The European Patent Office will now automatically issue an Extended European Search Report for all European Patent Applications filed on or after 1 July 2005 for which a search is requested. An Extended European Search Report will consist of the usual search report plus an opinion as to whether the application, and the invention to which it relates, are patentable. Extended European Search Reports will also be issued for International (PCT) Applications filed on or after 1 July 2005 which subsequently enter the European regional phase.
The opinion is not a formal part of the examination procedure, and will not be published with the search report, although it will become publicly available when the application is published. However, it should provide applicants with more information about the patentability of their inventions at a relatively early stage.
Extended European Search Reports will enable applicants to make a more informed decision as to whether to pursue their application before they incur the cost of requesting examination. Indeed, if an applicant files a European Patent Application with a search request as their first patent application for a new invention, or shortly after their first patent application, they may well receive the Extended European Search Report before the end of the priority year, and have the report to hand when deciding whether or not to incur the costs of seeking international protection.
As well as providing more information, the Extended European Search Report may allow applicants to speed up the normal examination process. This is because arguments or amendments which take into account the search report and opinion can be submitted when a request for examination is filed. (It is also possible to request expedited examination of a European Patent Application by a separate procedure).
An aim of the Extended European Search Report is to increase the efficiency of the European Patent Office examination procedure. Under the new system, the Examiner will prepare the opinion at the same time as the search report, rather than formulating an opinion only when the first examination report issues, which can be several years later.
As a result of the introduction of the Extended European Search Report, the European Patent Office fee for a search (or a supplementary European search for an international application which has been searched in the international phase) has been increased to EUR 960 for applications filed on or after 1 July 2005 . However, there is a corresponding reduction in the examination fee to EUR 1280 for European or International Patent Applications for which an Extended European Search Report has been drawn up.