The European Patent Office regularly revises its official fee schedules and has done so as normal, with revised official fees being in effect from 1 April 2024. 

However, this year they have introduced a new “micro entity” status which will entitle qualifying applications to a 30% reduction in most of the key official fees which are payable to the EPO. 

This new feature which will be welcomed by many start-ups, small businesses and non-profit organisations such as Universities. 

The concept of different “entity status” is well established in the USA but is new for the field of European Patents. We welcome this as it will help make the European patent system more accessible to small businesses and to non-profits, but there is a potential sting in the tail if fees are paid at the wrong rate. 

There are two main criteria to qualify for the reduction in fees: 

  1. to be considered as a “micro-entity”; and 

  2. to have filed fewer than five patent applications with the EPO over the past five years (known as the “cap” criterion) 

In turn, a “micro-entity” is defined as any of 

  1. a microenterprise (employing fewer than 10 full-time persons and with an annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet total of up to EUR 2 million) 

  2. a natural person (i.e. an individual); or 

  3. a non-profit organisation, university or public research organisation 

The potential sting in the tail comes if fees are paid at the reduced rate. 

In that case, the EPO will treat an application as if a fee has been underpaid, and this can in some cases lead to a loss of rights, including the application being deemed to be withdrawn. 

The EPO will proactively monitor the “cap”. If they identify that an applicant claiming micro entity status has filed more applications in the past than are permitted by the cap, they will invite the applicant to pay the difference within a two-month period. 

However in other cases an application may be considered to be withdrawn unless the error is detected and corrected before the payment is due. 

As ever, a lot can hinge on the detailed definitions, and so if you are a borderline case (for example, employing nine people, or having a turnover close to the threshold), then care needs to be taken to make sure you are making a valid claim.  However, provided appropriate caution is taken to pay the fees at the correct rate we very much welcome this move by the EPO to make the system more accessible to micro enterprises and to universities and nonprofit research organisations. 

Of course in a wider context, the EPO does remain expensive for applicants and a holistic approach needs to be taken to determine the best filing strategy for your business.

 

Do get in touch if you want to chat through this new initiative from the EPO or to discuss your portfolio plans more generally. 

 

At Scintilla, we help innovative companies get a grip on their intellectual property. Our unique commercial approach combines registration of patents and trade marks with strategic input so that IP can be a springboard for business growth. If you would like to discuss your IP needs, do contact us or book a free initial consultation!