Joff Wild

It is now harder to get a European patent than at any time since the EPO opened for business back in 1978. According to a press release yesterday, the approval rate for European patent applications in 2008 dropped to 49.5%. In 2007, the figure stood at 51%. It means that approval rates at all three Trilateral offices (the EPO, the JPO and the USPTO) are now below 50% (in Japan it is 48.9% and in the US it is 44%).

Back in September, leaders of SUEPO, one of the unions that represents examiners at the EPO, claimed that its members were under increasing pressure to make grants, and that this was having an effect on the quality of EPO patents. Yesterday's news flies in the face of these assertions. That said, the number of applications that the office receives continues to rise and was up 3.6% on the 2007 number. The amount of examinations undertaken in 2008 was close to 121,000, well up on the previous year, which saw 103,700 done, including both European examinations and preliminary PCT applications. So, there is no doubt that the amount of work examiners are being asked to do is on the rise.

Yesterday, the acting Director of the USPTO, John Doll, confirmed that the office was projecting a 2% decrease in the number of applications it was expecting during 2009. I asked the EPO whether it, too, was expecting a fall-off, but was told that it is too early to tell. Officials hope to be able to make an assessment by the end of April, although I was informed that "strong fluctuations" experienced during quarters three and four of 2008 have continued into the first quarter of this year.