Guest Post by Peter Arrowsmith. Arrowsmith is a patent attorney and partner at the London based firm Cleveland IP
Amid great fanfare the European Patent Office has recently released its annual report, proclaiming another record year for the office: an all-time high in the number of filings and a 2.8% increase on the 2012 figures. These figures have been quoted widely in global media, and they create a positive impression about innovation and the success of the European patent system.
On closer inspection of the underlying data, however, a different picture emerges. It is apparent from these data that the EPO base their claims on the number of direct European patent applications added to the number of international-phase PCT applications, whether or not these international applications subsequently enter the European regional phase. This is immediately striking as a very strange measure for the number of European patent applications. Technically the figures from the EPO are not incorrect because Article 153(2) EPC says that an international application that designates the EPO shall be equivalent to a regular European application. However, the figures are misleading because the majority of international-phase PCT applications do not enter the European regional phase.
A more meaningful measurement of the number of European patent applications would comprise the number of direct European patent applications added to the number of PCT applications that enter the European regional phase. By this measurement it is apparent that the number of European patent applications actually decreased by around 0.5% in the last year. Also, the total number of applications is more than 100,000 less than the number quoted by the EPO. In fact, it would appear that the number of European patent applications filed reached a peak in 2010 and that there have been significantly fewer applications in each of the following years.
The President of the EPO blogged about the statistics on 12 March 2014, saying: “The filing figures for 2013 confirm the trends of the past few years, with an overall increase (266 000 filings, +2.8% versus 2012) resulting once more in an all-time high”. Although not technically incorrect, this statement from the President is, at best, misleading. At worst the EPO are engaging in a wilful misrepresentation of the facts.
Of course, the EPO has an interest in promoting its own role in stimulating innovation. Therefore, it is not surprising that the organisation attempts to put a positive spin on facts. However, it is troubling when this spin is relied upon by governments, industry and individuals when it comes to important decisions on the patent system.