Little-known trouble at European Patent Office should put start-ups and investors alike on alert

The European Patent Office (EPO), the body responsible for ruling on patent applications submitted by companies across the continent, has come under fire recently as a result of growing concerns about the quality of patents it has been granting. While the EPO’s management team has celebrated recent increases in the overall number of patents granted as a sign of flourishing European innovation, an explosive letter sent to the organisation’s Administrative Council last month has cast doubt on the legitimacy of several of those patents. The letter – signed by more than 900 patent examiners working for the EPO – expresses grave concern that directives designed to increase the quantity of patent awards has led to a sharp decline in quality, with a growing number of patent applications being approved that should instead have been ruled invalid. It follows public criticism of the EPO leadership’s quality-first approach from politicians in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as from unions representing the patent examiners, who argue that conditions imposed on them are making their position untenable.

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