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EPO如何退還審查費?

退還審查費(refund of the examination fee)的前提是已經向EPO繳納了審查費,那麽既然已經提交了歐洲專利申請並且繳納了審查費,為何EPO要退還審查費呢?這就涉及到另一個問題:申請人對專利的布局。


在一件歐洲專利申請的審查過程中,如果考慮到該歐洲專利申請的技術已經被淘汰或者該歐洲專利申請在歐洲地區沒有市場應用前景等原因,申請人會選擇撤回該歐洲專利申請。如果此時申請人已經向EPO提出了審查請求(request for examination),則EPO需要向申請人退還其繳納的審查費。


接下來,ag亚游会循序漸進的了解一下與EPO Examining Division的審查和EPO如何退還審查費用有關的法律知識。


1何時提出審查請求?


在解答這個問題之前,ag亚游会先來看一下相關法條和實施細則的規定。


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 The request may not be withdrawn.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If the applicant fails to reply in due time to the invitation under paragraph 2, the application shall be deemed to be withdrawn.


從Rule 70中可以看出,提出審查請求的時間有兩個:


R 70(1) EPC規定:在收到國際檢索報告後提出審查請求。自歐洲專利公報上公布歐洲專利檢索報告之日起六個月內,申請人可以請求EPO對歐洲專利申請進行審查,此申請不可以撤回。


R 70(2) EPC規定:在提交歐洲專利申請的階段提出審查請求。如果申請人在歐洲專利檢索報告尚未傳送到之前已經提出了審查請求,EPO應在指定的期限內,邀請申請人就是否繼續對該歐洲專利申請進行審查表明態度,給予其就檢索報告發表意見的機會,並在需要時修改說明書、權利要求書和附圖。


需要注意的是,提出審查請求包括兩個部分:提交審查的書麵請求和繳納審查費。如果申請人僅僅提交了審查的書麵請求,但未繳納審查費,那麽該審查請求視為未提出。


2何時涉及EPO退還審查費?


在R 70(1) EPC規定的情形,申請人在收到檢索報告時還未提出審查請求,如果申請人參考檢索報告中審查員的意見後決定撤案,則不涉及EPO退還實質審查費的問題。


在R 70(2) EPC規定的情形,申請人在收到檢索報告之前,已經提出了審查請求,如果申請人此時不接受EPO根據Rule 70(2) EPC下發的邀請打算撤案,則涉及到EPO退還全部審查費的問題。


此外,如果在Rule 70(1) EPC的情形下,申請人提出了審查請求,或者在Rule 70(2) EPC的情形下申請人接受了EPO的邀請,則該歐洲專利申請將會進入實質審查(substantive examination)階段,此時申請人還有機會獲得EPO退還的審查費的50%的機會。


3EPO如何退還審查費


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(2) If no request for examination has been made in due time, the application shall be deemed to be withdrawn.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是關於歐洲專利申請審查的條款,共包括4段。Article 94(1) EPC規定:應申請人要求,EPO應當按照本公約《實施細則》的規定,審查歐洲專利申請及所涉及發明是否滿足本公約的要求。在申請人繳納審查費前,上述審查請求視為未提出。Article 94(3) EPC規定:如果審查發現該歐洲專利申請及所涉及發明不滿足本公約的要求,審查部門應當給予必要的機會,讓申請人發表意見,並根據Article 123(1) EPC的規定修改該歐洲專利申請。


Rule 71 EPC是關於實審程序的條款,共包括7段。Rule 71(3) EPC規定:審查部門在決定授予歐洲專利之前,應當通知申請人其打算授予專利的文本和相關的著錄項目數據。審查部門在此通知中,應要求申請人繳納授權及公布費,並在四個月期限內提交除程序中使用語言之外的兩種歐洲專利局官方語言的權利要求譯文。如果申請人繳納了上述費用且在規定期限內提交了譯文,視為申請人同意將要授權的文本。


Article 11 RFees是關於EPO退還審查費的條款,共包括2段。其規定了兩種退還審查費的情形。在Article 94(1) EPC成立的前提下,EPO應當退還審查費的兩種情況:


(a)全部退還。如果在審查開始之前,歐洲專利申請已經被撤回、被駁回或被視為撤回,則EPO應當退還全部審查費。


(b)退還審查費的50%。如果在審查開始後且在Article 94(3) EPC規定的第一次邀請的答複期限屆滿之前,該歐洲專利申請被撤回,則EPO應當退還審查費的50%;如果Examining Division未下發Article 94(3) EPC中的邀請但下發了Rule 71(3) EPC的通知,在審查開始後且在該通知答複期限屆滿之前,該歐洲專利申請被撤回,則EPO應當退還審查費的50%。


需要了解的是,在2016年7月1日之後,EPO才有全部退還審查費的規定。之前的舊規定EPO僅僅退還審查費的75%。


讀到這裏,便引出了一個問題:Article 11(a) RFees全部退還審查費的前提是before the substantive examination has begun。那申請人如何知道the substantive examination何時開始呢?難道隻能靠運氣或者盡快向EPO說明要撤案嗎?有沒有覺得交上去的錢,潑出去的水,再想要回來難於上青天?


其實並不然,EPO在做出Article 11(a) RFees規定的同時,還為申請人提供了一項額外的服務。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)中規定:


"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,對於某些歐洲專利申請,在可操作的情況下,EPO會在開始substantive examination之前的至少兩個月向申請人發送一份通知(EPO form 2919),告知申請人該案將要進入substantive examination。


申請人隻需要在該EPO form 2919提及的日期之前使得該歐洲專利申請被撤回或處於被視為撤回的狀態,便可以得到EPO退還的全部審查費。


Article 11(a) RFees的相關問題解決了,那ag亚游会再來看一下Article 11(b) RFees。在Article 11(a) RFees規定了三種情形:歐洲專利申請被撤回、被駁回或者被視為撤回;而Article 11(b) RFees僅規定了一種情形:歐洲專利申請被撤回。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)中規定:


"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,該Notice明確了歐洲專利申請在實質審查開始後被駁回或者被視為撤回的情形不包括在Article 11(b) RFees中。


對於歐洲專利申請在實審審查開始後被駁回的情況,根據Article 52 EPC和Article 97 EPC的規定,如果在實質審查開始後該歐洲專利申請被駁回,則說明EPO不認同申請人在檢索報告基礎上做出的爭辯或修改,認為該歐洲專利申請不滿足可授權條件,因此駁回該歐洲專利申請。這時說明該歐洲專利申請的審查程序已經結束了,EPO理所當然不會退還審查費的50%。


對於歐洲專利申請在實質審查開始後被視為撤回的情況,Article 11(b) RFees規定的退還審查費的兩種情形中,均要求在規定的答複期限結束之前該歐洲專利申請被撤回。如果申請人打算將EPO下發的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根據Article 94(4) EPC向申請人下發該歐洲專利申請視為撤回的通知。而該歐洲專利申請視撤通知的發文日肯定是在EPO下發的the first invitation或者communication所規定的期限之後了,此時也就不落入Article 11(b) RFees範圍了。因此EPO不需要向申請人退還審查費的50%。

綜上所述,如果申請人在提交歐洲專利申請的同時已經提出了實質審查請求,但在該專利申請被審查的過程中,不想繼續維持該專利申請,那麽就要分情況把握機會,爭取可以獲得全部或者部分EPO退還的審查費。