M. Névant (FR), Editorial CommitteeM. Névant (FR), Editorial Committee

The sun rises in the East (and sets in the West)

An article published a couple of months ago on the website ‘wired’ (www.wired.com) details China’s broad ambitions in AI. In 2017 the Chinese government announced a new artificial intelligence strategy that aims to rival the US in the crucial technology by 2020. The latest data on the output of US and Chinese AI researchers suggest China is on track: an analysis by the Allen Institute (www.alleninstitute.org) showed that China’s share of top AI publications is rapidly approaching that of the US; if current trends continue, the two nations will produce an equal share of top AI publications by 2020.

Almost at the same time WIPO reported[1] in 2018 that Asia-based innovators filed more than half of all international patent applications. There was a significant growth from China (+9.1%), India (+27.2%) and Korea (+8%). The top 10 applicant list comprises six companies from Asia, two from Europe and two from the US, with China-based telecoms giant Huawei Technologies leading the way by far (almost twice as many applications as runner-up Mitsubishi Electric).

This “shift of innovative activity from West to East” (to use the words of WIPO Director General Francis Gurry) seems all the more unavoidable that innovative cooperation within European countries – which we called for in a previous editorial – appears to be at a standstill. Recent decisions from governments across the European Union – including the pathetic and endless tragicomedy surrounding the (non) Brexit - gives the feeling that being a team player is no longer a prerequisite for Union members. It is therefore doubtful that the trend of more IP rights stemming from Asian innovators can be reversed, at least from a European perspective.

In this gloomy context, the European Patent Organization might be – to some extent – a source of inspiration for our European leaders. The Strategic Plan 2023[2] should normally be adopted by the representatives of the 38 member states on the Administrative Council in June this year, i.e. within a very reasonable time frame (based on European standards), namely less than one year, after Mr. Campinos took over as president of the European Patent Office. The Strategic Plan, on which our Institute has provided comments and suggestions, aims not only at securing long-term sustainability for the EPO, but also at delivering quality services in an (always more?) efficient way. In this respect we note that the number of grants has dramatically increased over the last ten years, from roughly 52,000 in 2009 to nearly 128,000 last year (source: EPO Annual Report 2018). We genuinely wonder how EPO Examiners can (and will) manage to deliver an ever increasing number of high quality “products” (read: searches, grants and refusals), even with state-of-the-art IT tools. This, in our view, will be the real challenge of the Strategic Plan 2023.

  1. https://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2019/article_0004.html
  2. The current draft is available here.