EPO President Alison Brimelow has assured applicants that the European Patent Office will only stop accepting paper applications once both industry and the Office are "ready".
Her comments came at the sixth EPO Online Services Annual Conference in Como, Italy on 13 and 14 November, which was subtitled "end-to-end processing - how to survive when the EPO no longer accepts paper".
"We are moving in a rapidly changing landscape to which we need to adapt," she told the conference. "Changing the way we work is one way to respond to these changes."
Speaking in the opening session, Ms Brimelow said that the future will happen "one step at a time" and stressed that the move to the electronic world would be accompanied by training to ensure that applicants - as well as the Office - are prepared for the transition.
Ms Brimelow said that the Office would carry out research to assess users' needs and requirements and that products would be developed to meet these requirements.
The President went on to announce a new range of online filing tools that will be launched by the Office. She thanked Sweden in particular for pushing forward a browser-based client, aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
A record number of 500 participants took part in this year's conference, which also featured workshops and seminars on a range of online services, the European Patent Network and the implications of the revised European Patent Convention.
Among the speakers at the conference was Catia Bastioli, winner of the European Inventor of the Year 2007 award in the category "small and medium-sized enterprises", who delivered a keynote speech on IP strategies.
Today, the EPO receives around 50% of its direct European applications via the internet and the number of file inspections has grown from 35 000 paper inspections per year in 2000 to around 12 000 electronic file inspections per day in 2007.