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European Patent Office

The European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the two organs of the European Patent Organisation (EPOrg), the other being the Administrative Council. The EPO acts as executive body for the organisation while the Administrative Council acts as its supervisory body as well as, to a limited extent, its legislative body. The actual legislative power to revise the European Patent Convention lies with the Contracting States themselves when meeting at a Conference of the Contracting States.

The EPO headquarters are located in Munich, Germany. The EPO also has a branch in Rijswijk, The Netherlands, which is near The Hague, sub-offices in Berlin, Germany, and Vienna, Austria, and a "liaison bureau" in Brussels, Belgium. At the end of 2009, the European Patent Office had a staff of 6818 (with 3718 based in Munich, 2710 in Rijswijk, 274 in Berlin, 112 in Vienna and 4 in Brussels). The predecessor of the European Patent Office was the Institut International des Brevets or IIB.

The European Patent Office is directed by a president, who is responsible for its activities to the Administrative Council. The president also represents the European Patent Organisation. The president has therefore a dual role: representative of the European Patent Organisation and head of the European Patent Office. The President of the European Patent Office is appointed by the Administrative Council. A majority of three-quarters of the votes of the Contracting States represented and voting in the Administrative Council is required for the appointment of the President.

The official languages of the European Patent Office are English, French and German and publications including the European Patent Bulletin and Official Journal of the European Patent Office are published in all three of those languages.

European patent applications may be filed in any language provided that a translation into one of the official languages is submitted within two months if the language of filing is not an EPO official language. The official language in which the application is filed or into which it is translated is taken to be the language of the proceedings and the application is published in that language. Documentary evidence may also be submitted in any language, although the EPO may require a translation.

In the international procedure according to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the European Patent Office acts as a Receiving Office, an International Searching Authority (ISA), an International Preliminary Examining Authority (IPEA) and, with effect from 1 July 2010, as a so-called Supplementary International Searching Authority (SISA). The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) provides an international procedure for handling patent applications, called international applications, during the first 30 months after their first filing in any country party to the PCT. The European Patent Office does not grant "international patents," as such patents do not exist. After 30 months (or, for a few countries, after 20 months) an international application must be converted into national or regional patent applications, and then are subject to national/regional grant procedures.

The EPO offers on its web site several free services, including Espacenet and Open Patent Services (OPS) for searching within its collection of patent documents, the legal texts published in its Official Journal, the European Patent Register containing legal information relating to published European patent applications and European patents (the European Patent Register also allowing the inspection of files under Article 128 EPC), and a publication server of the European patent applications and patents. There is also the epoline software for filing European patent applications online.

The EPO cooperates with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Japan Patent Office (JPO) as one of the Trilateral Patent Offices. It also works with the Japan Patent Office (JPO), the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), China's National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in a co-operation known as the "five IP offices" or IP5.

Labour relations at the EPO during the presidency of Benoit Battistelli have been strained and marked by conflict with a noticeable escalation during 2014. Staff discontent has been attributed to Battistelli's style of management which, according to reports in the German newspapers Die Zeit and Die Welt, was perceived by staff as being unduly autocratic and unsuited to a European intergovernmental body such as the EPO.

Concern has been expressed regarding the high number of suicides of EPO employees, five in over three years. The EPO President Battistelli dismissed the suggestions -by EPO staff union SUEPO- of a possible link between the suicide and working conditions at the EPO as "totally inappropriate" and accused the staff union of "abusing a personal tragedy and inciting controversy". The EPO staff union SUEPO said that a direct link between the suicide and the working conditions had not been demonstrated but that the Dutch Labour Inspectorate should be given the opportunity of investigating the matter.