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EPO's three-prong plan to tackle backlogs

The European Patent Office has a three-fold plan to accelerate first office actions, Director of Patent Law and International Affairs Wim van der Eijk said today

Speaking at the Managing IP International Patent Forum in London, van der Eijk said that in the face of increasing workloads and more complex technologies, the top priority for the Office is expediting the first office action, as that provides clarity for both applicants and third parties.

It will do this by focusing on worksharing, streamlining procedures and rules, and redesigning IT processes.

On worksharing, he emphasised the recent agreement between the EPO and USPTO on a common classification system and said he expects it will soon be extended to the JPO.

"Our hope in fact is that all major offices will work towards a single scheme of classification," said van der Eijk.

He said the Office is also looking at other tools '"to get worksharing going". These include machine translations, following a recent agreement with Google, and the patent prosecution highway - which van der Eijk described as a "promising way forward".

The streamlining of procedures included the recent Raising the Bar rule changes, he said. But he added that the new EPO president, Benoît Battistelli had indicated there would be a period of consolidation before any further major changes.

By contrast, he said, the president has commissioned a study into how the EPO can improve its IT services. Van der Eijk said the aim is to have an end-to-end e-filing system, but that might take two to three years to develop.

Sean Dennehey, director of patents at the UK IP Office, added that the UK IPO is a "proud and active participant" in the PPH process, and has highways with a number of countries.

But he added that there is "regret" that take-up by users has not been that great so far. The lesson from this is clear, said Dennehey: "How can we make it simpler and easier to use?"

He also stressed that the UK, as a "small hippo" among patent offices, is keen to promote more efficiency and quality exchanges, as pioneered among the so-called Vancouver Group of the Australia, Canada and the UK.

The Managing IP International Patent Forum takes place in London today and tomorrow.

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