The European Patent Office (EPO) just published its Patent Index 2019, below a summary of the key statistics.
The EPO received last year a record 181 000 patent applications, 4% more than in 2018.
In total, nearly half of all patent applications came from companies based in Europe, with Germany alone accounting for some 15%. From the other regions, US firms dominated with a quarter of all applications, followed by companies from Japan, China and South Korea.
In terms of growth, patent applications filed by European companies increased modestly. There was a strong rise in demand from the US. The steepest growth rates were posted by Asian companies, in particular Chinese and South Korean firms.
Top 10 applicants at the EPO in 2019
- 1.HUAWEI 3 524
- 2.SAMSUNG 2 858
- 3.LG 2 817
- 4.UNITED TECHNOLOGIES 2 813
- 5.SIEMENS 2 619
- 6.QUALCOMM 1 668
- 7.ERICSSON 1 616
- 8.ROYAL PHILIPS 1 542
- 9.SONY 1 512
- 10.ROBERT BOSCH 1 498
Among European countries with large volumes, the greatest increases in filings came from Sweden, the UK, and Switzerland. Filings from Germany remained stable and Italy saw moderate growth, while France and the Netherlands saw decreases.
Looking at countries with mid-range patenting volumes, Spain saw the biggest rise in applications. There were also increases in filings from Belgium and Austria.
Further significant growth was seen from companies in Portugal, Ireland, and Norway, albeit from small overall patenting volumes.
The patent applications filed with the EPO in 2019 also indicate Europe’s position as a key market for the next wave of digital transformation technologies.
Digital communication was the new top technology field at the EPO, reflecting the rapid development of 5G technologies.
China, the US, and Europe were the most active regions of origin. They each account for roughly a quarter of the patent applications in this field.
The second fastest-growing field was computer technology. It was fuelled by the growing importance of Artificial Intelligence. Patent applications concerned especially machine learning, data retrieval, image data processing, and pattern recognition. Overall, US companies led this field, with European applicants not far behind.
The dominant position of digital technologies was clearly reflected in the list of leading applicants. Huawei topped the table, followed by Samsung, LG, United Technologies and Siemens.
Overall, European companies retained the largest share in seven of the ten most active technology fields. These include transport, where Europe continued to excel in the automotive sector. The same was also true for clean energy technologies.
Source: www.epo.orgRead More
The European Patent Office (EPO) Publishes Grounds for its Decision to Refuse Two Patent Applications Naming a Machine as Inventor
EPO – Applications refused
The EPO has published on 27 January 2020 its decision setting out the reasons for its recent refusal of two European patent applications in which an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system was designated as the inventor.
Filed by an individual in autumn 2018, the applications EP 18 275 163 and EP 18 275 174 were refused by the EPO following oral proceedings with the applicant in November 2019, on the grounds that they do not meet the legal requirement of the European Patent Convention (EPC) that an inventor designated in the application has to be a human being, and not a machine.
The machine called “DABUS”
In both applications, the machine called “DABUS”, which is described as “a type of connectionist artificial intelligence”, is named as the inventor. The applicant stated that he had acquired the right to the European patent from the inventor by being its successor in title, arguing that as the machine’s owner, he was assigned any intellectual property rights created by this machine.
In its decisions, the EPO considered that the interpretation of the legal framework of the European patent system leads to the conclusion that the inventor designated in a European patent must be a natural person. The Office further noted that the understanding of the term inventor as referring to a natural person appears to be an internationally applicable standard and that various national courts have issued decisions to this effect.
Moreover, the designation of an inventor is mandatory as it bears a series of legal consequences, notably to ensure that the designated inventor is the legitimate one and that he or she can benefit from rights linked to this status. To exercise these rights, the inventor must have a legal personality that AI systems or machines do not enjoy.
Finally, giving a name to a machine is not sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the EPC mentioned above.
The decisions to refuse the two patent applications can be appealed by the applicant within two months at the EPO’s independent judiciary, the Boards of Appeal.
