Inventions can be protected as patents or utility models on the grounds of the Patent Act and the Utility Model Act, which entered into force on 23 May 1994.
In 2021, 26 patent applications, 51 utility models applications and 41 applications for supplementary protection of medicinal products and plant protection products were filed (see statistics). Estonian applicants filed 24 patent applications and 36 utility model applications. Estonian applicants filed 3 international patent application for forwarding to WIPO. The Estonian Patent Office made 64 examination decisions (including 44 for supplementary protection of medicinal products and plant protection products) on patent applications and granted 8 patents. 42 examination decisions on utility model registration applications were made and 31 utility models were registered. The office made 44 decisions on applications for supplementary protection of medicinal products and plant protection products, and 35 supplementary protection certificates were granted.
By 31 December 2021, the number of pending applications was 55 patent and 67 utility model registration applications and 93 applications for supplementary protection of medicinal products and plant protection products.
Due to the fact that Estonia became a full member of the EPO in 2002, the number of filed patent applications has decreased year by year. As in 2003 the number of applications was ~15% less than in 2001 and 2002, in 2018–2021 it was already ~95% less. Another reason why the number of filed applications is smaller is that applicants no longer file the first application with the Estonian Patent Office, but directly with the EPO or a patent office of another country.
Patent protection is granted to all scientific and technological inventions. Computer programs, plant or animal varieties, and methods for treatment and diagnostic methods are not patentable.
In November 2008, the Estonian Patent Office began electronic reception of patent applications. The address is https://online.epa.ee/. Estonian ID card is required for the entry into the portal. An application can only be filed with the Estonian Patent Office after the applicant or the patent attorney has signed it digitally. 25 applicants (96%) used the possibility of e-filing of an application in 2021.
From the patent applications filed in 2021, 96% were filed by Estonian applicants and 4% by other applicants.
The Estonian Patent Office examines the compliance of filed patent applications with the formal requirements and carries out substantive examination of the invention, examining the novelty of the invention worldwide, the inventive step and industrial applicability.
In 2021 the main reasons for rejection or withdrawal of patent applications were the non-compliance of the invention with the patentability criteria (30% of cases), the non-compliance of the patent application with the formal requirements (20% of cases) or the applicant withdrew the patent application (20% of cases).
The average duration of the examination of a patent application is 37.0 months. The patent application is published in 18 months from the filing date or priority date. The registration of the invention in the register of patents is deemed the grant of a patent. A traditional letters patent is issued to the patentee.
The term of validity of the patent is 20 years from the filing date of the patent application; a renewal fee must be paid for each year of validity.
Since 1 January 2013, the Patent Department examines applications for supplementary protection for medical products and plant protection products. Supplementary protection for medical products and plant protection products is valid for five years after the patent has expired. Since 2000, the total number of filed applications is 471.
In 2015 The Estonian Patent Office joined the international pilot program of Global Patent Prosecution Highway – GPPH. Under GPPH a patent examination system is applied where – upon the request of the applicant – a participating patent office uses the results of other participating offices that have examined the same patent application, resulting in faster examination of the application. By the end of 2021, the search results of Estonian examiners have been used 19 times (US – 14, AU – 2, DE – 2 and RU – 1) and the Estonian Patent Office has used the results of USPTO twice. The statistics are published on the web page of the Japan Patent Office.
On 1 January 2017 the Estonian Patent Office joined the WIPO Digital Access Service (DAS), an electronic system for accessing priority documents. The DAS system allows applicants
- to add the first application document (priority document) to WIPO digital database via Estonian Patent Office as depositing Office;
- in case a priority exists, when filing an application, to present only an access code to the accessing Office to retrieve a document from WIPO digital database, not the document itself certifying the priority claim.
Service is applicable for national patent applications and utility model registration applications. Access to priority documents is only available to patent offices participating in WIPO DAS system. In 2021, 20 priority documents have been added to the WIPO DAS database upon the applicant’s request (11 patent applications and 9 applications for registration of a utility model).
Disputes concerning patents are resolved in the Industrial Property Board of Appeals and in court. In 2021, none of the decisions on a patent application made by the Estonian Patent Office were appealed.
8 patents granted in 2021 belong to Estonian owners.
Inventions can be protected by the European patent in Estonia since 1 July 2002, when Estonia became a full member of the European Patent Organization (EPO). Starting from that date Estonia can be designated in the European patent application as a state where a European patent is intended to be validated. Moreover, Estonian and foreign applicants can file a European patent application via the Estonian Patent Office to the EPO.
To validate a European patent in Estonia the proprietor should file a translation of the patent specification into Estonian with the Estonian Patent Office and pay the prescribed fee for making it available to the public within 3 months from the date of notification of the grant of the European patent by the EPO. Upon payment of an additional state fee, the term for submitting the translation can be extended by 2 months.
The European patent valid in Estonia is legally equal to the Estonian patent. The Estonian Patent Office keeps the register of the European patents valid in Estonia.
To keep a European patent valid in Estonia the proprietor has to pay a renewal fee for each year of validity, starting from the second year after the EPO has notified of the grant of the European patent. The state fee can be paid up to 6 months before the due date for payment or, in case of paying the supplementary fee, up to 6 months after the due date for payment. The due date for payment is the last day of the calendar month in which the year of validity of the European patent starts.
The first European patents entered into force in Estonia in 2004. In 2021, 1,670 European patent applications were filed, 1,660 (99%) of them electronically. By the end of 2021 there were 11,604 European patents valid in Estonia.
The same inventions that can be protected with a patent, can also be protected with a utility model (excluded are inventions concerning biotechnology).
Utility models differ from patents in the following aspects:
- registration system is applied;
- shorter examination time;
- requirements for the inventive step are less strict;
- combination of inventions cannot be protected, i.e the protection of for example method and device cannot be applied for with the same application;
- maximum term of validity is 10 years.
The Estonian Patent Office began electronic reception of utility model applications in November 2008. The address is https://online.epa.ee/.
Estonian ID card is required for the entry into the portal. Anyone can fill in the application for the registration of a utility model, but the application can be filed with the Estonian Patent Office only after the applicant or the patent attorney has signed it digitally. 44 applicants (86%) used the possibilities of e-filing of an application in 2021.
From the utility model applications received in 2021, 71% were from Estonian applicants, 8% from Switzerland applicants, 8% from Czech Republic, 6% from Finnish applicants and 7% from other applicants.
Only worldwide new inventions involving an inventive step and capable of industrial application may be protected by utility model. In the course of processing a registration application of a utility model, the Estonian Patent Office examines the compliance of the application with formal requirements and, according to the amendments to the Utility Models Act valid since 1 January 2012, carries out a state of art search. The Estonian Patent Office forwards the search report to the applicant. The applicant can make corrections and amendments in the application based on the report within two months from the issue of the search report, but it is not mandatory. If the invention is not new, not industrially applicable or does not have an inventive step, any person may file an action in court for revocation of the registration.
When the registration application complies with the requirements, the invention is registered in the register of utility models and a utility model certificate is issued. The average processing time of a utility model registration application is 14.5 months, which is a much shorter time compared to that of the patent application.
The term of legal protection of a utility model is four years from the filing date. After that, the term of protection may be renewed for up to 10 years by paying the renewal fee: initially for four years and after that for another two years.
Layout design of integrated circuit
On 16 March 1999 the layout designs of integrated circuits act entered into force. In 2021, no registration applications for the layout designs of integrated circuits were filed with the Estonian Patent Office.