For European countries adhering to the European Patent Convention (EPC) it is possible to unify the filing, search and exam procedure of the corresponding national patent applications.
For this purpose, a European Patent application has to be filed at the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich, The Hague or Berlin. The application can also be filed at the receiving national offices set up in each one of the Contracting States, usually at the national Patent Office. The application must be filed in one of the three official languages of the EPO (English, French or German) and it can be filed through a Patent Consultant who is officially accredited with the European Patent Office (European Agent). Initially, the application can be filed in a national official language, Italian for instance, and a translation in one of the EPO official languages can be supplied later on.
The filing fees for the EPO application include the completion, by the respective Office, of an international anteriority search, whose outcome is published on the Official European Patent Bulletin, and then sent to the Applicant. Based on the anteriority documents retrieved during the aforementioned search, the Applicant may decide whether to request a substantial examination, and therefore continue with the grant procedure, or quit and abandon the procedure.
At the time of the examination request, an examination fee must be paid and a designation fee for the designation of every country adhering to the EPC must also be paid. The examination fee must be paid within 6 months from the publication of the search report.
The substantial examination consists of an evaluation of the requirements for novelty, inventive activity and industrial applicability of the invention, and it ends with the issue of an examination report. If the examination report is positive, the European Patent is granted and a mention of the grant is published in the Official Bulletin.
If one of the three requirements necessary for the patent to be granted is not fulfilled in light of the results of the international search report, the Examiner issues one or more Official Actions, in which he expresses his reasons in relation to the lack of the aforementioned requirements. The Applicant, through his Consultant, must reply to the Official Actions, responding to the Examiner's objections and documenting the responses with appropriate arguments in defence of the fulfilment of the aforementioned requirements, or partially accepting the objections.
The description and/or the claims of the EPO application may then be amended and again submitted for the attention of the Examiner. In the case of a positive outcome, the examination procedure ends with the granting of a European Patent. To be effective in the individual designated States, the European Patent must subsequently be validated in those States.
The validation procedure varies from State to State and may require the translation
of the entire patent
or only of the claims in the official language of that State.