Source: www.epo.orgRead More
European patent EP 2771468
European patent EP 2771468 relates to the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology held by the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Massachusetts.
The EPO opposition division had revoked the patent for lack of novelty in view of intermediate prior art. This prior art became relevant because the opposition division did not acknowledge the patentee’s claim to priority from a US provisional application naming more applicants than the subsequent PCT application from which EP 2771468 is derived. Since the omitted applicant had not transferred his rights to the applicants of the PCT application the priority claim was considered invalid.
On 16 January 2020, the EPO Board of Appeal in case T 844/18 dismissed the patent proprietor’s appeal against the decision of the opposition division and thus confirmed the revocation of the patent. The board did not refer questions to the Enlarged Board of Appeal.
Reasons for revocation
The reasons for the board’s decision will be issued in writing in due course.
In 2012, Professor Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley and Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier were the first to file a patent for the discovery of CRISPR/Cas9. Subsequently, Professor Feng Zhang at the Broad Institute was granted a fast-tracked patent based on the use of CRISPR to edit the genomes of eukaryotic cells. Since then, both institutions have competed for numerous patents with overlapping rights across multiple jurisdictions.
The Broad’s EPO patent was originally granted based on evidence of their original US patent filings. However the Broad’s earliest US applications, filed in 2012, listed Professor Luciano Marraffini of Rockefeller University, New York, as one of the inventors, but subsequent Broad applications, in the US and Europe do not include him. Because the list of inventors is not the same, the EPO declared the early US filings are not valid evidence that their claim dates back to 2012, and as such cannot be used to show the Broad’s claim predates that of competitors, including UC Berkeley.
The Broad has said that nine of their 21 CRISPR/Cas9 patents in Europe could be affected by the ruling which “does not involve the actual scientific merits of the patent application, but the interpretation of rules that dictate what happens when the names of inventors differ across international applications.”.
Source: epo.orgRead More
A delegation from Cambodia visits the EPO
A delegation from Cambodia led by Senior Minister of Industry and Handicraft Cham Prasidh visited the EPO on 31 October 2019 to meet with a team from the EPO headed by President António Campinos.
President Campinos and Senior Minister Cham reviewed the implementation so far of the EPO’s validation agreement with Cambodia. Under the agreement, which entered into force on 1 March 2018, applicants to the EPO can request validation of their European patent applications and European patents in the country. Cambodia was the first Asian country to recognise European patents on its territory.
“We are proud of the joint work done and results achieved over the past two years,” said EPO President Campinos. “Cambodia is one of the fastest-growing economies in Southeast Asia and now belongs to the group of countries with a solid global patenting strategy. The strengthening of Cambodia’s patent system through the validation agreement with the EPO is good for the local economy. For European companies, it provides further business and investment opportunities by extending the geographic coverage of their European patents to Cambodia.”
Senior Minister Cham said: “The validation system is a part of our long-term strategy to attract foreign investment. It is also an important means to boost national innovation. The validation system offers a shortcut for inventors to have their invention, already patented by the EPO, validated and protected almost immediately. Investors interested in using Cambodia as a springboard for exporting their products to privileged markets will benefit from seeking protection for their invention in Cambodia.”
Bilateral co-operation agreement
During the meeting, the EPO and Cambodia also signed a bilateral co-operation agreement for 2020. It aims at strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft to administer patents and to promote an IP and patent culture in the country. Under the agreement, EPO experts will train staff at the Ministry, and a particular focus will be put on increasing understanding of the usefulness of patent information for universities and small businesses. A series of workshops will also be held to explain the functioning of the patent system to national stakeholders.
Patent applications in Cambodia
Cambodia has so far received 85 patent applications in 2019 (up from 67 in 2018), the majority of them being foreign applications. The Patent Cooperation Treaty entered into force in Cambodia in December 2016. The number of European patent applications for which a validation fee has been paid for Cambodia has risen to more than 60 in the past month alone.
