Patent office struggles to handle backlog


The European Patent Office (EPO) is to recruit an extra 250 patent examiners next year in a bid to keep up with the rapidly growing number of applications.

The number of patent applications filed at the EPO rose by 14 per cent last year to a record 99,800, partly as a result of lower patent fees. And a backlog of 20,000 patent files is already clogging the in-trays of EPO patent examiners in Munich, The Hague, Berlin and Vienna.

Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands submitted the highest numbers of patent applications last year, and European countries now account for more than half of all applications.

But, according to figures released at a press conference in Munich last week, all of the EPO's 19 member states — as well as the United States and Japan — have increased their patent activities since the EPO agreed to reduce its official fees two years ago (see Nature 384, 506; 1996).

The largest number of applications was in the category of medical and veterinary technologies, which saw a rise of nearly 15 per cent from 1996, to 6,200. Electronic communications technologies (up 28 per cent) and biochemistry and genetic engineering (up 22 per cent) showed the highest rates of increase.

Ingo Kober, the president of the EPO, told the press conference that the costs of patent applications — which currently average DM60,000 (US$33,500) — will be reduced further by lowering search costs, a move the EPO hopes will encourage innovation.


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Schiermeier, Q. Patent office struggles to handle backlog. Nature 393, 722 (1998).

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