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SACEPO Working Party on Quality Meets to Review Latest Developments - EPO

11-Dec-2023 | Source : The European Patent Office (EPO) | Visits : 585

MUNICH - The Standing Advisory Committee before the European Patent Office (EPO) (SACEPO) Working Party on Quality met for the second time this year. The lively and open meeting provided another opportunity for the EPO and its users to reflect upon how, working together, we can improve on the high quality of our patent services. Members covered several quality-related topics, including measures implemented since the previous meeting, developments in the independent quality audit process, the User Satisfaction Survey and outcomes from the Stakeholder Quality Assurance Panels (SQAP), a press release stated by EPO. 

In his opening address, Steve Rowan, EPO Vice-President Patent Granting Process, recalled that “EPO and users - together, we are shaping the future of patent quality. And together we will ensure that it meets the highest international standards.”

Actions taken following the SACEPO WPQ meeting in May 2023

Through collaboration with the SACEPO Working Party on Quality (WPQ), multiple measures have been already implemented following input received in May this year. The three-member divisions are now fully involved at the search stage of the Patent Granting Process (PGP), with a focus on solution-oriented examination of patent applications. In addition, MyEPO now offers a shared area feature for direct interaction between applicants or their representatives and the examining division.

Following a question on how three-member divisions work in practice, the EPO emphasized the collaborative nature of search and examination. Involvement and alignment of all division members at an early stage will improve the completeness of the search and written opinion, as requested by users.
Updates on EPO’s quality audit process

Since 2019, the EPO has made several improvements to its independent and in-depth quality audit. SACEPO members identified additional focus areas for future audits. As the grounds for opposition can potentially impact the validity of a patent, the development of a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) was suggested, based on the audit findings for novelty, inventive step and added subject-matter. This KPI would monitor the conformity percentage of EPO grants based on these three grounds, which was 86% in 2022. The users also suggested reinforcing the audit by including team managers to ensure product quality from each team of examiners.
Improving our independent User Satisfaction Survey

The biennial User Satisfaction Survey (USS) draws close to 7000 respondents and comprises several individual surveys covering all stages of the PGP and all EPO services. Since 2018/2019 the EPO involved SACEPO members in redefining the concept within EPO’s Strategic Plan 2023. As a result, the current survey format was launched in 2020. The results of the second round (2022/2023) were published on the EPO’s website and show increased satisfaction compared to the previous survey, notably in search and examination during the PGP, online services and user support. SACEPO WPQ members were asked to contribute suggestions for enhancing the USS before the third round is launched in 2024.

The year’s three SQAPs reveal their findings

The SACEPO WPQ meeting focused on the results of the three Stakeholder Quality Assurance Panel (SQAP) sessions, held in June and October 2023. These panels brought together EPO experts and experienced European patent attorneys (from BusinessEurope, epi and SACEPO WPQ) to assess the quality of EPO products, provide feedback on best practices, and identify opportunities for learning and improvement. The 2023 panels covered the topics search report/written opinion, intermediate communications and grants.

Several external assessors highlighted the general high quality of the audited files and the relevance of the documents cited in EPO search reports. Similarly, EPO written opinions were highly valued and intermediate communications were seen as effective in bringing the procedure forward.   On search, one assessor commented on the quality of the files reviewed and felt that there were significant areas for improvement.

On grants, the EPO and attorneys reported a high level of agreement in their assessment of the selected cases. Attorneys welcomed suggestions proposed by the divisions. As in 2022, this year’s SQAPs underlined the benefits of increased dialogue between applicants and EPO examining divisions at all stages of the PGP.

Several members proposed topics that might be of interest for further discussion and investigation. Two such topics were the treatment of clarity across different teams and the treatment of third-party observations. The EPO’s willingness to explore these areas was welcomed by members.

SACEPO WPQ members also provided valuable input to improve the SQAPs program in 2024. They suggested continuing with increased interactions as in 2023, introducing targeted case selection and developing dedicated SQAP metrics. Moreover, members requested additional reporting sessions each year, enabling a greater number of assessors to present their finding. They also queried whether assessors could be given more time to compile their assessments. The EPO will now take these actions forward in drawing up the SQAPs plan for 2024.  

Steve Rowan thanked all SACEPO members and user associations for their lasting commitment to SACEPO during their three-year appointment period and the positive contribution they make to helping the EPO to improve patent quality. He stressed that the meeting was an excellent example of the reinforced dialogue the EPO enjoys with its users. The Vice-President acknowledged the commitment of the assessors, their excellent collaboration within the panels and the significant time they invested in supporting the EPO in assessing patent quality. He closed by reemphasizing that quality is at the heart of the EPO’s culture, and that the Office is proud of all its staff and their commitment to quality.


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