The European Patent Organisation (EPO) is an intergovernmental organisation currently having 27 member states (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Portugal, Rumania, Sweden, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and United Kingdom). In a near future three further countries will become members of the European Patent Convention (Lithuania, Latvia and Poland). The executive body of the European Patent Organisation - the European Patent Office - has its seat in Munich, a branch in The Hague and sub-offices in Berlin and Vienna.
In cooperation with the national patent offices of the member states the EPO supports a Network of patent information centres ("PATLIB Centres") throughout Europe having evolved from a grouping of national PATent LIBraries widely distributed in the member states. A numbers of PATLIB Centres are located in national patent offices and universities. The main aim of the PATLIB Network is for the patent information centres to be able to communicate and to work with each other in a feasible and convenient way.
The PATLIB Centres provide patent information by searching available national and international patent databases. Depending on the national system for intellectual property rights, many Centres additionally provide information on other intellectual property rights like trademarks, design and models. The PATLIB staff performs searches for their clients or provides advice in searching or using patent information made available in the Centre's public library. A number of Centres have developed patent awareness modules, workshops or training programmes for their users. Some Centres cooperate with patent attorneys or business advisers who regularly visit the Centre to provide clients with advice in the area of intellectual property rights. A number of Centres have acquired their own specific profile by providing special services and products. Examples of specialities are pro-actively contacting potential clients such as small and medium size enterprises ("SMEs") who are generally nor able to afford an in-house information bureau and offering assistance, organising so called "patent clinics" where clients can make appointments to obtain basic advice from patent attorneys or business advisors free of charge and providing interactive training packages.
PATLIB users may be students, inventors, researchers, small and medium sized enterprises ("SMEs"), patent agents or members of the general public.
The PATLIB system is beneficial for users for several reasons. The PATLIB Centres form part of the public sector so they are non-profit instances. As a result users may only be charged minimal costs of usage. Furthermore, the PATLIB Centre staff is familiar with the national system of intellectual property rights. They are proficient in local languages and are aware of local service needs.
One aspect of the support to the PATLIB Network provided by the European Patent Office is the organisation of an annual PATLIB Conference for the Centres. The PATLIB Conference takes place in a different European city each year and is organised in close cooperation between the Vienna sub-office of the EPO and the national patent office of the host country. During the three Conference days the participants are briefed about PATLIB activities in the host country, learn about different developments on the patent information market as well as in the EPO and are presented with reports on certain bilateral or multilateral cooperation projects between a member state and the EPO. External speakers from institutions and academia are invited to present results of their work or their point of view on "hot topics" in the patent field. Workshops with demonstrations and discussion groups are organised for smaller numbers of participants within the framework of the Conference. In parallel with the Conference training courses for the general public or specific user groups (for example "SME's", students, patent attorneys)is organised. Furthermore, a public exhibition on patents and patent information products is held in parallel with the Conference. Participation in the PATLIB event is free of charge but registration in advance for the Conference itself and the training courses is required. After the event the PATLIB Proceedings are produced and distributed free of charge.
Another aspect of the support is the production of the PATLIB Address Directory which is also provided free of charge to all interested circles. The Directory contains the contact data of the individual Centres as well as information on products and services provided by the PATLIB Network.
Within the framework of the multilateral co-operation programme with the EPO member states on patent information training, PATLIB Centres are entitled to benefit from seminars and courses organised upon request of the national offices at premises proposed by them. The EPO offers standard courses on patent information products as well as tailored and customised courses on patent information related issues.
As a further important support function the EPO provides the Centres with patent information on CD-ROM free of charge upon request.
The PATLIB Network continually expands. In 1995, there were 116 Centres. In October 2003, the number had increased to 283.
In several member states an expansion of the local PATLIB Network with smaller patent information units in addition to new Centres is planned. Such a system is already implemented in Italy, the so-called Patent Information Points ("PIPs").
Please visit the PATLIB pages on the EPO Homepage: http://www.european-patent-office.org/epidos/conf/patlibal.htm
The site provides E-mail links to contact the EPO PATLIB Team for further information.