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EPO如何退还审查费?

信息来源:合肥天明专利事务所     日期:2018-09-20     阅读:1192次

退还审查费(refund of the examination fee)的前提是已经向EPO缴纳了审查费,那么既然已经提交了欧洲专利申请并且缴纳了审查费,为何EPO要退还审查费呢?本文带你了解一下与EPO Examining Division的审查和EPO如何退还审查费用有关的法律知识。


退还审查费(refund of the examination fee)的前提是已经向EPO缴纳了审查费,那么既然已经提交了欧洲专利申请并且缴纳了审查费,为何EPO要退还审查费呢?这就涉及到另一个问题:申请人对专利的布局。


在一件欧洲专利申请的审查过程中,如果考虑到该欧洲专利申请的技术已经被淘汰或者该欧洲专利申请在欧洲地区没有市场应用前景等原因,申请人会选择撤回该欧洲专利申请。如果此时申请人已经向EPO提出了审查请求(request for examination),则EPO需要向申请人退还其缴纳的审查费。


接下来,我们循序渐进的了解一下与EPO Examining Division的审查和EPO如何退还审查费用有关的法律知识。


1何时提出审查请求?


在解答这个问题之前,我们先来看一下相关法条和实施细则的规定。


Rule 70  request of examination


(1) The applicant may request examination of the European patent application up to six months after the date on which the European Patent Bulletin mentions the publication of the European search report. The request may not be withdrawn. 


(2) If the request for examination has been filed before the European search report has been transmitted to the applicant, the European Patent Office shall invite the applicant to indicate, within a period to be specified, whether he wishes to proceed further with the application, and shall give him the opportunity to comment on the search report and to amend, where appropriate, the description, claims and drawings. 


(3) If the applicant fails to reply in due time to the invitation under paragraph 2, the application shall be deemed to be withdrawn.


从Rule 70中可以看出,提出审查请求的时间有两个:


R 70(1) EPC规定:在收到国际检索报告后提出审查请求。自欧洲专利公报上公布欧洲专利检索报告之日起六个月内,申请人可以请求EPO对欧洲专利申请进行审查,此申请不可以撤回。


R 70(2) EPC规定:在提交欧洲专利申请的阶段提出审查请求。如果申请人在欧洲专利检索报告尚未传送到之前已经提出了审查请求,EPO应在指定的期限内,邀请申请人就是否继续对该欧洲专利申请进行审查表明态度,给予其就检索报告发表意见的机会,并在需要时修改说明书、权利要求书和附图。


需要注意的是,提出审查请求包括两个部分:提交审查的书面请求和缴纳审查费。如果申请人仅仅提交了审查的书面请求,但未缴纳审查费,那么该审查请求视为未提出。


2何时涉及EPO退还审查费?


在R 70(1) EPC规定的情形,申请人在收到检索报告时还未提出审查请求,如果申请人参考检索报告中审查员的意见后决定撤案,则不涉及EPO退还实质审查费的问题。


在R 70(2) EPC规定的情形,申请人在收到检索报告之前,已经提出了审查请求,如果申请人此时不接受EPO根据Rule 70(2) EPC下发的邀请打算撤案,则涉及到EPO退还全部审查费的问题。


此外,如果在Rule 70(1) EPC的情形下,申请人提出了审查请求,或者在Rule 70(2) EPC的情形下申请人接受了EPO的邀请,则该欧洲专利申请将会进入实质审查(substantive examination)阶段,此时申请人还有机会获得EPO退还的审查费的50%的机会。


3EPO如何退还审查费


Article 94  Examination of the European patent application


(1) The European Patent Office shall, in accordance with the Implementing Regulations, examine on request whether the European patent application and the invention to which it relates meet the requirements of this Convention. The request shall not be deemed to be filed until the examination fee has been paid.


(2) If no request for examination has been made in due time, the application shall be deemed to be withdrawn. 


