We get this question fairly often.
Sometimes clients (even experienced patent attorneys) make the mistake of assuming the EPO is simply the patent office that caters to the countries of “Europe”. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that.
Without any additional context, the word “Europe” is generally used as shorthand for the European Union (the “EU”). The EU is a group of 27 member states that form a political and economic union with limited powers delegated to a central European parliament.
However, “Europe” for the purposes of patents is different. The member states of the European Patent Convention (the “EPC”) include a number of countries that aren’t members of the EU, such as Switzerland and Turkey.
Further complicating things is the fact that new countries are periodically added, either as full members of the EPC, or indirectly by becoming an extension state (extension states will be explained in another posting).
Simply looking up the list of EPO Member States on the EPO’s website can potentially be misleading. This is because (for a PCT application) whether a particular country is covered by a European regional phase filing is based on the International Filing Date rather than when the regional phase is entered.
Interestingly, the Norwegian patent office experienced an unexpected fall-off in national phase filings immediately after 1 January 2008 when it became a member state of the EPC. Maybe it was the financial crisis that was in full swing by that time, but it’s also possible some applicants made an incorrect assumption about Norway being included in all European regional phase filings after 1 January 2008.
So, what’s the easiest way to determine whether a particular country will be included in a European regional phase application from a particular PCT application?
Look at the PCT bibliographic cover sheet, and find the field headed “(84) Designated States”. After the word European, there is a bracketed list of country codes. This is the list of countries that will be covered by a European filing coming from this PCT application. If you don’t already know it, look up the country code for the country of interest, and see whether it’s in that list.