Examiners at the European Patent Office (EPO) currently have the power to request from applicants details of prior art cited in searches on corresponding applications in other countries, but generally do not do so.
From 1 January 2011, for applications that claim priority from an earlier application filed at another patent office, the applicant for a European patent will be required to submit to the EPO a copy of any search carried out on the earlier application, either with the European application, or without delay after such results are made available. For International (PCT) applications, the search results should be filed on entry to the European phase.
If the Examining Division finds that no copy of the earlier search has been filed, then they will invite the applicant to file a copy within 2 months (or else to file a statement that the results of the previous searches are not available). Failure to respond to this invitation will result in the European patent application being deemed to be withdrawn.
This rule change is another example of the EPO increasing the burden on applicants. Having said that, compliance with this new requirement should be relatively easy to achieve. We shall amend our procedures in good time before the new rule comes into effect.
19 November 2009