(3) If the examination reveals that the application or the invention to which it relates does not meet the requirements of this Convention, the Examining Division shall invite the applicant, as often as necessary, to file his observations and, subject to Article 123, paragraph 1, to amend the application.


(4) If the applicant fails to reply in due time to any communication from the Examining Division, the application shall be deemed to be withdrawn. 


Rule 71 Examination procedure


(1) In any communication under Article 94, paragraph 3, the Examining Division shall, where appropriate, invite the applicant to correct any deficiencies noted and to amend the description, claims and drawings within a period to be specified.


(2) Any communication under Article 94, paragraph 3, shall contain a reasoned statement covering, where appropriate, all the grounds against the grant of the European patent.


(3) Before the Examining Division decides to grant the European patent, it shall inform the applicant of the text in which it intends to grant it and of the related bibliographic data. In this communication the Examining Division shall invite the applicant to pay the fee for grant and publishing and to file a translation of the claims in the two official languages of the European Patent Office other than the language of the proceedings within four months. 


(4) If the European patent application in the text intended for grant comprises more than fifteen claims, the Examining Division shall invite the applicant to pay claims fees in respect of the sixteenth and each subsequent claim within the period under paragraph 3 unless the said fees have already been paid under Rule 45 or Rule 162.


(5) If the applicant, within the period laid down in paragraph 3, pays the fees under paragraph 3 and, where applicable, paragraph 4 and files the translations under paragraph 3, he shall be deemed to have approved the text communicated to him under paragraph 3 and verified the bibliographic data.


(6) If the applicant, within the period under paragraph 3, requests reasoned amendments or corrections to the communicated text or keeps to the latest text submitted by him, the Examining Division shall issue a new communication under paragraph 3 if it gives its consent; otherwise it shall resume the examination proceedings.


(7) If the fee for grant and publishing or the claims fees are not paid in due time, or if the translations are not filed in due time, the European patent application shall be deemed to be withdrawn.


Article 11 RFees  Refund of examination fee


The examination fee provided for in Article 94, paragraph 1, of the Convention shall be refunded:


(a) in full if the European patent application is withdrawn, refused or deemed to be withdrawn before substantive examination has begun;


(b) at a rate of 50% if the European patent application is withdrawn after substantive examination has begun and


- before expiry of the time limit for replying to the first invitation under Article 94, paragraph 3, of the Convention issued by the Examining Division proper or,


- if no such invitation has been issued by the Examining Division, before the date of the communication under Rule 71, paragraph 3, of the Convention.


Article 94 EPC是关于欧洲专利申请审查的条款,共包括4段。Article 94(1) EPC规定:应申请人要求,EPO应当按照本公约《实施细则》的规定,审查欧洲专利申请及所涉及发明是否满足本公约的要求。在申请人缴纳审查费前,上述审查请求视为未提出。Article 94(3) EPC规定:如果审查发现该欧洲专利申请及所涉及发明不满足本公约的要求,审查部门应当给予必要的机会,让申请人发表意见,并根据Article 123(1) EPC的规定修改该欧洲专利申请。


Rule 71 EPC是关于实审程序的条款,共包括7段。Rule 71(3) EPC规定:审查部门在决定授予欧洲专利之前,应当通知申请人其打算授予专利的文本和相关的著录项目数据。审查部门在此通知中,应要求申请人缴纳授权及公布费,并在四个月期限内提交除程序中使用语言之外的两种欧洲专利局官方语言的权利要求译文。如果申请人缴纳了上述费用且在规定期限内提交了译文,视为申请人同意将要授权的文本。


Article 11 RFees是关于EPO退还审查费的条款,共包括2段。其规定了两种退还审查费的情形。在Article 94(1) EPC成立的前提下,EPO应当退还审查费的两种情况:


