Joff Wild

The European Patent Office has released its annual report for 2006. It shows, not unexpectedly, that both applications to the EPO and grants made by the office are both higher than they were in 2005, at 207,300 and 62,780 respectively. Interestingly, although there was a 5% rise in applications, the number of grants increased by 17.9%; this at a time when grants made by the USPTO have been falling dramatically.

Rather than go through the highlights of the report here, here’s a link to the press release that announced its publication. Of course, you can find all the stats you need – and many more besides – in the report itself! One other thing to draw attention to is the list of those companies that made the most applications in 2006. The top 10 reads like this:

Philips 4,425 applications

Samsung 2,355

Siemens 2,319

Matsushita 1,529

BASF 1,459

LG Electronics 1,214

Robert Bosch 1,093

Sony 1,088

Nokia 882

General Electric 768

It’s good to see four European companies in the top 10, and interesting to compare the names with the top 300 recipients of US patents which the IPO published quite recently. I know that there is no direct correlation between application and grant, but you do get a flavour, I think. One thing that might help companies in seeking to make points about improving Europe’s patent system is to do a simple analysis of the leading applicants and to work out how many Europeans these companies employ and how much they contribute to the European economy. Such figures may help concentrate minds that are not too focused on the ins and outs of patent law and policy per se, or “as such”, as we like to say in Europe.

The EPO has always prided itself on the quality of the patents it grants and has often talked of a European patent as the gold standard. However, let’s not forget that this year’s report is released a time when relationships inside the office look like they are at a all time low and when many employees are complaining – with good reason or not – that they feel established standards are under pressure; we also have a boards of appeal at the EPO seemingly in open conflict with one of the continent’s most important patent jurisdictions.

And to add a certain spice to the situation, as well as handing valuable ammunition to the EPO’s opponent’s, Wim Van der Eijk, Principal Director of the International Legal Affairs and Patent Law Department, was last week quoted as saying: “Patents are granted too easily … We need to have a more critical look, and steer policy in the direction of less, but stronger patents.” Now I don’t know in what context he was talking and if he was referring to the EPO or not, but it strikes me that at a time when the EPO is awarding more patents than it ever has before, this was not a particularly clever thing to say.