EPO fee reductions for micro-entities
From 1 April 2024, the European Patent Office (EPO) is improving access to the European patent system for ‘micro-entities’ by implementing a 30% discount on the main fees for European patent applications or international applications that have entered the European phase.
Micro-entities eligible for this reduction include the following:
- Microenterprises, i.e. an enterprise which employs fewer than 10 persons and whose annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet total does not exceed EUR 2million;
- natural persons;
- non-profit-organisations, universities and public research organisations.
To qualify for the reduction, the micro-entity must have:
- filed fewer than five European applications (including entering the European phase for an international application) in the five years preceding the application for which the reduction is requested; and
- expressly declared their status as one of the above-mentioned micro-entities.
Comparison with existing fee reductions
Previously, a 30% reduction of the filing and examination fees was only available to small, EPC-based entities filing their patent application or examination request in an official language of that state other than English, French or German. For example, a natural person resident in Italy would qualify for a 30% reduction of the filing fee if the European patent application were filed in Italian, but not if the application were filed in English, French or German.
While that reduction scheme will still be available for small entities, from 1 April 2024 micro-entities can access a 30% fee reduction irrespective of the language in which the application is filed and irrespective of their residency or principal place of business.
Similarly to the language-related reductions, where there is more than one applicant, each must meet the above qualifications. A change in the status of an entity must be notified to the EPO and any fees due after the change in status must be paid at the normal level.
More fees to be reduced
The reductions for micro-entities that meet the above requirements are available for a wider range of fees, namely: the filing fees, the search fee, the examination fee, the designation fee, the fee for grant and the renewal fees for the European patent application.
For International applications entering the European phase where the EPO was not the International Searching Authority (ISA), the supplementary European search fee will be reduced. Where the EPO was the ISA, the previously paid international search fee will be retroactively reduced, provided that the examination fee is paid on or after 1 April 2024.
Notably, the micro-entity-related reduction can be combined with the language-related reduction, such that the 30% discount can be applied twice, leading to an overall 51% reduction in the filing and examination fees.
Short term timing of fee payments
The introduction of this scheme on 1 April 2024 coincides with the general increase in official fees, as previously reported. Normally, it is more cost-effective to pay fees before any increase, in order to benefit from the lower fee. However, in view of the new fee reduction scheme, it may be beneficial for micro-entities to wait until the 1 April 2024 to pay fees if permitted by the relevant deadline.
For example, the current fee for grant (i.e., before 1 April 2024) is 1,040 EUR and the fee for grant after 1 April 2024 will be 1,080 EUR. For a Rule 71(3) EPC communication dated 29 November 2023, the four-month deadline for paying the grant fee, amongst the other required acts, would normally be 29 March 2024. If paid on that day, the fee would be 1,040 EUR.
Since the EPO is closed on Friday 29 March 2024 and Monday 1 April 2024, fees due on 29 March 2024 can be validly paid on 2 April 2024. As such, by waiting until after the fee reduction comes into force and paying the fee on 1 April 2024 or 2 April 2024, the grant fee payable would be 756 EUR (i.e., 30% reduction on 1,080 EUR). In this way, micro-entity applicants who have filed fewer than five European applications in the preceding five years can potentially save hundreds of Euros by carefully timing fee payments.
More information on the scheme can be found in the EPO’s Official Journal.
Written by: Daniel Varley and Andrew White