For an invention to be patentable, it must be new, industrially applicable and involve an inventive step. Here are the 11 steps outlined by the European Patent Office to obtaining a European patent:
1) Before applying for a European patent – carry out a patent search.
2) Application – If a patent application is filed at the EPO in any language other than the official languages of the EPO (i.e. English, French and German) then a translation has to be submitted.
A European patent application consists of:
- a request for grant
- a description of the invention
- drawings (if any)
- an abstract.
3) Filing and formalities examination
The examination on filing involves checking whether all the necessary information and documentation has been provided, so the application can be given a filing date.
The following information is required:
- an indication that a European patent is sought
- particulars identifying the applicant
- a description of the invention or
- a reference to a previously filed application.
- If no claims are filed, they need to be submitted within two months.
A European search report is now created (based on the patent claims, the description and drawing(s)) listing all the documents available to the patent office which could be relevant to assessing novelty and inventive step. The search report is sent to the applicant with any cited documents and an initial opinion of whether the claimed invention and application meet the requirements of the European Patent Convention.
5) Publication of the application
The application is published 18 months after the date of filing or, if priority was claimed, the priority date. Applicants then have 6 months to decide whether or not to pursue their application by requesting substantive examination and must pay the fee.
From publication date, a European patent application gives provisional protection on the invention in the states designated in the application.
6) Substantive examination
After the request for examination has been made, the European Patent Office examines whether the European patent application and the invention meet the requirements of the European Patent Convention and whether a patent can be granted.
7) The grant of a patent
If the examining division decides that a patent can be granted, it issues a decision to that effect. The granted European patent is a “bundle” of individual national patents.
Once the grant is published, the patent has to be validated in each of the designated states within a specific time limit to retain its protective effect and be enforceable against infringers, fees will apply.
After the European patent has been granted, it may be opposed by third parties – usually the applicant’s competitors – if they believe that it should not have been granted. Notice of opposition can only be filed within nine months of grant.
10) Limitation / revocation
At any time after the grant of the patent, the patent proprietor may request the revocation or limitation of his patent.
Decisions of the European Patent Office – refusing an application or in opposition cases are open to appeal. Decisions on appeals are taken by the independent boards of appeal.