Source: www.epo.orgRead More
Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)
At their annual meeting in Suzhou on 12 November 2019, EPO President António Campinos and the Commissioner of the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA), Shen Changyu, agreed to enhance their bilateral co-operation in the framework of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). The aim is to give patent applicants filing an international patent application in English at the CNIPA as Receiving Office the choice to opt for the EPO as their International Searching Authority (ISA).
It is expected that this new option will be offered in the course of next year, and be implemented as a two-year pilot programme.
EPO AND CNPIA
CNIPA Commissioner Dr. Shen Changyu said: “The EPO and CNIPA are comprehensive strategic partners. For more than 30 years, the two offices have maintained a long-term close co-operative relationship. The fruitful cooperation results greatly benefited users and the public both in Europe and China. The two offices reached consensus on the designation of EPO as an ISA of the PCT international patent application in English filed at the CNIPA as Receiving Office. It will further benefit PCT applicants in China and even around the world. It is also a solid step for China to further enhance its international co-operation on IP protection”.
“This is a significant step forward in our strategic co-operation with China in the area of patents,” said EPO President Campinos. “The EPO is truly honoured by this sign of trust put in its PCT products, and we are committed to delivering the best possible services to patent applicants from China and around the world. This development reflects the longstanding and close bilateral relations with CNIPA, a co-operation which benefits not only our offices, but also companies and inventors seeking to protect their inventions in international markets.”
For Chinese applicants, this step will offer an additional option to optimise their international patent strategy, especially when considering protection in Europe. As a result, Chinese users interested in accelerating the prosecution of their applications will, by selecting the EPO as their ISA, gain up to one year by entering into the European phase earlier and getting direct examination of their files, without the need for a European supplementary search.
EPO-CNIPA co-operation, comparative study on computer-implemented inventions
Bilateral co-operation between the EPO and CNIPA dates back more than 30 years to the signing of a first memorandum of understanding between the two patent offices in 1985. In 2017 the EPO and Chinese office elevated their co-operation to a comprehensive strategic partnership, the first such agreement between two major patent offices.
In recent years, technology related to computer-Implemented inventions (CII) has evolved rapidly, and CII-related patent applications have increased significantly. National IP offices and patent applicants around the world face new challenges as these technologies play a larger role in other areas of innovation. In response to these challenges, CNIPA and the EPO worked together to produce a joint study outlining the similarities and differences of examination practices specific to software-related inventions. The heads of the EPO and CNIPA launched this joint report at a public IP event in Nanjing on Monday. The findings are expected to provide practical guidance to applicants about what to expect when filing CII applications at the two offices.
CNIPA received more than 1.5 million applications for invention patents in 2018. China is now the fifth most active country of origin for European patent applications, with strong growth from Chinese applicants at the EPO in recent years (+8.8% in 2018).
Source: www.epo.orgRead More
The European Patent Office and the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) of Argentina are stepping up their cooperation. EPO President Antonio Campino and INPI President Damaso Pardo signed on 2 July 2019 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish a Reinforced Partnership programme between both offices. This comprehensive cooperation agreement is the first of its kind to be set up by the EPO with an IP office in Latin America. The meeting of the Heads of Office took place on the margins of the IP Executive Week in Alicante.
According to Antonio Campinos, thanks to this agreement, the EPO can work more closely with one of the largest economies in Latin America and strengthen its relations with this dynamic region. Building on EPO long-standing ties with INPI, the agreement will help better meet the needs of companies in Argentina and users around the globe.
According to Damaso Pardo, this agreement aims to render the respective patent systems as efficient, user-friendly and reliable as possible for innovators; a robust patent system is an essential instrument for stimulating innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development.
Through their Reinforced Partnership programme, the EPO and INPI will work together to achieve shared objectives such as ensuring that the patent systems in both regions offer the best possible services to innovating businesses and inventors in an effective manner in order to benefit the economy and society as a whole.
