CPVO President Martin Ekvad, CPVO Vice- President Francesco Mattina, Professor Anselm Kamperman Sanders of Maastricht University, EPO Principal Director Margot Fröhlinger

On 29 November the European Patent Office (EPO) and the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO) held a joint conference in Brussels to illustrate the way in which the two offices co-operate to support innovation in the plant sector. The conference attracted some 200 participants from industry and academia, the European Commission, European Parliament, legal practice, national patent offices, NGOs and the general public.

In their opening statements, high-level representatives of the EPO and the CPVO took stock of the first two years of co-operation. According to Margot Fröhlinger, EPO Principal Director for the Unitary Patent, European and International Legal Affairs, “the co-operation promotes information and transparency in the area of plant innovation. The CPVO and the EPO are jointly committed to ensuring that both breeders and industry maintain their confidence in the validity and quality of patents and plant breeders’ rights,” she said.

Martin Ekvad, CPVO President, said: “Basing our co-operation on an Administrative Arrangement will also in future contribute to a better understanding between our institutions on a technical and legal level. This helps us in turn to better inform industry and the public on the implementation of two mutually supportive IP systems.”

After both offices explained their roles and practice, three expert panels moderated by Anselm Kamperman Sanders, Professor of IP Law at Maastricht University, explored some of the key themes surrounding plant innovation. Speakers outlined how the EPO responded to the Commission Notice C/2016/6997 in relation to essentially biological breeding methods by proposing amendments of Rules 27(b) and 28 of the European Patent Convention to our Administrative Council earlier this year, and how these rules are now applied in the Office’s patenting practice.

Enhancing the transparency of IP rights was a further key topic of the conference, with speakers explaining how third parties, including the general public, can follow all stages of both the patent and PVR granting processes. Patent applications and granted patents are mandatorily published, which signifies that the teachings set out in these documents are freely accessible to the public, for instance in the EPO’s patent database Espacenet. PVR documents are publicly available from the CPVO, either directly from the office’s website or on request. Industry initiatives such as the Patent Information and Transparency Online (PINTO) database, which provides a link between a plant variety and a patent or patent application, aim to enhance transparency further.

All of the day’s presentations were met with strong interest from the floor as the largely expert audience responded with well-informed questions and thus contributed to a very lively round of discussions.

EPO and CPVO: committed to quality

Aware of the public debate about plant protection and their social responsibilities, both the EPO and CPVO attach utmost importance to delivering quality work in their practice. At the EPO, for instance, less than one in three patent applications in biotechnology becomes a European patent, while the overall grant rate in all fields of technology is around 48%. Patent examiners working in biotechnology are trained intensively to accurately apply the patent law in their field. This also includes regular exchanges with CPVO experts and the use of state-of-the-art databases, in particular plant genome databases. At the CPVO high quality is ensured by setting quality requirements to be followed by entrusted examination offices, which are audited regularly.

Co-operation between the two offices has already significantly enhanced the sharing of information among their experts. Moreover, both the EPO and the CPVO jointly aim to raise awareness of the benefits of protecting innovation in the plant and breeding sector, in order to create growth and employment in these areas, and thus serve the economy and society as a whole.

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