The European Patent Convention

11 February 2015

During the third theory round of the trainee program, it was finally time for what we all had been waiting for – to dive into the specifics of the European Patent Convention (EPC). This document – governing everything about the European patent system – comprises 178 articles (although some have been deleted during revisions of the Convention), 165 rules (or implementing regulations), and a number of protocols. In addition, there is substantial body of case law from the European Patent Office (EPO) boards of appeal. There are also Implementing Guidelines, issued by the EPO for the aid of their examiners.

Different interests need to be balanced. An inventor has a right to have his invention protected, but he will need to show that his invention is not only new – EPC article 54 – but also "involving inventive step", which EPC article 56 defines as the invention not being "obvious to a person skilled in the art". Setting this bar at the right height is really at the core of a credible patent system.

If you come from a background of science and technology, an important realization to make is that legal texts often are intentionally vague. This way, not everything is set in stone from the start and the interpretation may evolve in time.

The EPC is written in the three official languages of the EPO, English, French, and German. All three language versions carry the same legal weight. I think this is a good thing, since the wording in one language version often elucidates the meaning of the other two.

All in all, we have a well-functioning pan-European patent regime that we as Europeans should be proud of!

Karl-Johan Grahn, Associate