People unfamiliar with the Patent system are often surprised about how long it can take to obtain a Patent. It is not uncommon for Patents to be granted 7-10 years after they were first filed and in some cases, it can take even longer. In the last 10 years, the European Patent Office (EPO) has had a significant backlog of Patent applications. Although that backlog is starting to be reduced, if there is a reason to speed up a specific Patent application (or a group of Patent applications), the EPO has a number of procedures for acceleration.
- The most well-known acceleration procedure at the EPO is the programme for accelerated prosecution of European patent applications (PACE). There is no Patent Office fee to pay for this and no reasons need to be given. Also, the EPO does not publish the request to use PACE or their reply to such requests. There are two types of PACE request: accelerated search; and accelerated examination. In many cases, the EPO's internal prioritization means that accelerated search is unnecessary, but it can help speed up searches of older Patent applications. An accelerated examination request can be filed at any time after completion of the search, but only once. The EPO tries to issue further Official Actions within 3 months, but the application is removed from PACE if any extensions of time are used.
- For EPO applications where a corresponding application elsewhere has received an allowance or a Patent has been granted, the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) may be an option. A PPH request can only be filed in certain cases, as long as examination has not yet begun. Again, the EPO does not impose a fee for this and no reasons are required (other than the allowance or grant elsewhere).
- Simply requesting a status update from the EPO can sometimes speed up processing of the application. Although there is no formal acceleration in this case (except in very limited circumstances), by indicating a time frame for the next Official Action, that Official Action may be issued sooner than would otherwise have been the case.
- One option that the EPO (understandably) does not recommend is to call the Examiner and ask them about the case directly. EPO Examiners are very busy and this approach is not recommended on its own. However, it can be useful for cases where some other form of acceleration has already been requested and a telephone interview with the Examiner might help to address all outstanding issues more quickly than would otherwise have been possible.
Most importantly, if you are worried about the length of time taken to obtain a European Patent, ask your Patent Attorney, who will be able to provide practical advice.
Applicants requiring faster search or examination can ask to have their applications processed under the programme for accelerated prosecution of European patent applications (PACE)