Bonum Certa Men Certa

EPO in 2021

The EPO saw a resurgence in terms of dissent in 2021. Outlined below is some background information, which is to be updated throughout the year for people to quickly familiarise themselves even if they're not working in the area of patents. It's meant to simplify matters.

The Situation in 2021

The European Patent Office is the second largest (~7,000 employees) public institution in Europe. However, legally it is outside the European Union 'proper'. Technically it consists of several parts under a single umbrella organisation. Under that umbrella, you have the following:

  • the patent office 'proper', which is responsible for assessing patent applications. The assessors are highly-skilled specialists with domain expertise, but under severe management constraints to take shortcuts with the applications.
  • the Boards of Appeal, which are responsible for re-evaluating for or against already-granted patents. Each board is supposed to be impartial, but is without oversight from the EU itself and thus answerable only to itself.
  • the Council, which consists of representatives from the various (mostly) European nations. These representatives are usually patent lawyers and not inventors or researchers. The purpose of the Council is, in theory, to oversee the organisation as a whole. It's therefore named the Administrative Council.

  • The various European nations each have their own patent offices and patents granted by those offices are valid within those nations, albeit nowhere else. A separate application for a patent can be made to the European Patent Office for one which will become applicable throughout the whole of Europe. Validation of such patents may then be necessary. Currently (in 2021), software, mathematical forumulas, and business methods are excluded from patentability as per the European Patent Convention of 1974 yet the European Patent Office has illegally begun to grant such patents in violation of that international treaty. Because patents apply to usage, these illegally-granted patents, if enforced, have the potential to affect all users of computers worldwide. Unlike trademarks, patents do not need to be enforced to remain valid. So many companies try to spread patented technologies to encourage dependence so that the price they demand will be higher in proportion to the general dependence. Unlike copyright, they do not affect distribution and may be allowed to be spread far and wide before the patent grantee decides to cash in and demand payment. An infamous example of both aspects, over in the US, was the Unisys on the LZW compression in the wildly popular GIF format which became a problem in 1994 after GIF had become part of the WWW and only finally expired there in 2003.

    During May 2021, Techrights is publishing a 20-part series on the Enlarged Board of Appeals which investigates the conflict of interest between those appointed as judges and the management whose actions they're to assess, especially in regard to the illegal outsourcing of hearings (or courts), set aside recent decisions on the granting of software patents. There are several cases, disputes, appeals, and controversial questions, currently before the Boards of Appeal, which concern the EPO's granting of illegal software patents.

    Techrights maintains several Wiki pages listing EPO articles by year. See the current year for comprehensive coverage of this year's writings.