The Offices will also focus on a number of activities aimed at strengthening capacities in search and examination in emerging technologies fields such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0, as well as capitalising on EPO work products, tools and standards.
The EPO and INPI have a long-standing history of cooperation. A previous MoU on technical cooperation was signed in Buenos Aires in May 2017, which will be replaced by the most recent MoU on Reinforced Partnership.
Source: www.epo.orgRead More
The European Patent Office (EPO) recently published its Annual Report 2018.
The main statistics and trends are highlighted below.
European patent applications continued to grow in 2018, reaching 174 317 applications, that is +4.6% with respect to last year.
Large enterprises filed 71% of the last year´s patent applications, SMEs, individual inventors: 20% and universities and public research organizations: 9%.
127 625 patents were granted last year (+20.8% with respect to 2017), 45% of them were granted to EPO member states, US: 24%, Japan: 17%, Korea: 5% and China: 4%.
The opposition rate in 2018 was 3.2%; the decisions in opposition cases were as follows: patent revoked: 27%, patent maintained in amended form: 42% and patent maintained as granted: 31%.
The top 10 countries with the most European patent applications in 2018 were the following:
- US 43 612 (25%)
- Germany 26 734 (15%)
- Japan 22 615 (13%)
- France 10 317 (6%)
- China 9 401 (5%)
- Switzerland 7 927 (5%)
- Korea 7 296 (4%)
- Netherlands 7 140 (4%)
- Great Britain 5 736 (3%)
- Italy 4 399 (3%)
The top 20 applicants in 2018 were the following:
- Siemens 2493
- Huawei 2485
- Samsung 2449
- LG 2376
- United Technologies 1983
- Philips 1617
- Qualcomm 1593
- Ericsson 1472
- General Electric 1307
- Bosch 1286
- Sony 1278
- BASF 1256
- Intel 1057
- Johnson & Johnson 982
- Microsoft 975
- Canon 816
- Panasonic 815
- Valeo 784
- Alphabet 779
The top 10 fields of technology in 2018 were the following:
- Medical technology 13 795
- Digital communication 11 940
- Computer technology 11 718
- Electrical machinery, apparatus, energy 10 722
- Transport 9 039
- Measurement 8 744
- Pharmaceuticals 7 441
- Biotechnology 6 742
- Other special machines 6 379
- Organic chemistry 6 233
Source: http://www.epo.orgRead More
New Referral to EPO’s Enlarged Board of Appeal to Decide on the Patentability of Computer Simulations
On 28 February 2019, in its decision T0489/14 (Title of the invention: Simulation of the movement of an autonomous entity through an environment, Applicant: Connor, James Douglas) the EPO’s Technical Board of Appeal (TBA) 3.5.07 (Chairman: R. Moufang) referred three questions relating to computer simulations to the EPO’s Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBA).
The case concerns a simulation run on a computer, and the questions relate to the extent to which such a simulation can be considered to be based on technical principles.
The following questions were referred to the Enlarged Board of Appeal for decision:
- In the assessment of inventive step, can the computer-implemented simulation of a technical system or process solve a technical problem by producing a technical effect which goes beyond the simulation’s implementation on a computer, if the computer-implemented simulation is claimed as such?
- If the answer to the first question is yes, what are the relevant criteria for assessing whether a computer-implemented simulation claimed as such solves a technical problem? In particular, is it a sufficient condition that the simulation is based, at least in part, on technical principles underlying the simulated system or process?
- What are the answers to the first and second questions if the computer-implemented simulation is claimed as part of a design process, in particular for verifying a design?
The invention disclosed in European patent application No. 03793825.5 (IPC: G06F17/50) relates to a computer-implemented method, computer program and apparatus for simulating the movement of a pedestrian crowd through an environment.
The main purpose of the simulation is its use in a process for designing a venue such as a railway station or a stadium. The application is based on the insight that human interaction can be expressed and simulated in the same way as interactions of physical objects.
