STOA report: Policy options for the improvement of the European patent system

June 16, 2006

The European patent system faces serious challenges which, if left unchecked, threaten to damage the European patent system and hamper innovation in Europe. This is one of the conclusions of the report, which marks the conclusion of a project commissioned by the European Parliament from the European Technology Assessment Group and carried out on its behalf by a working group under the Danish Board of Technology.

The report identifies that worldwide, the most important patent trends happening now relate to the number of patent applications being made. Specifically, the fact that applications received by patent offices continue to grow steeply, resulting in high numbers of granted patent rights. One potentially undesirable consequence of this development is a dampening effect of the incentive to innovate in the first place. This is mainly because costs associated with inventive activity have risen, often substantially. Rising costs reflect, among other things, overcrowded and overlapping sets of rights in specific research areas. Another effect of increased numbers of patent applications is the extra and sometimes severe pressure it puts onto examining offices and the sheer volume and complexity of the applications received.

These sorts of trends fundamentally challenge conceived notions of the patent system. The Working Group responsible for the report believes that left unchecked, this will have a damaging effect on the European patent system. The main impact is that there may be a deteriorating effect on patent quality in terms both of the clarity and balance of individual rights given to inventors, and the effectiveness of the system as a whole to meet economic and social welfare aims. The discussion about patent quality emerges from the report as the core underlying challenge to the future of the European patent system. The key task is to try to manage the growing patent workload while at the same time, maintaining the highest quality possible.

The report presents a number of policy options to meet the challenges facing the European patent system. Among them are

  • Insertion of the economic mission of the patent system in the European Patent Convention
  • Enhancing governance within the European patent system
  • Improving quality aspects in regard to patentability standards and patent grant procedures
  • Dealing with emerging technologies
  • Increasing access to patented inventions
  • Facilitating defensive publications


An independent and cross-disciplinary working group comprised by legal and economic experts from academia and from the European Patent Office is responsible for writing the report. The Working Group is made up as follows:

  • Mr. Robin COWAN, Professor of economics, BETA, Université Louis Pasteur and UNU-MERIT, Universteit Maastricht
  • Mr. Wim Van der EIJK, Principal Director International Legal Affairs and Patent law, EPO
  • Mr. Francesco LISSONI, Professor of Applied Economics, University of Brescia
  • Mr. Peter LOTZ, Head of Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy, Copenhagen Business School
  • Mrs. Geertrui Van OVERWALLE, Professor of IP Law, University of Leuven, Belgium
  • Mr. Jens SCHOVSBO, Professor, University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law



  • Mr. Matthew ELSMORE (rapporteur), Assistant professor, Aarhus Business School-University of Aarhus

The project is inspired by and builds upon a study from the Danish Board of Technology published in June 2005. The present report builds on existing studies and available data discussed by the Working Group members at five separate meetings. In between these meetings, various drafts of the report have been exchanged, commented on and edited mostly through e-mail communication.

Furthermore, the report draws on discussions the Working Group had with a range of other experts and stakeholders held at a conference in the European Parliament on November 9th 2006. The workshop was organized to receive ideas for policy options from Members of the European Parliament, academics, practitioners, business representatives and other stakeholders.

A second workshop was held in the European Parliament on June 14th 2007. Here, the Working Group presented a final draft of the report and the policy options for the STOA Panel and a broader audience.