European Patents

The European Patent Convention (EPC)was established in 1973 to strengthen co-operation between the States of Europe in respect of the protection of inventions, on the basis of the law established by the convention and the setting up of the European Patent Officein Munich for the grant of European patents in accordance with the law of the EPC. Ireland became a member of the European Patent Organisation in August 1992 having acceded to the EPC.

The EPO is not an institution of the European Union. It is a separate international organisation with its own administration and headquarters in Munich.

The main advantage and purpose of the EPC is that it allows patent rights to be obtained in any one or more of the EPC contracting states by making a single European patent application to the European Patent Office. This may be considerably cheaper than making a separate 'national' application in each EPC member state.

On the basis of a single patent application the EPO grants, in effect, a "bundle" of national patents in respect of those contracting States, which the applicant designates. There are currently 38 contracting states. While the application is pending, renewal fees are payable to the EPO. Once the patent is granted, renewal fees must be paid to the Patent Offices of each of the designated countries.

When granted, a European Patent has the effect of a national patent in each of the countries designated. A European Patent designating Ireland has the same effect as if it were a full-term patent granted by the Controller.

European patent applications may be filed either with the Patents Office in Ireland or direct to the European Patent Office.

The Patents Office transmits any application received to the EPO. It is not required to carry out any examination on the application before transmittal. The Office does not require payment of a transmittal fee. An applicant must transmit all relevant fees to the EPO directly.

A European application may claim the priority date of an Irish application filed up to twelve months earlier. The European application is published 18 months after the filing (or priority) date. The EPO carries out a novelty search and the search report is published either with the application or later on. The applicant then has the possibility to decide whether or not to pursue his/her application by requesting substantive examination. If the request for examination is filed, the specification is examined in detail by an Examining Division in the EPO to see whether the application meets all the requirements. After this examination the European Patent is granted and the patent specification is published.

Within 9 months after the grant of the European Patent, any person may give notice to the EPO of opposition to the patent granted. The decision of the EPO whether the patent is to be maintained, amended or revoked is valid in all of the designated countries. 

When the European Patent designating Ireland is granted, the relevant particulars are transferred to the Patents Office by the EPO.  The Controller is empowered to revoke a patent granted under the Patents Act if it appears to him that a European Patent designating Ireland has also been granted in respect of the same invention, if both applications have the same filing or priority date and were filed by the same applicant.

It is possible to file a European Patent application electronically with the EPO.

For further information, visit www.epo.org

The following publications are also available from either the EPO or the Patents Office:

"How to get a European Patent (Guide for applicants)"

"National Law relating to the EPC"