Claim 1 of the patent application according to the main request of the applicant reads as follows:
“A computer-implemented method of modelling pedestrian crowd movement in an environment, the method comprising:
simulating movement of a plurality of pedestrians through the environment, wherein simulating movement of each pedestrian comprises:
providing a provisional path (9) through a model of the environment from a current location (6) to an intended destination (7);
providing a profile for said pedestrian;
determining a preferred step (112′), to a preferred position (123′), towards said intended destination based upon said profile and said provisional path, wherein determining said preferred step comprises determining a dissatisfaction function expressing a cost of taking a step comprising a sum of an inconvenience function expressing a cost of deviating from a given direction and a frustration function expressing a cost of deviating from a given speed;
defining a neighbourhood (29) around said preferred position (123′);
identifying obstructions in said neighbourhood, said obstructions including other pedestrians (21) and fixed obstacles (25);
determining a personal space (24) around said pedestrian;
determining whether said preferred step (112′) is feasible by considering whether obstructions (21, 25) infringe said personal space over the course of the preferred step (112′).”
The Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07 is of the view that the claimed invention lacks inventive step over a general purpose computer on the following grounds (section 11 of the decision):
“In the Board’s view, a technical effect requires, at a minimum, a direct link with physical reality, such as a change in or a measurement of a physical entity. Such a link is not present where, for example, the parabolic trajectory followed by a hypothetical object under the influence of gravity is calculated. Nor can the Board detect such a direct link in the process of calculating the trajectories of hypothetical pedestrians as they move through a modelled environment, which is what is claimed here. In fact, the environment being modelled may not exist and may never exist. And the simulation could be run to support purely theoretical scientific investigations, or it could be used to simulate the movement of pedestrians through the virtual world of a video game.”
In the proceedings before the TBA, the applicant has cited the earlier decision T1227/05 (Circuit Simulation/Infineon Technologies”), relating to a computer-implemented method for the numerical simulation of an electronic circuit. T1227/05 states: “An electronic circuit having input channels, noise input channels and output channels, the behavior of which is described by a system of differential equations is a sufficiently determined class of technical subjects, the simulation of which can be a functional technical feature.”
In other words, if the system or method to be simulated is sufficiently technical, then the simulation method itself is also a technical method and for the assessment of inventive step has to be compared with prior art simulation methods, not with the functioning of a general purpose computer.
The TBA consequently held that if the board were “to follow decision T1227/05, it would have to acknowledge that some or all of the steps of the simulation method of claim 1 contribute to a technical effect of the invention and could thus not be ignored when assessing inventive step” and that it “would hence be necessary to compare the invention with prior art other than a general-purpose computer.”
The TBA, however, still found that it “would tend to consider the subject matter of claim 1 of the main request to lack inventive step over a general-purpose computer” since the claimed method would “assist the engineer only in the cognitive process of verifying the design of the circuit or environment, i.e. of studying the behavior of the virtual circuit or environment designed.” And, “the cognitive process of theoretically verifying its design appears to be fundamentally non- technical.”
The TBA therefore referred the case to the EBA for reconciling its own view (citing a number of other earlier decisions as support) with the inconsistent view of T1227/05.
The alleged inconsistency in the law that is the basis for the present referral relates to the fact that in decision T1227/05, the Technical Board of Appeal considered that the disclosed simulation method was part of a fabrication process (making an electrical circuit), and as such the invention could not “be denied a technical effect merely on the ground that it does not yet incorporate the physical end product”. In the present case TBA 3.5.07 agrees that this earlier case is analogous, but raises concerns that the earlier case is effectively not reliable given the general legal background. Unlike electrical circuits simulations, which are based entirely on the laws of physics, simulation of a pedestrian crowd movement is only partly based on such laws, even if it may be simulated numerically. This referral seeks therefore clarity on whether the earlier case should be followed.