(a)全部退还。如果在审查开始之前,欧洲专利申请已经被撤回、被驳回或被视为撤回,则EPO应当退还全部审查费。


(b)退还审查费的50%。如果在审查开始后且在Article 94(3) EPC规定的第一次邀请的答复期限届满之前,该欧洲专利申请被撤回,则EPO应当退还审查费的50%;如果Examining Division未下发Article 94(3) EPC中的邀请但下发了Rule 71(3) EPC的通知,在审查开始后且在该通知答复期限届满之前,该欧洲专利申请被撤回,则EPO应当退还审查费的50%。


需要了解的是,在2016年7月1日之后,EPO才有全部退还审查费的规定。之前的旧规定EPO仅仅退还审查费的75%。


读到这里,便引出了一个问题:Article 11(a) RFees全部退还审查费的前提是before the substantive examination has begun。那申请人如何知道the substantive examination何时开始呢?难道只能靠运气或者尽快向EPO说明要撤案吗?有没有觉得交上去的钱,泼出去的水,再想要回来难于上青天?


其实并不然,EPO在做出Article 11(a) RFees规定的同时,还为申请人提供了一项额外的服务。在Official Journal June 2016中的Notice from the European Patent Office dated 30 June 2016 concerning refunds of the examination fee (Article 11 of the Rules relating to Fees)中规定:


"To enable applicants to fully benefit from this refund, for certain files and if operationally possible the Office will inform them, at least two months beforehand, of the date on which it intends to start substantive examination."

由此可知,对于某些欧洲专利申请,在可操作的情况下,EPO会在开始substantive examination之前的至少两个月向申请人发送一份通知(EPO form 2919),告知申请人该案将要进入substantive examination。


申请人只需要在该EPO form 2919提及的日期之前使得该欧洲专利申请被撤回或处于被视为撤回的状态,便可以得到EPO退还的全部审查费。


Article 11(a) RFees的相关问题解决了,那我们再来看一下Article 11(b) RFees。在Article 11(a) RFees规定了三种情形:欧洲专利申请被撤回、被驳回或者被视为撤回;而Article 11(b) RFees仅规定了一种情形:欧洲专利申请被撤回。在Official Journal June 2016中的Notice from the European Patent Office dated 30 June 2016 concerning refunds of the examination fee (Article 11 of the Rules relating to Fees)中规定:


"Under Article 11(b) RFees as amended, 50% of the examination fee is refunded if the application is withdrawn before expiry of the time limit for replying to the first examining division communication under Article 94(3) EPC. Applicants will get this refund if they actively withdraw their application, but not if it is refused or deemed withdrawn after substantive examination has begun."

由此可知,该Notice明确了欧洲专利申请在实质审查开始后被驳回或者被视为撤回的情形不包括在Article 11(b) RFees中。


对于欧洲专利申请在实审审查开始后被驳回的情况,根据Article 52 EPC和Article 97 EPC的规定,如果在实质审查开始后该欧洲专利申请被驳回,则说明EPO不认同申请人在检索报告基础上做出的争辩或修改,认为该欧洲专利申请不满足可授权条件,因此驳回该欧洲专利申请。这时说明该欧洲专利申请的审查程序已经结束了,EPO理所当然不会退还审查费的50%。


对于欧洲专利申请在实质审查开始后被视为撤回的情况,Article 11(b) RFees规定的退还审查费的两种情形中,均要求在规定的答复期限结束之前该欧洲专利申请被撤回。如果申请人打算将EPO下发的first invitation或者communication置之不理(allow it to lapse by simply not filing a reply within the time limit set in the communication),以使得EPO根据Article 94(4) EPC向申请人下发该欧洲专利申请视为撤回的通知。而该欧洲专利申请视撤通知的发文日肯定是在EPO下发的the first invitation或者communication所规定的期限之后了,此时也就不落入Article 11(b) RFees范围了。因此EPO不需要向申请人退还审查费的50%。

综上所述,如果申请人在提交欧洲专利申请的同时已经提出了实质审查请求,但在该专利申请被审查的过程中,不想继续维持该专利申请,那么就要分情况把握机会,争取可以获得全部或者部分EPO退还的审查费。

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