General Information about Patents in Europe and Germany

Patents are technical intellectual property rights having in Europe and Germany a maximal term of protection of 20 years beginning from the filing date. A European patent or German patent can protect substances, apparatus, methods and uses of technical devices, as long as they are novel, based on an inventive step and industrially applicable. It is also possible to protect computer programs in Europe and Germany by a patent provided that the program causes a technical effect or solves a technical problem using technical means. Inventions in the area of medicine and medical engineering can be covered by a patent in Europe and Germany under particular requirements.

An important requirement for grant of a patent is novelty. The invention must not be published, presented, distributed or the like, before filing a patent application in Europe or Germany. The invention may only be presented or distributed to persons or organisations bound by a non disclosure agreement. Neither the European Patent Convention nor the German Patent Act provides a grace period for patents, as is provided in the USA, Japan, Russian Federation and Canada for an example.

As in most industrial states, patent applications are examined before being granted in Europe and Germany, beginning with a search for prior art. During examination the applicant can restrict the invention over the prior art in reply to an office action by amending the claims within the original disclosure of the application. Thereby, it is important to keep the focus on the actually distributed product to ensure that the claims cover this product.

A European or German patent application is published 18 month after the filing date. For maintaining the applications renewal fees have to be paid. Within 12 month after filing an application in almost any state, a European or German patent application can be filed by claiming the priority of this application. Of course, up to 12 month after a filing a European or German patent application, a patent application or utility model can be filed in almost any other state claiming the priority of the European or German application.

Before a patent is granted, observations of third parties against the patentability can be filed and after grant an opposition can be filed during the respective opposition term. After the opposition term, nullity proceedings are available for revoking a patent.