Joff Wild

Speaking today at the European Patent Forum in Prague, EPO President Alison Brimelow stated that to descibe current application trends at the office as "bumpy" would be to use traditional British understatement. Without providing concrete figures, Brimelow stated that the fluctuations the EPO had seen in 2008 were getting stronger in 2009, with periods of decline interspersed with others where activity is much stronger. Patent applications had held up well in previous recessions, she said, but this downturn could be different - although, she continued, it will only be possible to get an accurate picture of what is really happening in the second half of 2009.

I asked her whether the EPO had any plans to revise its budget and/or cut back on spending - something that has happened in a number of other registries over the last few months as applications have fallen.  Her answer was no. Financially, the office actually performed better in the first quarter of 2009 than had been forecast (although the figures are still negative). This was as a consequence of improved production among examiners and tight cost control, Brimelow explained. She also observed that unlike most national registries the EPO does not handle trademark applications, which are much more volatile than those for patents. "We have ridden out other recessions and we are in this for the long-term," she said. "We take a prudent approach to managing the EPO and that is how we are hoping to see ourselves through these uncertain times."  

Speaking to EPO staff after the press conference, I was that because many of the applications the office receives have already gone through a national phase and are therefore being prosecuted based on pre-downturn budgets, it is going to take a bit of time to work out how far applicant behaviour is going to change. Anecdotally, in some areas at least, while the number of applications seems to be holding steady there has been an increase in the number of abandoned applications. The office is also taking a close look to see whether maintenance fees are being paid at past levels - more should be known about this in June. However, at present the general mood is pretty upbeat, at least publicly. "So far, the slowdown has been much less traumatic than we expected," one official told me.