European Patent Convention


The first steps toward co-operation in the field of patents in Europe were taken in the wake of WWII with the establishment of the Patent Institute in 1947, with the participation of the Benelux countries and France. Further co-operation from that time led to the signing of the European Patent Convention (EPC) in Munich on 5 October 1973. The Convention formally entered into effect on 7 October 1977.

The principal object of the EPC is to strengthen co-operation between European countries as regards the protection of inventions. Its implementation relates to the common procedures employed by member states on the receipt, examination and granting of patents where, by means of one application in one European country, it is possible to obtain a patent in the majority of European countries.

The convention established the European Patent Organisation. The Organisation has independent executive powers and independent finances. It is domiciled in Munich and its official languages are English, French and German. The granting of European patents is in the hands of the European Patent Office (EPO). The EPO began operating on 1 November 1977. The Office's headquarters are in Munich and it operates an office in The Hague. The overall management of the EPO is in the hands of an Executive Committee consisting of two representatives (one acts as alternate) from each of the member states. The Executive Committee has principal administration of the Convention and has the authority to amend the Convention as well as particular regulations based thereon. The Committee meets four times a year. The representatives of the WIPO, among others, are entitled to attend such meetings as observers.

Extensive changes were made to the European Patent Convention in 2000, referred to as EPC 2000. The amendments came into effect in all member states on 13 December 2007. The goal was to modernise the administration of the organisation and make it more flexible and accessible than was previously the case. Proceedings were extensively simplified. One of the major changes enables the patent holder, after the granting of a European patent, to request the EPO to limit the patent's scope, with such limitations entering into effect in all the Convention's member states. Such authorisation has been entered into the Patents Act No 17/1991 in Articles 40.a and 40.b, and applies from the date that the announcement of the amendment is published.

Iceland became party to the Convention on 1 November 2004, cf. the advertisement in the B-division of Stjórnartídindi (Government Gazette) on 6 September 2004. The formal decision on membership was taken by the Government in November 2002. A separate application for membership was unnecessary as Iceland was invited to attend the conference in Munich in 1973 and, as a result, had authorisation for membership. In July 2008, the countries party to the Convention numbered 34, in addition to four member states which, according to a separate partnership agreement with the EPO, may be designated and in which a European patent may be issued.