EP-Oh! (Information about the European Patent Office)
We recently were posed a question about European Patent Office (EPO) procedure, specifically: “What is a European patent and what rights does it confer?”.
An issued EPO patent, while substantively reviewed and prosecuted, is nothing more than a conduit to enter European member states. Once the EPO reviews, approves, and issues the patent, the applicant has 3 months to supply to the desired member state’s industrial property office a translation of the patent in one of the member state’s official language or, where the State has prescribed the use of one specific official language, in that language. The period of three (3) months may be extended on a state-by-state basis. See European Patent Convention (EPC), Article 65. The only exception to the three-month rule appears to be Ireland, which allows the filing of a translation within six (6) months. Once the time period for filing a translation has lapsed, the EPO patent is deemed void ab initio in all member states in which a translation was not filed. That’s right, the EPO patent provides no protection in those countries and it is as if the application never existed.
The filing of a translation and payment of any fees required by the member state is the only step required to obtain patent protection in the state. The EPO has already performed the prosecution and review.
The moral of the story is as follows: once one obtains an EPO patent, the clock starts to get an application on file in all of the desired member states. Once the translation is on file and the fees are paid, the member state will “rubber stamp” and accept the patent. An English, a French, and a German translation should cover the vast majority (if not all) of the EPO member country requirements. Admittedly, however, there may be countries in which that may require a translation in their particular language.