For the Estonian Patent Office, 2021 was a year of numerous renewals as well as preparation for big changes.
On 1 April, the Estonian Patent Office took over some of the functions of the Ministry of Justice in the field of copyright. The change is related to the goal of the office becoming a competence centre for intellectual property rights. Competence centre advises entrepreneurs on intellectual property issues, ensures a fast and effective procedure for registering intellectual property and fast pre-trial resolution of disputes. Within the administrative area of the Ministry of Justice, the Estonian Patent Office is the most suitable institution to carry out these implementing tasks. As the various areas of intellectual property are closely interconnected, the underlying principles of these areas, problems (including in the enforcement of rights, awareness raising) and even potential beneficiaries (e.g. businesses) are similar.
At the beginning of the year, we prepared a new development plan for the Estonian Patent Office, which also includes the development of the copyright field. The first thing we did was adding a copyright section to the website. We are regularly updating it on copyright and related rights. We also took on responsibilities related to orphan works, and are working with the Ministry of Justice to be prepared to supervise the collective management organisations. In addition, organizing the work of the Copyright Committee.
In the summer we found out that in the next year we will move out of our office in Toompuiestee 7, where we have been located since its re-establishment in 1992. The move is part of the government’s plan, to which the Ministry of Justice also had to make a strong contribution. We are moving to the office on Tatari 39, where the Competition Authority and the Data Protection Inspectorate are already settled in. From 1 January 2022, the new Cooperation and Support Services Department, which is part of the Competition Authority, became responsible for the personnel work, communication and other support functions of the three offices, including the Estonian Patent Office. The Ministry of Justice plans to save 0.3 million euros per year by relocating and consolidating support services. The budget of the Estonian Patent Office for 2022 has already been reduced by this amount.
The good news is that at the same time as cutting real estate costs, the Minister of Justice has decided to direct money to the development of the copyright field. With this money, we can start developing copyright-related activities and continue to participate in projects that we have started with our partners. Also, we will emphasize copyright issues even more than before in our communication. The Intellectual Property Law Department, which will primarily focus on copyright, will be operational from January 2022, and its successful launch is part of the new year’s work plan.
I feel that we have already done a great deal to get closer to our users, but the road must continue. User-friendliness is one of our key beliefs and, in cooperation with our partners, we have taken a significant step forward in this regard. For example, let’s look at the accelerated procedure for trade mark applications – we announced it last autumn, but the first year has now confirmed that this was a much-anticipated opportunity. Almost 50% of national applicants want an accelerated procedure. A very well-received update is also a timeline for the application in the public database of trade marks, which allows applicants to follow the path of their application at the Estonian Patent Office. In order to increase the transparency of our activities, we are now drafting a set of procedural guides that will be made available to the public and will provide a clear picture of the procedures taken to protect industrial property. A procedural guide on patents and patent applications is ready, and the trademark procedural guide will be completed in the next year.
During the year, we switched to paperless processing, and the keywords for 2022 are completion of the digitization of paper files and the new processing software for inventions. This enables the introduction of a user-friendly self-service environment, through which the applicant can perform operations in the Estonian Patent Office’s e-services and monitor the timeline of the applications and registered inventions, trademarks and designs.
We are also moving closer to entrepreneurs by educating them. Throughout the year, we organized free online seminars where our specialists, along with patent attorneys, shared knowledge with anyone who is interested. Feedback has been extremely positive. This year, a total of 18 information events took place, with a total of 597 participants. The most popular ones have been trade mark seminars – every company after all should have a trade mark! And with entrepreneurs in mind, our new tool, the IP-sorter (available only in Estonian), is available to everyone on the website to help determine which type of industrial property the company may have and how to protect it. Entrepreneurs also had the opportunity to gain new knowledge from the intellectual property day quiz and video clips, where Alev Ström and the Useless Man, who are already familiar to us, stepped up.
One sign of openness is the Estonian Patent Office’s blog, through which current intellectual property topics also reach the media and general public. For the eighth time, we presented the best young inventor at the annual Estonian Contest for Young Inventors with the Estonian Patent Office Award and the WIPO trophy. This competition demonstrates the need of starting early to communicate these seemingly difficult principles in simple terms. We see that children have an interest and desire to protect the results of their work, and we have also added instructional materials to our website.
We also made a video clip in the summer where you can see young inventors coming up with new products and trade marks. I invite all teachers and tutors to use it in their teaching! Cooperation with universities will certainly continue in the new year to increase students’ awareness of intellectual property.
Although the main role of the Estonian Patent Office is the protection of national intellectual property, it is also an active institution internationally. The expertise follows the practice agreed in Europe and we also take the initiative in developing it. International cooperation is a part of our day-to-day work. Even looking at next year’s work plan, we can see that international cooperation is a good part of the plan. I commend our staff for participating in the working groups of the European Union Intellectual Property Office and the European Patent Office. Our experts’ high level of knowledge and expertise has been noted! We are participating in the work groups on harmonising procedural practices, as well as contributing to the development of new IT solutions. We began participating in small business work groups, and the results of our efforts allow us to provide specialized services and support to Estonian entrepreneurs.
In the previous yearbook, there were concerns about the national applications being at an all-time low. This year, there has been plenty of reason to celebrate. All the lows of the previous year had been forgotten already at the end of November, when we exceeded all the results in accepting the applications. Direct communication with entrepreneurs and our communication work has borne fruit. Although almost all the meetings and information events have been virtual due to the pandemic, this has been a favourable opportunity for those who have not previously found a suitable time or place to participate.
Industrial property has always been protected by law on a territorial basis. This means that every entrepreneur, inventor, creator, must know where and how strong protection they need. There are many reasons to look at national industrial property, I suggest reading the example of the trade mark industry on our blog (only available in Estonian). In the coming year, there will be more decision-making. Businesses will soon have the opportunity to protect their invention with a UP (unitary patent), in other words a European Union patent. We will introduce this topic in more detail in the new year, when all preparations for the new patent system have been completed.
Speaking of the 2022 plans, one of the most important new activities are the creation of the Intellectual Property Law Department, the launch of a copyright committee and renewed cooperation with collective management organisations. A new information system for inventions has been awaited for a long time, and we received our final financial approval only in December. And, of course, we want to find a positive solution in changing the financing model of the Estonian Patent Office. The revenues of the office have always exceeded the costs several times, which would enable the development of the field even faster. Our aim is for all the fees collected from users to return to the development of the industry, so that it supports businesses and other interest groups and cooperation. To that aim, beginning in the new year, we will continue to collaborate with the Ministry of Justice.
I can state with confidence that much has been accomplished and that there is yet much more to come. I thank all the partners and colleagues for what we have achieved together last year. I dare say that an open, fast, friendly, innovative and efficient intellectual property office that is open to users and cooperation is the goal we want and we will undoubtedly achieve.