The latest issue of IAM - which came out last week - includes an exclusive piece by European Patent Office president Benoît Battistelli on how the agency is responding to the profound changes heralded by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

As we start to see the early impact of huge leaps in computing power, the promise of artificial intelligence and the rise of hyper connectivity with the advent of 5G wireless technology, patent offices around must evolve. Battistelli’s piece give us a good window into how the EPO is responding. In short, it is a must-read.

One of the shifts that patent offices worldwide are coming to terms with is how inventions in the information communications technology (ICT) space are increasingly taking hold in other sectors, such as medical technology and manufacturing. That places a new burden on the likes of the EPO to ensure that their examination processes are keeping pace with new developments to ensure that applications do indeed merit patent protection.

“Industry is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary as ICT permeates everything we do; patent offices and the patent profession will need to recruit specialists with different skill sets as ICT innovation cease to be the exclusive domain of software programmers and electronic engineers,” Battistelli writes in the article.

To understand how related inventions are evolving, the EPO has developed a 4IR cartography and has undertaken a survey to understand how ICT is growing.

That survey analysed just under 50,000 applications made before 2017 which meet the office’s definition of 4IR. It revealed steep growth in patent applications for relevant technologies since the mid-90s with an increase of 54% in the last three years - far outpacing other sectors.

Europe, the US and Japan lead the way in terms of the origin of those technologies, with Korea, China and also Canada emerging as other significant 4IR innovation centres.

Among the leading patent applicants it is Samsung and LG take the top two spots, followed by Sony, Nokia and Huawei. You can see the top 5 and the number of applications they filed with the EPO between 2011 and 2016 in the table below:

Source: EPO

By their nature, 4IR technologies are computer implemented inventions (CII), an area where some have struggled in recent years to determine just what should be patent eligible – the US springs to mind, for example.

It seems that the EPO is determined to ensure a high level of clarity and is responding directly to many of the challenges brought about by the 4IR, including the creation of two new sectors at the office to cover mobility and mechatronics, and healthcare, biotechnology and chemistry.

“Like information and communications technology, these other two sectors will also comprise examiners experienced in CII working in technical areas to ensure a harmonised practice across all sectors in CII-related technology,” Battistelli explains.

As IP authorities around the world respond to a new technological era, they will be required to work more closely together to ensure that there is continuity between jurisdictions. That effort won’t be led by Battistelli, who is due to be replaced as EPO president later this year by Antonio Campinos. Before he walks off into the sunset, though, he will speaking at IPBC Global 2018 in San Francisco. There’s yet another reason to make sure you attend.