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As we move towards a new business environment shaped by covid-19, this is a time when ingenuity, research and inventions are needed more than ever. Thankfully, as this yearbook shows, innovation is flourishing, with the emergence of a host of exciting new technologies that can create a brighter economic future.

As our economies strain under the impact of the pandemic, IP value offers a bright light at the end of the tunnel. But how can the EPO promote IP value creation? One way is by supporting IP rights-intensive industries, and and particularly SMEs. According to a joint study by the EPO and the European Union Intellectual Property Office, IP rights-intensive industries act as a powerful engine for our national and European economies, generating 45% of the European Union’s gross domestic product and 85 million jobs. They are also more resilient to economic shocks. Back in 2009-2010, it was these industries that helped us to pull through the financial crisis. Against this background, it is crucial that we help SMEs use IP-right portfolios effectively.

Beyond providing high-quality IP protection, the EPO’s patent statistics and landscaping reports on emerging technologies also help our users to get ahead of the technology curve and capitalise on the latest trends. As the patent office for Europe, the EPO is positioned at the forefront of technical progress. Thanks to our unique access to patent data, we can produce unmatched business intelligence on the very latest technological trends in our 38 member states and globally. By mapping Europe’s innovation clusters in technologies such as blockchain, AI and additive manufacturing, we can also offer policymakers the data that they need to target their support for innovation.

As a public service organisation, the EPO also shows its commitment to IP value creation by sharing our rich stores of patent knowledge. To support the global research community in its battle against the novel coronavirus, for instance, the EPO has launched a ‘Fighting Coronavirus’ platform (available at: EPO examiners have created around 180 search strategies that can be run on Espacenet, our free-of-charge patent search interface that contains more than 120 million documents. These datasets – which cover everything from vaccines to therapeutics, and from diagnostics to medical technologies – will hopefully offer a head start to all those searching for ways to help tackle covid-19.

But safeguarding IP value in times of crisis means going even further. At the EPO, efforts to ensure business continuity despite the widespread disruption caused by covid-19 clearly accelerated the digitalisation that lies at the heart of our Strategic Plan 2023. Our rapid response included a large-scale switch to conducting examination oral proceedings by video conference. Since April 2020 the EPO has conducted record numbers of examination oral proceedings by video conference and also launched a pilot on opposition proceedings by video conference. In parallel to strengthening our IT infrastructure, we have also published FAQs and provided training materials for attorneys, applicants and examiners to make the legal framework for examination and opposition hearings by video conference clearer to everyone. Feedback from the patent profession to date has been overwhelmingly positive and will be used to fine-tune these solutions in the future.

Our drive to boost effectiveness by going digital does not end there. In Spring 2020, the EPO conducted its first ever online public user consultation on the European Patent Convention and the Patent Cooperation Treaty-EPO Guidelines. This was followed in September by a pilot project on notification by email instead of fax in examination proceedings as part of our transition to fully paperless notification; and plans are already in the pipeline to hold the first online e-EQE in March 2021.

These initiatives reflect the EPO’s commitment to creating a more sustainable patent system shaped by meaningful exchanges with our users. All areas of the economy, including intellectual property, are currently undergoing radical transformation. By helping industry to use IP rights effectively and streamlining the patent system, we can harness the potential of new technologies to build a stronger, more prosperous future.

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