This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Munich, Germany where I attended summer courses in Copyright and Patent law. I attended this program though the George Washington University Law School and the courses were held at the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property, Competition and Tax Law. What I learned in the classroom was very interesting, but I found the two study visits to be the most informative part of the program.
The first study visit was to the law firm of Dörries, Frank-Molnia & Pohlman, Patent and Trademark lawyers. During this study visit, I learned more about patentability requirements in Germany. To begin, the invention has to be novel, meaning that it is not part of the prior state of the art, which includes earlier publications by the inventor himself (i.e. in conference papers or scientific journals). Secondly, the invention must be susceptible of industrial application. This step only requires that an invention be able to be carried out in any field of industry. It is worth noting that medical treatment are not susceptible to industrial application for policy reasons – a doctor must be able to freely choose any treatment without being limited by patents. While medical treatments cannot be patented, medical products, like surgical instruments and medical dressings, can be patented. Lastly, the patent must involve an inventive step, meaning that the new invention be a sufficient improvement over the current state of the art, and that the invention is not obvious to a person skilled in the art. The maximum term of patent protection is 20 years; however, the average life of a patent is approximately 9-10 years, as technology changes so quickly that it is often not worth spending money on keeping out-dated patents.
I was also able to visit the German Patent and Trademark Office (the Deutsches Patent- und Markenamt, DPMA) where I learned about the patenting process in Germany. More than 700 patent examiners work at the DPMA and examine and grant patent applications, as well as dealing with patent oppositions. The DPMA registers patents, trademarks, utility models and industrial designs. Interestingly, the highest number of annual applications shifts between trademarks and patents. In 2003, patent applications were the most prevalent with slightly more than 60, 000 patent applications; however, since that time, the number of trademarks applications has annually surpassed the number of patent applications, rising to about 80, 000 trademark applications in the 2008, compared to the 62,000 patent applications in the same year. Several large companies file several applications in the DPMA. For example, in 2008, BMW filed over 600 patent applications and Siemens filed approximately 2,000 patent applications. Furthermore, GM Global Technology Operations, a US company, filed almost 1,000 applications, and Denso, a Japanese corporation, filed over 700 applications. It is interesting to note that the DPMA received about 4, 000 patent applications from US companies, and about 3,500 from Japanese companies. Lastly, the class of “motor vehicles” receives the highest number of patent applications at the DPMA, which represents approximately 10% of the total number of applications.
In addition to academic activities, I had the opportunity to visit many of Munich’s most famous sites, including the BMW factory and museum, the Olympic park and several royal castles, including Neuschwanstein, which was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland. My time in Munich was wonderful and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to learn about Intellectual Property law in Germany.