Productivity Benchmarking Study in the Patent Grant Procedure Published

Munich/Newport, 26 July 2007 - The European Patent Office (EPO), the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) and the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK-IPO) have published an independent study which benchmarks productivity in the patent grant procedure at the three offices. The purpose is to identify best practice in the patent search and examination procedures with a view to enabling each office to adapt its own practice in the interests of streamlining and efficiency. The study clearly identifies disparities in productivity between the EPO and the two national offices, although some of the differences are largely due to varying procedures.

"The project is a result of the excellent co-operation between the participating offices. It offers a very valuable insight into the real performance drivers in the procedures at each office, and how we can learn from each other's experience", says Wolfram Förster, head of the Controlling Office at the EPO, who co-ordinated the study on behalf of the three offices.

Dr Friedrich Feuerlein, head of the Patents Department at the German Patent and Trade Mark Office, has thanked the European Patent Office for conducting the study and for its unstinting co-operation. "It's remarkable that such a detailed comparative study of the patent grant procedure is now being made available to the public."

"The benchmarking of key processes is a powerful tool for driving business improvement", comments Sean Dennehey, Director of Patents at UK-IPO. "The UK-IPO has been glad to participate in this collaborative study, and is intent on learning from its conclusions."

The study considers all patent searching and examination work done by the examiners at the three offices between September 2005 and August 2006. By carefully comparing the legal background and scrutinising the different patent procedures, it arrives at detailed conclusions about each office's working methods, leaving aside non-examination work and quality-related aspects. Moreover, interviews were conducted with patent examiners at each office to ascertain the validity of the approach and identify potential problems and best practice.

While the underlying substantive law was found to be almost identical at the three offices, the study shows that productivity is significantly higher at the DPMA and UK-IPO, but that some of the differences are attributable to special features of the EPO's grant procedure. In general, the EPO was found on average to take 50% longer than the UK and German offices to produce its formal search and examination reports (products) and for its written and oral exchanges with applicants (communications). In terms of productivity, the UK-IPO sets the benchmark, coming slightly ahead of the DPMA (+3% for products, +2% for communications) and enjoying a marked lead over the EPO (+ 49%/+51%).

However, a large portion of these productivity differences may be due to procedural and structural differences between the EPO and the two national offices. For one thing, the results of the study are influenced by the written opinions which the EPO provides with its search reports. These were not considered for the purposes of productivity measurement because they are not issued on the same scale by the other two offices. Other important factors are the involvement of three-man examining divisions in the EPO grant procedure, where the other two offices employ only one examiner, and the impact of linguistic difficulties at the EPO (where not all examiners work in their mother tongue). In addition, the study identified problems posed for the EPO by poor translations of patent applications not originally drafted in one of its official languages. The study suggests that, together with a number of other factors, these may account for up to 45% of the productivity difference.

The study closes with an elaborate set of recommendations for implementation both inside and outside the three offices. These include general principles for balanced performance measurement and concrete proposals for enhancing the search documentation with non-patent literature. But they also encompass process-oriented improvements such as better allocation of patent files, and the suggestion that other offices from the EPO's member states and beyond might also take part in a benchmarking exercise.