News from the Presidium

T. Tangena (NL), Past President, Deputy Secretary GeneralT. Tangena (NL), Past President, Deputy Secretary General

We live in interesting and challenging times. Very soon we should see what the Brexit will bring and how that influences the Unitary Patent (UP) and the Unified Patent Court (UPC). We also have the new President Campinos at the EPO, who started a discussion with users about his strategic plans for the next 4 years. In the Presidium we just finished 2 intensive days discussing and formulating epi’s reactions to these plans. 

Thus, many external events influence our profession, but we also need to make up our own mind about what we European Patent Attorneys (EPAs) want with our own future. Last year in the Malta Council, we already started looking at the future of the profession. We did a follow-up in the Helsinki Council, where I lead a discussion about the future of the profession with Ann De Clercq (BE) and Mihaela Teodorescu (RO) as speakers, followed by a general discussion. The Council actively participated in these discussions, that can be summarized as follows: 

Challenges for the future of the profession:

  • In many countries there is not enough local European patent work given the present number of EPAs in those countries. This poses a serious threat for the future of the profession in those countries.
  • In the future there will be less patent work because of worldwide harmonization and cooperation of Patent Offices, leading to simplified processes and possibly to mutual recognition of results of examinations and grants. The UP and UPC will certainly increase this trend. Council members feared that the remaining work will concentrate in a few States with already a lot of patent work, like the United Kingdom and Germany.
  • On the other hand complexity is increasing, both from a technical as well as a legal point of view. For instance in Europe we have utility models, national patents, national patents via the EPC and with the UP/UPC we can also have UPs and European patents without unitary effect but with the possibility of an opt - out of the UPC. Also procedures to come to a patent are very complex with national routes, PCT, regional routes and highways to speed up and in the future maybe to slow down examination and grant.

Possible solutions that will influence the future of the profession:

  • In many countries with little patent activity, EPAs can only survive by focusing also on other types of Intellectual Property, like trademarks. This will give some time to increase the number of locally originating patent applications. This increase can be stimulated with the help of the EPO and the National Patent Offices by promoting the benefits of the patent system more widely, especially to SMEs.
  • In countries with sufficient patent activity EPAs can deal with the increasing complexity by becoming a specialist for instance in a specific technical area, in legal issues and in knowing the needs of specific businesses (Internationals vs SMEs, or universities). This will lead to more working in teams, where specialist EPAs rely on each other’s knowhow. This could also mean that for instance administrative tasks or searches should be dealt with by specialized personnel or firms.
  • EPAs in countries with a lot of patent work and EPAs in those that have not enough work can help each-other by outsourcing of work from countries with a lot of patent activity to countries with less local activity. Through the training that epi provided and especially through the Candidate Support Program we now have in many countries ‘young’ EPAs qualified through the EQE. So in most countries with less patent work the number of EPAs has grown and so there is further capacity to deal with patent work from others with the required quality. Such outsourcing should be profitable for both sides involved. Outsourcing is also important as it becomes more difficult to hire good technical people to start in the profession in countries with a lot of patent activity, since in general more patent activity means an active industry that also wants well-trained technical people.

So, in the years to come we will have to find solutions to the challenges, since it is very important that in all EPC countries local companies have the possibility to get local advice from EPAs on how to exploit innovations. There is a task for all of us to think about how we can realise this, so that Europe as a whole remains competitive and our profession remains successful.