The year 2020 was colourful and full on work for the Patent Office. There was something new in all areas of industrial property. The accelerated procedure for trade mark applications – a renewal in the area of trade marks intended for all applicants – was received very well and the percentage of applicants requesting faster procedure is growing. As far as inventions are concerned, it should be pointed out that procedural instructions for patent applications and patents have been compiled and published. These intructions ensure legal clarity and equal treatment of applicants, but also help the applicant to understand the course of the procedure and make the examination process more transparent.
In 2020, we continued to modernise our information systems and move towards a paperless procedure. In cooperation with EUIPO, we updated the information system of trade mark and industrial design procedure and a significant amount of work was done to develop a new information system for inventions. In addition, the information system for the processing of inventions, which has been in use for years, was installed on a new platform to ensure the reliability of the system until new software will be available.
Last year also resulted in a number of events confirming that the approach of the Patent Office is sustainable, efficient and flexible. In 2019, the quality management system of the Patent Office was certified, a surveillance audit was carried out in 2020 to maintain the ISO certificate. ISO certificate guarantees the quality of the services provided by the Patent Office – our services are accessible, reliable and secure both now and in the future.
In November, the Patent Office joined the Estonian Human Rights Centre's Diversity Charter. The year 2020 certainly gave a new meaning to remote work as well. It has become a natural part of the everyday life of the Office, and our employees appreciate that they can better reconcile their work and family life.
On the international side, there is no overcoming Brexit, which meant changes to the European Union trade mark system, but also pointed out, for example, the issue of the location of the European Patent Court. On the subject of brexit, I would recommend reading the Office blog, where many other practical recommendations and advice can also be found.
Another significant change was the fact that all international cooperation was directed into e-channels – both with international organisations (EPO, EUIPO, WIPO) and regionally in the framework of cooperation with the Nordic and Baltic countries. At the same time, it provided an opportunity to share our progress even more actively with others: at the beginning of December, in cooperation with EUIPO, we presented to all interested EU Member States our procedural software developments and novel digital solutions (accelerated procedure, application timeline, etc.).
When it comes to the impact of the COVID 19 virus on industrial property, it must be said that industrial property protection is in correlation with industrial and economic development. All the ups and downs are carried along, sometimes with a larger, sometimes smaller delay. The number of patent applications is record-breaking low. Since Estonia's accession to the European Patent Convention in 2002, the number of patent applications has been 30–50 national applications per year (before accession, it was was 700–800 applications per year). By the end of the year, we had received only 24 patent applications. This is the trend, in fact, across Europe – at the expense of national applications, European-centered applications are preferred. Therefore, we intend to keep a focus on the informing activities concerning the legal protection of inventions and cooperation with research institutions and business organisations in this regard. The importance of inventing activities is also reflected in the contribution of the Patent Office to the recognition of participants in the Estonian Contest for Young Inventors. As a result of a series of coincidences, the Patent Office had the opportunity last year to hand over the young inventor prize twice with WIPO.
But we can talk much more optimistically about trade mark protection, where the number of filed applications is surprisingly high. If patent protection can be used for up to 20 years, there is no such restriction for trade marks – the legal protection of a trade mark may be almost permanent in favourable circumstances. In the light of the future, it is reasonable to find a way to extend the validity of the trade mark even at difficult times, so as not to regret the loss of the trade mark in the future.
The experience so far of coming out of crises and low times gives reason to believe that difficult times make people entrepreneurial, innovative and clever. World practice has shown that before real economic growth, the number of inventions can already be seen to rise as we emerge from the crisis. Of course, it also requires informed direction and support for the business sector.
The emergency situation gave us a good opportunity to review all processes – especially e-services – and legislation, and we can assure that, even in the most difficult circumstances, Estonian system of industrial property protection works firmly and impeccably. The Patent Office took a case-by-case approach in most cases, but also drew up guidelines on how the Patent Office can meet applicants and holders of industrial property rights half way during the emergency situation.
Last year also gave a boost to activities planned for 2021 – the Amendment to the Copyright Act passed in December extends the functions of the Patent Office. The Office is planning to become a competence centre for intellectual property, which will also be consulted on copyright issues in the future.
In order to provide some relief in a crisis situation, EUIPO initiated a project to support small enterprises by compensating 50% of trade mark application state fees. The project will be implemented in the course of 2021, where 20 million EUR will be distributed to the European Union enterprises as a grant.
2020 provided an opportunity to increase the share of virtual services, including the training sessions provided by the Office, which are all on-line now.
We also continued our excellent cooperation with universities and other research institutions, including discussing joint future plans with the Universities Estonia association. We renewed our cooperation relationships with a wide range of business organisations.
Finally, I would like to thank all my colleagues and cooperation partners, with whom, in retrospect, we have successfully come through all the difficulties of last year.