THe EPO issued a press release yesterday, announcing that filings for 2008 dropped by 3.6%. More importantly, the EPO went on to point out that the grant rate for European patents dropped for the first time to less than 50%. More specifically, the grant rate for 2008 was 49.5%, as compared to 51% for 2007.
Alison Brimelow, President of the EPO, comments:
The purpose of patents is to facilitate economic benefits for society by creating legal certainty in the market. We therefore need to continue to ensure quality in the patenting procedure. Some efforts in this respect are now beginning to bear fruit: The practice we introduced in 2004 of informing applicants early in the process of their prospects of obtaining a patent visibly encourages companies in many cases to abandon their applications. Subsequently, the strict application of patentability criteria by our patent examiners has led to more refusals to grant a patent. These are important steps to ensure the relevance of the patents entering the innovation process.
The EPO's announcement means that the allowance rate at each of the trilateral offices will be below 50% -- with the EPO at 49.5%, the JPO at 48.9%, and the USPTO at 42%. Taken collectively, the average rate of allowance stands at 47.5%.
While various interested parties continue to claim that overburdened patent offices are allowing patents "of dubious quality" as a regular course of business, the statistics keep showing that this has not been the case for at least for the last year.
Read the EPO announcement here (link)
See Joff Wild, "EPO allowance rate falls beneath 50% for the first time" (link)
See also Gene Quinn's post "Perspective of an Anonymous Patent Examiner" (link), where a PTO examiner comments:
This “reject, reject, reject now” policy is encouraged by management’s policy of issuing a written warning on an examiner’s permanent file for allowance error percentage above 10%. While this may seem high, if you only allow 20 cases a year it is no problem for quality to find some kind of error in your cases, especially when they aren’t experts in your art. Additionally, there is a lack of motivation to get cases allowed, because there is no incentive for the examiner to do the extra work required to arrive at claim language which can be allowed.