Special interview with Mariana Karepova, the President of the Austrian Patent Office

IPKat had the pleasure of being in the audience as the President of the Austrian Patent Office, Mariana Karepova, spoke about IP from the Austrian perspective. Her words piqued our interest and we were delighted when President Karepova agreed to be interviewed by IPKat to further describe IP law and practice in her country. The interview is set out in full below.

Question 1-- President Karepova, to help us better focus the interview, you graciously provided us with a copy of the 2017 Annual Report of the Austrian Patent Office. In a word, the Report is unlike any other annual report that we have ever seen—separate folio pages bound only with a cord, conveying a sense of both the past and the future (including a VR capability). What was behind producing an Annual Report in this fashion?

The creativity and inventiveness of the people seeking IP protection are at the very core of our daily business. It is impressive to see all those great ideas turn into inventions, a considerable number of which are so totally new. We just can’t help but be inspired and influenced by our clients’ spirit. Our annual report is one occasion where this influence comes to daylight and mirrors what we receive from our clients. The concept is rather simple but it was executed with a love for details and it has a very practical aspect to it. The separate folio pages – especially those on our services, are reused as flyers and promotion material at events, fairs and festivals. That saves us time and money. The cover artwork is the outcome of a contest amongst art students, celebrating young and upcoming talent. All in all, it was simply important for us to shed the somewhat stuffy image of a 120- year old office and to engage young people, from universities and start-ups alike.

Question 2--The Report mentions that electrical machinery, measuring, transport and mechanical components are the areas in which Austrian inventors have been most active patent-wise, with digital communications, semiconductors and computing also seeing a significant increase in patent filings. Why do you think that this is so?

To put it simply, these technology fields reflect the industrial structure of Austria. All types of mechanical engineering and transport technologies “predominate” in our industry. However, what the number of applications in the recent past also reflects is a change, or should I rather say, a broadening into such areas as digital communication, semiconductors and computing. I think we’re already beginning to notice the fourth industrial revolution a bit.

Question 3--Following up on the previous question, areas such as biotech and medical devices were not mentioned. Do you have any thoughts why this is the case?

On the one hand, biotech and medical devices are strongly represented in Austria’s research and development arena. Take “BioCenter Vienna”, for instance. Here you have a research cluster in the field of biotech with more than 1,700 employees and 1,300 students from approximately 70 countries, and which is working extremely well. The scope of BioCenter Vienna’s fundraising at the international level testifies to this. On the other hand, it must be said that it is never possible to establish a failsafe equation, according to which so much ongoing scientific research will invariably result in so many patent applications.

One other aspect also has to be taken into account. Our largest and most innovative pharmaceutical company, Boehringer Ingelheim, has a German "mother“ if I may call it that, which accordingly means that its patent division is in Germany as well. This is just one example of many. Such a constellation of relationships quite often determines patent strategy. Even if the entire research division is centered in Austria (which is often the case), the actual patenting might very likely take place at the site of the corporation’s headquarters. In spite of this, however, patentable biotech is probably going to experience a strong upsurge in Austria in the medium term, I should think.

Question 4-- The Report discusses several initiatives in connection with the Patent Office. Those that particularly drew IPKat's attention are Albert, the IP Academy, IP Hub and the provisional patent application. Would you like to comment on these initiatives?

For years, large innovative companies that are strong in patents have been our good customers. They know exactly what they want from us and we in turn know exactly how to satisfactorily meet their expectations and make them happy! What they expect in short are searches and examinations of the highest quality and precision carried out as quickly as possible.

However, with younger and smaller companies, it is different: we can only service them if and when these actually approach us. I must admit that quite a number of barriers still exist and need to be removed in this regard! All our new services, such as Albert Patent Bot, IP Academy, IP Hub, as well as the provisional patent application, aim to help start-ups, founders, makers and SMEs make a conscious decision on what to do with their intellectual property. These clients are often newcomers to the IP system. We know from European surveys that only nine percent of these newcomers hold an IP right. That’s way too small. So we are putting a lot of effort into changing the situation. And that’s how we try to accomplish the goal of giving basic advice 24-7-365. That’s why we created Albert, our patent chat bot and virtual colleague, making IP knowledge accessible for free. We do that via the IP Academy.

As far as the protection of intellectual property is concerned, there is a great deal of available funding in Austria. While the fact that so many sources of funding exist is laudable, the downside is the confusing complexity of the range of support. Thanks to our initiative it was possible to bring together 70 partners and subsequently to evolve a kind of “customer journey”, which may sound trivial but which none the less is greatly utilized. Sometimes a seemingly insignificant effort may result in a truly significant effect! We help find them grants and free services on the IP Hub.

