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The Netherlands celebrate 100 years of modern patent law

In 2010 it will be 100 years ago that the Netherlands revived its patent system in a modern form.

100 years ago, patents were a local affair: the application had to be filed in the Dutch language and the newly created patent office performed its own thorough examination. In the following 100 years the Dutch patent system has become a part of an international context. Today the European patent office conducts oral proceedings at the site of the old Dutch patent office. Dutch patents are granted with English text, having Dutch language claims, and the Dutch patent office has become an avenue to obtain European type search reports and local patent protection quickly and at relatively low cost.

Before 1805, the Netherlands were a republic in which parliament granted patents on an individual basis. The earliest general patent law was established in 1809, giving Napoleon”s brother, who had been named king of the Netherlands, the right to grant patents on innovations. The following year, Napoleon annexed the Netherlands to France, so that the more modern French patent law came into force. After the fall of Napoleon, the Netherlands continued to have a similar patent act, but in 1869 irritation with patents lead to a decision to stop granting patents.

In 1910, the Netherlands re-established the patent system, this time inspired by the German patent act. To overcome the irritations with the old patent system the new patent act required the use of claims and it established a patent office with examining divisions with power to refuse patent applications. Soon after, in 1916, VEREENIGDE was established to assist clients in the communication with the patent office. The founding fathers of the patent office travelled to London and Berlin to learn from the patent offices in those cities. It was decided to take over much of the German system of using a thorough preliminary examination by a preexaminer, followed by a decision by a division with a senior examiner (sometimes a professor from a nearby university).

100 years ago, patent applications were published only when there was an intent to grant and the patent term was calculated from the date of grant. Gradually increasing examination delays lead the Dutch legislator in 1963 to introduce the system of publication after 18 months, examination delayed until requested by the applicant and a patent term calculated from the application date, which has since been followed by most patent countries worldwide.

In 1977, the search facilities of the Dutch patent office formed the basis of the search divisions of the European Patent Office, which established one of its two main seats in the building of the Dutch patent office in the Hague (Rijswijk). Oral proceedings of the European Patent Office are now often conducted at this site. But the rise of the European patent system led to the decline of the Dutch patent office. The number of Dutch patent applications dwindled and it was felt that this made it impossible to maintain the required level of expertise.

In 1995 the patent act of 1910 was replaced by a new act, wherein the Dutch examining divisions and their authority to refuse patent applications were abandoned. Today the Dutch patent office still grants local Dutch patents, which may be in Dutch or English, with Dutch claims. An extended search report is provided, usually by employing the services of the European patent office. But it is left to the applicant to address objections: the patent is granted irrespective of any objections in the search report. This makes it possible to obtain a patent at relatively low cost and much sooner than via the European route. Furthermore, the Dutch patent office registers European patents that apply to the Netherlands, likewise in Dutch or English with Dutch claims.