Major Applicants” (see aforementioned document). “The primary examiner repeatedly (and with the benefit of hindsight wrongly) rejected my application for circa 4 years,” one source told us. Imagine the nuisance to the applicant. In this one particular example, on the “first one-day oral hearing with a panel of examiners it was agreed that my invention was both novel and inventive and could be patented” (in other words, the original, repeated determination was wrong). But this wasn’t the end of that. “It was agreed at the end of the first oral hearing,” we have learned, “that I could review for any omissions and look to add dependent claims. It was agreed that this could readily be done by E-mail. Since the first oral hearing I have been back in the hands of the primary examiner and the same pattern of delay and rejection has ensued. Once you have addressed the examiners concerns all he does is go away and invent new reasons for not granting. You provide markups with the hope of getting to an agreement but he does not comment on each point so you don’t know which bits are acceptable or not. I have complained about the delay and the manner in which the examiner has handled my case. The response of the EPO has been a blanket rejection of all complaints. The EPO insisted on holding a second oral hearing despite knowing that it was impossible for me to attend. What was to be achieved from the meeting if I was not going to be there? There have been no telephone conversations with the examining division to try and address issues of the application. Currently the EPO is simultaneously claiming that my invention is and is not inventive over prior art [...] I call this the elephant in the room since this is clearly something that can never happen. [...] Given that the ‘Elephant in the Room’ issue may cause great embarrassment this may explain why the EPO has issued an intention to grant on text that was not agreed, as it gives them the pretext for extinguishing my application and ridding themselves of the issue. [...] The matter has been raised repeatedly with the EPO. It has never been addressed by the examining division.”

This in itself is bad enough, but what happens when communication issues also arise?

“Another noteworthy example alludes to the delay between applications and grants.”One person told us the the EPO doesn’t like to talk with applicants but prefers speaking to lawyers, instead, which then introduces prohibitive costs. We learned about the “EPO’s recommendation that applicants use qualified professional representatives. Despite the fees applicants pay to the EPO for their services it is apparent that the EPO would sooner not deal directly with inventors. The economic reality of non-corporate inventors seems wholly lost on the EPO. For the record I did use a patent attorney [...] until funds ran out. This highly competent attorney clearly had no greater success in dealing with the EPO than I. Informally the lawyer has provided pro bono advice since.”

Another noteworthy example alludes to the delay between applications and grants. “On a simple time apportionment basis,” old us one person, “given the mere 20 year protection the current EPO delays represents a loss of 30%. After an appeal process this will be 50%. In reality there reaches a stage when it ceases to be sensible to proceed so this delay could amount to 100% loss.”

If it can take a whole decade to be granted a patent, where’s the incentive to file? Even if claimed damages can go back to the time of initial application, who’s to say that the patenter or the infringer/s won’t have gone bankrupt by then?

“It is not hard to see how companies such as Microsoft, with a whole legion of lawyers in each country, benefits from such a setup, whereas small European inventors are left only with the illusion that the EPO is looking after their interests.”Other issues include E-mail communication. “When an E-mail can be used,” we’ve been told, it can “seems very confusing.” One person inside the Organisation “claims that the EPO treats E-mails as not received [but later] he claims that E-mails cannot be ignored. [...] the position on E-mails now seems in part governed by security and time limits. On the position of security I would have thought this a matter for the applicant to decide; as regards time limits I would have thought the only sensitivity on this point relates to the filing of the original application. My experience is that the acceptance of E-mails or not is a means of exerting control over the applicant. It is clearly nonsense to resend a document by post that the EPO acknowledges they already have as an E-mail. The prohibition of using E-mails clearly adds cost and delay.”

It is not hard to see how companies such as Microsoft, with a whole legion of lawyers in each country, benefits from such a setup, whereas small European inventors are left only with the illusion that the EPO is looking after their interests.

The EPO is broken and change is desperately needed because the intended stakeholders (Europeans, not globalists and multinationals) gradually see what they’re really up against.

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