An interesting news release from the European Patent Office has just heaved into view. Titled ‘EPO again tops patent quality list’, and so unlikely to be given much thrust by rival patent offices, the meat of it is this:
The EPO was ranked first for patent quality among the world’s five largest patent offices for the second consecutive year in a survey of  corporate and private practice IP professionals conducted jointly by Thomson Reuters and Intellectual Asset Management (IAM) magazine.
The annual benchmarking survey […] finds that the EPO leads by a wide margin in terms of perceived patent quality.
According to the survey, 74% of in-house counsels thought that the quality of patents granted by the EPO is “excellent or very good” (up from 71% last year), with 62% of the private practice attorneys sharing this view (up from 56% last year). The Japan Patent Office came in second with 57% and 43% respectively, followed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (50% and 37%), the Korean Intellectual Property Office (34% and 24%) and the State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China (23% and 13%).
According to the magazine, the EPO is consistently recognised by users as the world’s leading issuing authority when it comes to the quality of the patents it grants. “Those that take part in the survey are senior in-house and private practice professionals who have experience of all the world’s leading patent offices, so they should know what they are talking about,” said Joff Wild, Editor of IAM magazine. “It is clear that they believe the EPO currently sets the global standard that other offices should seek to emulate.”
OK, so EPO leads ‘by a wide margin’. The USA is struggling and China is bottom of the class. But does EPO really have much to celebrate? If all the five surveyed patent offices were universities, and what was being measured was the quality of their degrees, EPO’s average 68 per cent perceived quality rating suddenly wouldn’t look all that great. The others would still range from barely adequate to crap, but there would be no grounds for EPO to be triumphalist. A bit of ‘must try harder’ humility might be more in order.
The survey holds no cheer whatsoever for the innovators and inventors who pay to keep this shambles of a patent system going. To use education again for a comparison, we’d all hit the roof if we discovered that our kids were sitting A-level exams with wildly differing pass marks, depending on which awarding body was running the show. But that’s what seems to be happening in the patent system, where quality is literally all over the place.
Who is going to do anything about it? Nobody, of course. As long as people are prepared to pay through the nose for patents – whether through blissful ignorance, weary resignation or the indifference that comes from having billions in the bank – the world is stuck with a patent system in faster decline than a polar ice cap.