Patently easier - European patents applications streamlined

The new year has started with good news for UK patent holders looking to extend their patent protection to the EU. From 1 January 2011 the process for filing patents with the European Patent Office ("EPO") will be simplified and require less documents.

Previously Rule 141 of the European Patent Convention required all applicants for European patent protection to file copies of all search results from any earlier related application. This provision was intended to save on duplication and improve the quality of the European searches but had the effect of passing the time and cost involved with filing this information on to the patent applicant.

In a move that shows greater international cooperation in relation to patent protection, the EPO announced that the burden for filing previous searches would be lifted from patent applicants and placed on the national patent office that carried out the previous searches.

The effect is that from 1 January 2011 patent applications to the EPO which claim priority from an earlier UK application will be exempt from the requirement to file a copy of the previous search report. Instead, the UK Intellectual Property Office will be responsible for providing this information to the EPO, by means of an electronic transfer. This streamlined method of filing will also be open to patent applicants who have had related searches carried out previously by the Japanese and United States patent offices.

This simplification should benefit around 5,000 applicants per year and was welcomed by the Intellectual Property Minister, Baroness Wilcox, who commented, "reducing the burden of bureaucracy saves businesses time and money. It is essential in creating the conditions for businesses to grow and prosper. These new arrangements will make it cheaper and easier for UK firms to obtain patent protection as they look to expand into other European countries".

It is also hoped this simplification will help reduce the world-wide backlog of patent applications – a backlog which costs businesses an estimated £7.65 billion per year. Whether the change will make a dent in the backlog is yet to be seen. What is certain is that applicants to the EPO have one less thing to worry about.