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Munich, the EPC, and the wider world

James Nurton

Munich will host a party to mark the 40th anniversary of the European Patent Convention this week. Some of Europe’s grandest figures will be attending, but expect a few protesters too

The European Patent Office is hosting the event on Thursday. It will feature the inauguration of Bob-van-Benthem-Platz, named after the first president of the Office; the opening of the European Inventor Hall of Fame; a symposium; and a reception featuring a concert by the Patent Orchestra Munich.

Guests and speakers will include European Council President Herman van Rompuy, SIPO Commissioner Tian Lipu and UK Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property Viscount Younger of Leckie. It’s quite a line up and promises to be a memorable event.

Attendees can pick up copies of our special Europe IP Focus marking the EPC’s 40th anniversary, as well as a new book written by Professor Pascal Griset and published by the EPO which chronicles, for the first time, the history of the EPC (if you are not attending, but would like a copy of the book, email the EPO).

Putting together the Europe IP Focus, and particularly speaking to some of those who were involved in the early planning and development of the EPC, I found it remarkable how much affection the EPC commands given that it is a 40-year-old legal document. That’s partly probably because the Convention includes a degree of flexibility that has enabled it to be adapted over the years without having to be substantially rewritten, meaning that it remains relevant despite the growth in the number of contracting states and filings, and the great changes in patentable technologies that have taken place. Even the concept of unitary patents – which we are finally about to see realised – is foreseen in the Convention.

Earlier today I spoke to Professor Alain Pompidou, who was EPO president from 2004 to 2007. He now spends his time researching synthetic biology, working on treatments for breast cancer and prostate cancer and indeed filing patents (gamekeeper turned poacher, you might say), so he has seen things from both sides of the fence. Among the highlights he remembers from his term of office are the work that led to the signing of the London Agreement – which, as he says, “paved the way” for the Unitary Patent – and the establishment of the IP5, both signs of how the patent system evolves. Looking ahead, Pompidou noted the challenge of having “good patent information and tools” which will only grow as the number of patent applications, and the languages used, look to keep increasing.

Of course not everyone will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the EPC, and I understand the EPO is expecting a few anti-patent protesters in town tomorrow. They will most likely be concerned about two pending cases before the Enlarged Board of Appeal (Tomatoes II and Broccoli II), though they may be reassured by news that the Office has stayed all examination and opposition proceedings where the decision depends entirely on the outcome of the two EBA cases – that is, cases where the invention concerns a plant obtained by an essentially biological process for the production of plants.

It’s good that dignitaries from Europe and beyond will gather to mark the 40th birthday of the EPC. It’s also good that members of the public feel strongly enough about the patent system to make their feelings known and remind us that IP does not exist in a vacuum. The challenge though is to bridge the gap between the two groups. That might take the next 40 years.


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