Transparent criteria for strong patents?

Senior members of the EPO, an attorney in private practice and an in-house patent manager discussed raising the bar, patent quality and how to achieve legal certainty.

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In today's technology-driven economy, a wellfunctioning patent system is vital. But over the past decade the patent system has become a victim of its own popularity: the pace of innovation has soared, and more inventors throughout the world have sought protection, putting patent offices under extraordinary strain. Rountable image (JPG)This has resulted in backlogs that mean it can be years before a patent is granted, with delays at every stage of the process, leaving both the applicant and third-party competitors in the dark. A few observers argue that the problems have been made worse by a minority of applicants who exploit the delays and complexities of the system in ways that do nothing to promote innovation.

As one of the world's five biggest patent offices, the EPO has been at the forefront of addressing these concerns. Four years ago, it launched an initiative known as Raising the Bar, which has now led to changes in Office procedures as well as some of the rules governing examination. This has already had a powerful impact on applicants, patent attorneys and the Office itself. It has not always been welcomed by users, who have found some of the rule changes onerous and ill-formed. At a round-table meeting in Munich, senior members of the EPO joined a patent attorney in private practice and a corporate patent manager to discuss what has been achieved so far, where further work is needed and how to ensure that the Office grants high-quality patents.

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