I recently had the opportunity to go on the record with Roberta Romano-Götsch, chief operating officer of Mobility and Mechatronics at the European Patent Office (EPO). In part 1 of our interview, among other things, we discussed the reorganization of the EPO into three technology areas and began a discussion of autonomous driving technologies. We pick up here with autonomous driving, and how blockchain technologies will become an important aspect to realizing self driving technologies We then move on to discuss what the term “quality” means to the EPO, and then pivot into discussing the EPO’s upcoming Automotive and Mobility Seminar, which will take place in Chicago from September 26-27, 2018.
QUINN: I try not to sound like an old fuddy-duddy when I say those types of things. I am literally on my computer all day when I’m not traveling or lecturing. The most frustrating thing in the world is that spinning wheel of death, and I just think to myself, “My god.” I can only imagine being in an autonomous vehicle and seeing that and thinking to myself, “Oh boy.”
That’s the interesting thing about innovation, though, isn’t it, though? You never know when you’re going to get that one paradigm shift that makes it all possible.
ROMANO-GOTSCH: What we see from the patent applications point of view is that the technology is already there. Where more work is needed is government: rules and regulations still need to be ironed out, of course. In future we may not need driving licenses, because physically, the car will be self-driving, and there will be a lot of space saved in terms of parking lots, because people will not have to park their car. Everything will be optimised: the cars will “share” space depending on availability, and if they have too much fuel or electric charge, they will share it with the next car. And this is where blockchain comes in, to secure all these types of transactions.
QUINN: Oh my. I never thought of block chain in that way. So, there’s applications on that, I suppose, already?
ROMANO-GOTSCH: Yes there are. We are moving to a future where mobility is less of a good, and more of a service. You won’t own your car; you will simply have your own secured profile and get a car tailored to your personal preferences in terms of size, make, smell, configuration, etc.
QUINN: See, that’s where I suspect that you being from Europe and me being from America will cause a difference of opinion. I have usually lived in suburbs in America. Not real rural, but close enough. On the outskirts shall we say. A lifestyle, in that particular environment is dictated by having an automobile. Now, when I travel, the allure of just being able to walk out of the hotel and have an Uber there, waiting for you, is pretty fantastic. So, I can see what you’re describing working in an awful lot of areas.
ROMANO-GOTSCH: It goes even further. If you extrapolate into mobility more generally, you can also consider trucks. Imagine for example that in future you can have a truck where the driver does the difficult task of getting the truck outside the city, to the highway where the artificial intelligence takes over, and then you will have an autonomously driven truck that goes across the countryside to the center close to the next city, where a driver will pick it up and take it to the next destination. Blockchain will make sure that all the records are kept and secured, so you will know how much you load into the truck, the temperature, etc., and you will make sure that it arrives at its destination. There is no way to counterfeit that. You see how artificial intelligence, computer-implemented inventions and finally blockchain are all playing a role in this disruptive technology.
QUINN: I mean that’s literally A Brave New World when you start to think of that. My mind is spinning with all kinds of thoughts that would take us, I think, too far out of field from this interview, but would be a fascinating discussion. I don’t want to necessarily go down that path, too much today. I want to bring it back to the EPO specifically. What is your timeline for these types of applications? From the time you get them in to the average time that it takes to get granted, or finally disposed?
ROMANO-GOTSCH: Processing time varies quite a lot, depending on the type of industry, because applicants can actually tailor the procedure to their needs choosing from different filing routes. This influences the timeliness from filing to grant of the patent. That’s one of the aspects we would like to address at our seminar in Chicago. We launched the “Early Certainty” initiative several years ago to respond our users’ needs to speed up the patent-granting process. This means that today the EPO will provide you with a search report and a first patentability opinion in less than six months from receiving the application. In terms of substantive examination it takes a little less than two years to get the file done, with falling tendency.
QUINN: Tell me a little bit about this upcoming seminar in Chicago. What is it that you’re going to be speaking about? You are actually going to be there, yourself, correct?
ROMANO-GOTSCH: At the EPO Automotive & Mobility Seminar, we aim to increase knowledge about the way we work, and offer insight to applicants on how to optimize the drafting of patent applications in these areas. We will explain the EPO’s practice in the area of computer-implemented inventions and AI. To this end we will offer three interactive workshops, where participants will work on real cases. One of them, for example, will look at the intersection between AI and automotive. We will also give a number of general introductions. I will present recent developments in the automotive patent landscape, and also speak about some other highlights from the EPO. The seminar will also look at patent quality and how it matters to us: The patent attorney community in the end is like an aligned system – wherever you work in the world, the final aim is to achieve a high quality of the patents granted. It’s good to have a common basis and understanding of how to achieve this.
QUINN: Well let me ask you. When you use the word “quality,” that’s a word that gets used in the patent world an awful lot, and it’s one of those words that I find that means whatever is in the mind of the speaker. Maybe that is more of an American phenomenon, dealing with the USPTO, because over the past several years, the USPTO has been on this quality campaign. A lot of us who are patent attorneys in America believe that the quality campaign has been a way to blame patent attorneys and applicants for low quality patents, and a way for the Office to not take any responsibility for low quality examination. So, whenever somebody mentions quality, I ask: “What does quality mean to you?”
ROMANO-GOTSCH: Our mission at the EPO is to grant high-quality patents under the EPC, patents that are legally solid. Another important aspect is the quality of our services: the timeliness of our work which helps applicants and the public take informed decisions about next steps, and also affects our users’ level of satisfaction. Accordingly, we measure quality in three ways: one is the legal certainty that we provide with each search or examination as safeguarded by an internal operational quality control of our work products; the second is to see if we are meeting our time limit objectives, and we have indicators for that, and the third element is the feedback we receive from our users. Annual user satisfaction surveys are an important instrument in that respect, but we also hold regular meetings with our applicants and patent attorneys – from Europe and also from the US– and we regularly visit applicants to get their direct feedback. So it’s really a combination of these three elements.
QUINN: That’s interesting. Quality, for you, means EPO quality. I think that’s very interesting, very telling, about how the EPO views quality and quality control and is always looking internally. I think that probably has a lot to do with your increased numbers in applications over the years.
ROMANO-GOTSCH: One thing is certain: at the EPO quality is a policy. It’s fundamental to the way we work; it is our brand, our DNA. Globally we co-operate with other patent offices, for example through the IP5 (the world’s five largest patent offices) on improving quality. We make sure that we continue to exchange and learn from each other. We have a dedicated quality management system put in place to monitor and audit our processes, and our entire patent grant process is ISO 9001 certified. Continuous improvement is the basic principle – we’re always seeking to improve our quality.
QUINN: Well that’s great. I don’t have any other questions, myself, but I would like to give you an opportunity to conclude with any other thoughts that you might have. If there’s anything that I should have asked that I didn’t, or anything that you would like to convey to our readers.
ROMANO-GOTSCH: One thing I’d like to mention is that at the EPO is carrying out a study on patenting trends in the automotive industry, which is due to be published before the end of the year. This should provide some deeper insights into technological developments in this field.
QUINN: That would be great. I’d love to get a copy of that and take a look, and maybe we can, at the beginning of next year, circle back and talk about that.
ROMANO-GOTSCH: Yes, of course, I’d be more than happy to.
QUINN: Great, well thank you very much for your time.