And finally, when it comes to filing a patent, we make that as easy as possible with the provisional application. All of these initiatives very much support smaller regional players. Looking at the economic data, one can see that they are our economy’s backbone. Therefore, every effort we make to support them is an investment in our economy and our national wealth.

Question 5—How would you characterize the start-up environment in Austria and to what extent is the Austrian Patent Office engaged with such entrepreneurs?

The Austrian Start-up Ecosystem is currently focused primarily on the Vienna region. But we are happy to see as well the presence of well-developing clusters in other bigger cities in the country. Two thirds of the start-ups consider themselves as part of the digital industry. And more than one-half actually already have a marketable product and are about to generate their first revenues. This “Start-up Stage” is very crucial when it comes to IP rights, because it means that they go public, trying to reach as many people as possible within their target group. But before they do so, they should already have made some sound decisions on how to handle their IP.

Engaging with entrepreneurs at this stage is essential. And we do so successfully at events, fairs and festivals. We tell and teach them to be conscious of what to pitch on stage. And we try to break the ice between them and the IP system by providing friendly and easy-to-use services and information. We help them to find an answer to the question: “What is your defensible competitive advantage?” Investors love to ask that for a good reason. And the start-ups had better have a good answer ready!

Question 6--The Report mentioned an agreement that will make it much easier for Austrian companies to obtain patent protection in China. Are you contemplating entering such agreements with other countries?

Yes, that is our strategy. We have such agreements, both global and bilateral, in force with 26 countries. We approach this issue strategically and predominantly negotiate with those countries with which we enjoy the greatest technological interaction. Finalizing such an agreement is, however, merely a first step. It is of paramount importance to keep up with an agreement’s actual development and ensure its positive operation in the real-life world. For instance, to verify whether companies really do obtain patents more quickly and easily and, if this is not the case, to determine what is responsible for the malfunctioning of the new arrangements that the agreement intends to put into effect. Sometimes, the practices and peculiarities of other patent offices are not readily understood or appreciated. This is what often makes intensive bilateral exchange absolutely imperative. The getting together of patent offices and mutually analyzing the relevant cases is in itself a fundamental step in the process of better understanding one another.

Question 7—What do you think people in the IP profession most get wrong when they think about IP practice in Austria?

I confess I’m proud whenever I say that the Austrian IP system’s efficiency and professionalism is quite often underestimated, something which can probably be attributed to the small size of the country and its seemingly negligible market size. We have the good fortune to be able to call upon highly qualified professionals of our own, both amongst patent attorneys as within the Patent Office, and we are thus in a position to offer a truly comprehensive examination system. Patent experts are also involved at all levels of the pertinent jurisdiction.

Question 8-- Are there any other aspects of the Austrian Patent Office that you would like to bring to the attention of IPKat readers?

Our Patent Voucher. The Patent Voucher paves the way for start-ups to receive competent advice suited to their particular needs regarding the critical issue of whether their innovations are in principle patentable. This invaluable advice, as well as financing (up to 80 % of the costs involved, i.e. up to 10.000 EUR!), which can be obtained through the Patent Voucher, has immensely increased the accessibility of Austria’s system of intellectual property protection. In doing so, the Patent Voucher has attracted new customers to the Austrian Patent Office and reached Austrian regions with relatively poorly developed R&D sectors.

IP in the software domain. The new industrial revolution as well as the Internet of Things entail a preponderance of software in practically all innovations. However, neither Austria, nor Europe more generally, is presently able to provide patent protection for this aspect of an innovation. This is an extremely unsatisfactory situation. In order to rectify this, we’re currently contemplating a Patent Office copyright or software register, which would provide companies with a robust legal instrument enabling them to enforce their rights with a greater chance of success. At least that’s what we’re discussing right now in Austria.

What many patent offices are concerned with is developing into digital offices. We embarked on this digitalization path approximately 10 years ago. Until now, online applications account for 68% of the patent, and 70% of the trademark, applications. This, however, is only one aspect of the Office’s progress respecting digitalization. Currently we’re working on full digitalization of the complete procedure involving trademarks and designs as carried out at our front and back offices. We’re doing this in cooperation with and the support of the EUIPO in Alicante.

On behalf of IPKat, thank you President Karepova.

By Neil Wilkof

Photo on upper right by Husar.

Photo on lower right by Ncsakany, who has released it to the public domain.

Special interview with Mariana Karepova, the President of the Austrian Patent Office Special interview with Mariana Karepova, the President of the Austrian Patent Office Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Friday, October 19, 2018 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. I would have asked the question as to when they are proposing signing up to the London Agreement.


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