EPO fees – how much and what for?

J. Boff (GB)J. Boff (GB)

The EPO’s Strategic Plan 2023 published in 2019 included among its goals to harmonise and simplify patent procedures and processes, and stated

The EPO's fees, payments and refund methods will also be reviewed and streamlined. There will be a focus on items that are perceived as particularly burdensome by both users and the Office. A number of small and rarely-used fees could be abolished entirely or merged with other fees.
There is also potential to further align the fees for European and PCT applications. The fee structure will also be reviewed to create incentives for applicants to further enhance the quality and efficiency of the patent granting process.

The present fee structure is complex [far more complex than necessary] and simplifying will result in changes of practice.

Recent paper CA/F 27/20 indicates that a review of the structure of fees will take place during 2021.

Apart from the major changes in procedure that have taken place since 1978, one of the reasons behind the review is the progressive reduction in the number of countries in which patentees validate their European patents, leading to a relative decrease in the EPO post-grant income per patent. The unitary patent would mitigate this trend if it ever comes into force.

It is of the essence of the European system that there is an adequate flow of post-grant renewal fees to be shared with national offices, but also to fund the office, and to keep entry costs low. As said in CA/124/96, shortly before the EPO reduced search, examination, and designation fees,

“it is a traditional and common feature of patent systems in Europe that patent office expenses be covered predominantly by income from annual maintenance fees as opposed to procedural fees”.

In consultation with the Office, we should aim to preserve this balance, while ensuring that changes to the structure of fees are beneficial changes, and do not have adverse unintended consequences to users, or to the Office.