The outcome of the referral has implications far beyond computer simulations, but to Computer-Implemented Inventions in general, for example also to inventions related to Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Machine Learning (ML) to model systems and processes without necessarily controlling or interacting with physical means.
Source: www.epo.orgRead More
European Patent Office (EPO) – Board of Appeal Decision in case T 1063/18 on the Patentability of Plants
Case T 1063/18 concerns the appeal by the applicant against the decision of the examining division to refuse European patent application no. 12 756 468.0 (publication no. EP 2 753 168: “New pepper plants and fruits with improved nutritional value”, Applicant: Syngenta Participations AG) for the sole reason that the claimed subject-matter falls within the exception to patentability according to Article 53(b) and Rule 28(2) EPC (plants exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process).
At the oral proceedings, which took place on 5 December 2018, Technical Board of Appeal 3304, in an enlarged composition consisting of three technically and two legally qualified members, held that Rule 28(2) EPC (see Office Journal 2017, A56) is in conflict with Article 53(b) EPC as interpreted by the Enlarged Board of Appeal in decisions G 2/12 (“Method for breeding tomatoes having reduced water content and product of the method, Patent Proprietor: State of Israel, Ministry of Agriculture, the so called “Tomatoes II” case) and G 2/13 (“Method for selective increase of the anticarcinogenic glucosinolates in Brassica species”, Patent Proprietor: Plant Bioscience Limited, the so called “Broccoli II” case).
The Board referred to Article 164(2) EPC, according to which the provisions of the Convention prevail in case of conflict with the Implementing Regulations, and decided to set the decision under appeal aside and to remit the case to the examining division for further prosecution.
The written decision containing the board’s full reasons is expected to be issued early next year.
The exclusion of plants and animals from patentability was introduced by the EPO´s Administrative Council in the European Patent Convention in June 2017, following a Notice of the European Commission from November 2016 related to certain articles in the EU Directive on biotechnological inventions (98/44/EC).
This Directive was implemented in the EPO’s legal framework in 1999. The Directive excludes essentially biological processes from patentability but does not provide for a clear exclusion for plants or animals obtained from such processes. However, in its Notice the Commission clarified that it was the European legislator’s intention to exclude not only processes but also products obtained by such processes.
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On November 6th 2018, the European Patent Office (EPO) in cooperation with the European Council for Automotive Research and Development (EUCAR) released the study “Patents and self-driving vehicles”. The key findings of said study are summarized below:
The patent applications on SDV have been divided into two main technology sectors:
Automated vehicle platform, which encompasses technologies that are embodied in the vehicle itself. It includes inventions that enable vehicles to make autonomous decisions (Perception, analysis and decisions), inventions in the automated parts of the vehicle (Vehicle handling), and inventions in the underlying hardware and software (Computing).
Smart environment, which comprises technologies that enable SDVs to interact with each other and with their surroundings. It includes inventions in vehicle connectivity and related communication infrastructure (Communication) and inventions in traffic management, vehicle identification, automated parking and interfaces between vehicles and the electricity grid (Smart logistics).
The EPO´s study mentions that over the past decade, the EPO has received around 18,000 patent applications relating to SDV technologies, almost 4.000 of them in 2017 alone.
Annual patent applications relating to SDVs increased by 330% compared with 2011, a growth rate that is more than 20 times faster than that for patent applications in general at the EPO for the same period.
Perception, analysis and decision is the largest SDV technology field, while Communication and Computing technologies have grown the fastest since 2011.
Patent applications in SDV involve both automotive and Communication & Computing (ICT) industries, being the top 20 applicants: Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm, LG, Bosch, Toyota, Nokia, Ericsson, Microsoft, Continental, Sony, Boeing, Volvo, Google, Panasonic, Huawei, Audi, Hitachi, Siemens and Honda.
Europe (EPC) and the USA have a strong lead in SDV innovation, with about 1.400 patent applications each in 2017. European applicants stand out in the field of Vehicle handling, Smart logistics and Perception, analysis and decision. US applicants dominate in ICT.Read More