The European Patent Office (EPO) examines European patent applications and issues European patents, enabling inventors, researchers and companies from around the world to obtain protection for their inventions. Via a centralised and uniform procedure just one application is required to gain protection in up to 44 countries in Europe and beyond.

As the patent office for Europe, we are proud to deliver high-quality patents and efficient services that foster innovation, competition and economic growth across Europe.  

The history of the European Patent Office

In 1947 the International Patent Institute (IIB) was established to research patent applications for Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. This was in line with the post-war concept of setting up European institutions to secure peace in Europa. A fair and transparent patent system which promotes transnational trade, contributes to the stability, peace, prosperity and economic development in Europe which are needed after the sufferings of the Second World War. Later, five more countries join the IIB: Turkey (1955), Monaco (1956), Switzerland (1960), the United Kingdom (1965) and Italy (1974). The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government, becomes the home of the Insitute.

The origins of the EPO itself date back to 1978, when the IIB integrated into the European Patent Organisation, which was created in Munich in 1977. In the same year, Johannes Bob van Benthem, one of the founding fathers of the European Patent Organisation, was elected first president of the EPO. Throughout the EPO’s early years, he gave further momentum to the office’s rapid development. The first European patents are granted in 1980. Now, 40 years later, the EPO has become the second largest international organization in Europe, and the largest in the Netherlands. In 2019, the EPO received more than 181,000 patent applications.

With our current activities, the EPO has become a driver of the transformation of Europe into a smart, competitive and forward-looking economy. In addition, we recognise that we are part of a wider community and take our responsibility for the environment and the cities we work in seriously. We are committed to society as a whole, by making an impactful contribution to a smarter, safer and more sustainable world with our activities. Not only do we advocate environmental awareness and implement eco-friendly policies, we also support European cultural activities with a special focus on contemporary art.

The current EPO in the Netherlands

The EPO in Rijswijk currently employs over 2,600 people, including about 360 Dutch nationals. The EPO is an important economic engine in the area. A recent study shows that 8.5% (5.800) of all jobs in Rijswijk are directly or indirectly related to the EPO. In total, the EPO employs approximately  6,600 people  in Munich, Rijswijk, Vienna, Berlin and Brussels. Approximately 440 of them are from the Netherlands.

Our work

Our patent examiners work at the forefront of technology, dealing with the latest and most challenging technical innovations on a daily basis. In 2019, the EPO received 181,406 patent applications. These applications are judged on, among other things, clarity of description and technical characteristics, novelty and inventiveness. For the latter, we have hundreds of millions of documents carefully classified for this purpose.

Applications within digital technology are particularly of interest: major technology providers such as Samsung and LG are the top applicants worldwide. The largest applicant in the Netherlands is Philips. Check out the patent index 2019  and our website for the most up-to-date information.

Would you like to know more about the application process for a European patent? Check here for more information or follow our e-learning module.

Dutch inventors

In the past five years, as many as five Dutch people have been distinguished with a European Inventor Award. With this prestigious award, the EPO annually honours inventors from Europe for exceptional innovations that have made a special contribution to social development, technical progress and economic growth. Last year, Rik Breur won the award with his innovative antifouling technology for ships.

Video: Winner European Inventor Awards: Dr. Laura van ‘t Veer about her gene-based breast cancer test.

Also listen to our ‘Talk Innovation’ podcast, that provides perspectives on innovation today through interviews with experts such as former winners of the European Inventor Awards.

Click here for more specific information about the winners and nominees of the European Inventor Awards.

Our office in Rijswijk

After 40 years of being based in the ‘Tower Building’ in Rijswijk, the EPO decided that this building no longer met the requirements of a modern working environment. The ‘New Main’ was designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel Main (FR) and Dam & Partners (NL) and in June 2018 this new building was officially opened by his majesty king Willem-Alexander. The demolition of the former tower building was completed last summer (2020). On the site of the former building, a large pond is now being created. This project will be completed in May 2021.

Key characteristics of the new building are excellent design, quality, flexibility, innovation and sustainability. The aim was ambitious: to provide an attractive, high-quality working environment for our staff that at the same time is a bold example of contemporary architecture and symbolises the EPO’s mission to foster innovation in Europe.

With a budget of around 205 million euros, the ‘New Main’ was one of the biggest office construction projects in the Netherlands and a prime example of a challenging steel/glass construction. It is fully financed by the EPO and represents the largest single investment of the EPO in the Netherlands in forty years.

We invite you to visit our website to learn more about our way of working, our services and our people.

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