European Patent Convention

European Patent Convention
European Patent Convention Contracting States in red, extension agreement states in orange as from 1 October 2010

The Convention on the Grant of European Patents of 5 October 1973, commonly known as the European Patent Convention (EPC), is a multilateral treaty instituting the European Patent Organisation and providing an autonomous legal system according to which European patents are granted. The term European patent is used to refer to patents granted under the European Patent Convention. However, after grant a European patent is not a unitary right, but a group of essentially independent nationally-enforceable, nationally-revocable patents,[1] subject to central revocation or narrowing as a group pursuant to two types of unified, post-grant procedures: a time-limited opposition procedure, which can be initiated by any person except the patent proprietor, and limitation and revocation procedures, which can be initiated by the patent proprietor only.

The EPC provides a legal framework for the granting of European patents,[2] via a single, harmonized procedure before the European Patent Office. A single patent application, in one language,[3] may be filed at the European Patent Office at Munich,[4] at its branches at The Hague[4] or Berlin[5] or at a national patent office of a Contracting State, if the national law of the State so permits.[6]

There is currently no single, centrally enforceable, European Union-wide patent. Since the 1970s, there has been concurrent discussion towards the creation of a Community patent in the European Union. In May 2004 however, this has led to a stalemate.


Background and rationale

Before 1978, two important problems when seeking to obtain patent protection in Europe in a number of countries were first the need to file a separate patent application in each country, with a subsequent distinct grant procedure in each country, and secondly the need to translate the text of the application into a number of different languages. Different languages are indeed utilised across the European countries and there is substantial expense in preparing translations into each of those languages. While the European Patent Convention does not totally overcome the need for translations (since a translation may be required after grant to validate a patent in a given EPC Contracting State), it does centralise the prosecution in one language and defers the cost of translations until the time of grant.


In September 1949, French Senator Henri Longchambon proposed to the Council of Europe the creation of a European Patent Office. His plan was however not found to be practicable by the Council's Committee of Experts in patent matters. The meetings of the Committee nevertheless led to two Conventions, one on the formalities required for patent applications (1953) and one on the international classification of patent (1954).[12] The Council's Committee then carried on its work on substantive patent law, resulting in the signature of the Strasbourg Patent Convention in 1963.[12]

In 1973, the Munich Diplomatic Conference for the setting up of a European System for the Grant of Patents took place and the Convention was then signed in Munich (the Convention is sometimes known as the Munich Convention). The signature of the Convention was the accomplishment of a decade-long discussion during which Kurt Haertel, considered by many as the father of the European Patent Organisation, and François Savignon played a decisive role.

The Convention entered into force on 7 October 1977 for the following first countries: Belgium, Germany (then West Germany), France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland and United Kingdom, and on 1 May 1978 for Sweden. However, the first patent applications were filed on 1 June 1978 (date fixed by the Administrative Council which held its first meeting on 19 October 1977). Subsequently, other countries have joined the EPC.

The EPC is separate from the European Union (EU), and its membership is different; Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Turkey, Monaco, Iceland, Norway, Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia, San Marino, Albania and Serbia are members of the EPO but are not members of the EU. The Convention is, as of October 2010, in force in 38 countries.[13] Serbia became the 38th state on 1 October 2010.[9]

In addition to the Contracting States, States may also conclude a cooperation agreement with the EPO, known as an extension agreement. The state then becomes "extension state", which means European patents granted by the EPO may be extended to those countries by the payment of additional fees and completion of certain formalities. As of October 2010, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro[10] have extension agreements with the EPO so that, in effect, these states can be designated in a European patent application.

A diplomatic conference was held in November 2000 in Munich to revise the Convention, amongst other things to integrate in the EPC new developments in international law and to add a level of judicial review of the Boards of Appeal decisions. The revised text, informally called the EPC 2000, entered into force on 13 December 2007.[14][15]

Legal nature and content

The European Patent Convention is "a special agreement within the meaning of Article 19 of the Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, signed in Paris on 20 March 1883 and last revised on 14 July 1967, and a regional patent treaty within the meaning of Article 45, paragraph 1, of the Patent Cooperation Treaty of 19 June 1970."[16]

The content of the Convention includes several texts in addition to the main 178 articles. These additional texts, which are integral parts of the Convention,[17] are

Substantive patent law